What I wish “Pastor Dan” knew about Missionaries:
For 8 years, I served as Senior Pastor of Maple Grove Church of God, in Anderson.
For the past three years, I have been serving as a missionary through Global Strategy, based in the Netherlands. My wife and I did not enter this career change lightly, nor naively. But I have been shocked at these 7 realizations, which I wish I would have known while I was a pastor in Indiana. I humbly request that you read these and take them to heart, and secondly that you share this list with the members of your missions committees.
I completely understand the stress of pastoral ministry. But I have been shocked at the stress of missionary service. According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, which measures stress and its impact on our bodies, a score of 200 indicates a 50% chance of major health breakdown within the next two years. Veteran missionaries routinely score 600-700 on this inventory. The average score is even higher (800-900) in the first year on the field. This is absolutely crazy, and not a healthy way to maintain life! And yet, in our three years on the field, I can readily attest to these scores being accurate.
2. Re-Learning how to preach...through a translator.
Even as a kid, English came easy to me. Spelling, vocabulary, literature: some of my favorite school subjects. I used to analyze little words in crafting a sermon. Should I say ‘grand’ or ‘majestic?’ I wanted my congregation to understand what I was thinking. I honed my skill as a preacher for 17 years before becoming a missionary. And as a missionary, I found that I had to re-learn how to preach. Everything I said would be translated. And everything I said would be interpreted through different cultural lenses. One example: I tried to encourage them that my sermon was almost finished by saying, ‘Don’t worry. I’m rounding third and heading for Home.’ Then I had to spend the next several minutes giving them a primer on baseball so that they were not thoroughly confused. Even the most seasoned preachers are reduced to beginners’ level overseas.
3. Balancing ministry with connecting with supporters
It is pretty normal for pastors or church secretaries to contact missionaries asking for an update, a newsletter article, or asking for “just a quick video to share next Sunday with the congregation about ways we can pray for you and your people over there.” And yet, missionaries struggle trying to connect with, and appease, supporting churches while simultaneously doing the ministry they were sent to do. As a pastor, I wish I realized this as I recall times of contacting a missionary and giving them similar requests. It’s not unreasonable to give such requests to missionaries, but timelines and deadlines need to be flexible.
In addition to learning a new culture, and the history of individuals, congregations and new countries, there are ministry tasks. In addition to ministry tasks, there is family life and all the joys that come with having a small child in a foreign environment. :-) In addition, though, missionaries are faced (often) with learning a new language. Studies show that for someone who is bi-lingual, it’s not that difficult to pick up a third language. However, it’s no secret that most Americans only speak English. Thus, learning a second language (sometimes even a second alphabet) is difficult. Especially for grown adults who are no longer in high school. This is no small task, and yet is critical for missionaries to understand and communicate the Gospel with the people whom they serve.
5. What to share in a Facebook world??
Family, friends, and ministry partners want to know what a missionary’s life is like. They want to hear ‘success stories’ and fulfilled prayer requests. And yet, missionaries struggle to share just enough so that supporting churches feel up-to-date, but at the same time not too much lest they reveal personal
information or condescending information in a world where everyone has Facebook and reads blogs. The people whom missionaries serve are people, not projects. Sometimes that severely limits what can be shared in social media, or even in other forms of communication.
6. Constant stress of fund-raising.
In addition to ministry and “life,” missionaries have to be on social media, and send out newsletters and blog posts, in order to connect with present and future ministry partners. This stress does not end when missionaries leave for their field of service. It is constant and never-ending, especially in a world where global economies fluctuate, and donors sometimes cease giving because their own budgets are getting tightened, or there is a change in lay or pastoral leadership.
7. Absence from family and friends, especially during holidays.
I am not trying to equate missionaries with military men and women who are stationed around the globe. One key distinction is that they are literally living in harm’s way, while many of us missionaries reside in more peace-filled lands. But we share feelings of separation from home: separation from families, friends, communities that speak our native tongue and appreciate the same customs and traditions with which we are familiar. Pray for your missionaries during any and all holidays. Pray for their families as many of us try to connect via Skype. But as we all know, as amazing as Skype and FaceTime are, it’s not the same as being able to hug your mom, grandma, or grand-child.
About the author:
Daniel & Christy Kihm serve with the Three Worlds team in Europe/Middle East, along with their daughter, Sofie. The Kihms will be on Home Assignment in the US (January-June 2017). If you have interest in hearing about their ministry, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are actively seeking new financial partners in ministry as well, so if your congregation is looking to support additional missionaries, please keep them in mind. Additionally, you can follow their ministry on both Facebook & Twitter: @Kihms3w.