I have lived on the mission field for 3 ½ years. It’s been exciting to experience the goodness of God in His provision and love, and to see Him change lives—mine included. But the age-old Bible-proclaimed problem is: Satan does not want any of this to happen. He is smart and knows missionaries usually have their guards up and are saturated in the Word. So he tries other snares to halt us and steal us away from completing our callings.
Here are 7 different traps that I’ve either experienced or seen in others as I have lived on the mission field. (I wish I was aware of these when I first arrived on the mission field!)
1. Becoming comfortable and complacent
When we first arrive on the mission field, we feel excited to finally be amongst the people God put on our hearts while we were praying back home. The culture is new, the language is new, the food is new, and, well, pretty much everything is new! We’re happy to finally be walking on the soil of this promised land. This is what we’ve been called to and, hand-in-hand with God, we’re going to win this whole people group to Jesus!
But after a couple of years, our mission field becomes our home. We can understand and speak the language, know where to buy things, have explored basic and some deep areas of culture, and have set up our apartment or living space. We don’t see the people as exotic anymore, and may even forget we’re not part of them. It’s easy to forget the urgency that first brought us over. It’s easy to stop pushing ourselves, thinking we’re doing “enough” already.
This is a trap, and it’s so important to daily get on our knees to intercede for the people we are around. We need God’s heart for them to continually grow within us. It’s important for us to keep pushing onward in faith to all the promises He has spoken to us, and not stop when we’ve received only a handful of them.
It’s important for us to keep pushing onward in faith to all the promises He has spoken to us, and not stop when we’ve received only a handful of them.
2. Forgetting to take care of yourself
When we came to the mission field, we declared, “I’m giving my life to the Lord for these people!” And we immediately get busy doing it. We open up our homes, counsel them on phone calls, go spend holidays in their hometowns, prepare activities for groups, preach, lead worship, pray with them, go out to share the gospel to them, and the list goes on. We love them with His love and we see lives changed!
But somewhere along the journey, we completely forget to take care of ourselves. Then our health fails, depression sets in, we don’t get enough sleep, and then burn-out. We suddenly realize, “Oh, wait. I forgot about myself. How can I continue with God’s calling upon my life to these people when I feel so terrible?”
Even though we’re called to die to self and put others above our needs, we first live for Jesus. We cannot adequately display His beauty and our identity if we forget to take care of ourselves. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s remember, it’s ok to take breaks and enter into His rest (Hebrews 4).
We cannot adequately display His beauty and our identity if we forget to take care of ourselves.
3. Vision gets cloudy
When we first stepped foot on the mission field, most of us had a clear vision from the Lord to take care of orphans, reach an unreached people group, train up leaders, or that specific thing God places upon your heart. We knew what the focus was. We had vision. We knew our mission statement.
However, once we get to our country of Christian service, we see an abundance of need. It’s easy to start trying to be all things to all people—to the locals and other foreign missionaries. We hear others on the mission field talk about need for help in such and such area, and our hearts leap, “I can help with that!” People invite us to join in their missional efforts, and one “yes” can easily turn into many more. Nationals ask for help in this area and that—and I mean, we’re here for them all right?
Even though God can change certain aspects of our vision, even though He does connect us with others, it’s important to listen to His voice and let Him plan out our days in our host country, not simply being led by the need or our emotions. What is His mission statement for me? For you? Let’s stay focused and see Jericho’s walls fall down!
4. Living with one foot in and the other foot out
When we come over to our promised land, we leave family, friends, jobs, and our whole past lives behind. Let’s be honest: it’s scary. It’s emotionally difficult, not only for us, but also for those we love and leave.
It’s easy to say, “I’ve moved to [country]!” But the reality is, we have Skype, social media, and quick routes back to our home countries—which is a blessing but also a curse. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to be more emotionally concerned about what is happening at home—eagerly awaiting the day we finally get a much-needed hug from daddy—rather than trying to adapt, love, and immerse ourselves into our host country. We can be bodily present and half-heartedly here.
We can be bodily present and half-heartedly here.
It’s important to stay connected to family at home, but not good to live a split life. We must discipline ourselves to continue on with the whole-hearted “Yes” to our Lord, even after arriving in a foreign land. Let’s live fully—body , heart, and soul—where He has placed us. The missionaries of old had to do this, so they packed their belongings in coffins and took the slow boat to China! What amazing legacies they left.
5. Spending too much time with the nationals OR other expats
When we move to our host country, we don’t only get to know and love nationals there, but also other expats from around the world.
Here is my experience: When I moved to Asia, I realized I was here for the people of this land, and so I spent almost all of my time with them! I went out with them, taught them, ate with them and lived life with them. It was good. But I barely spent time with other international friends. I was thinking, “I didn’t come over here for them.” But after a few months, I got tired and started to feel culture shock. I realized I needed to spend time with other internationals, enjoy encouragement with them and learn from them. A new problem emerged. Those next two months turned into too much time with foreign expats and too little time with the locals. It became hard for me to plan activities for the locals, as I wanted dinner time with expats. That was not good.
Who are we here for in this land? both—nationals and other expats. We need to pray to our Father to ask the right balance for each day. It’s important to spend our efforts and daily discipleship amongst the nationals to see them know Jesus and mature into leaders. But not to the exclusion of other expats who we need to mutually encourage, share joys and sorrows, battles and dreams with. It’s vital to not let even good things keep us comfortable and steal the mission away from our hearts.
It’s vital to not let even good things keep us comfortable and steal the mission away from our hearts.
6. Comparison to other missionaries and teams
Each of us are called to specific purposes that God has pre-ordained for us to complete. We come out to the mission field enthusiastic about the calling and points of creativity He has sparked in our hearts to reach the people group for Jesus. We know that it may take time to see fruit, but we are not going to give up!
When we get here, we excitedly start heading toward completing that calling, and usually join with others of similar callings to form a team. It’s rewarding to work with others, and we think this is God’s best plan yet! We mistakenly think that there has never been any better strategy our present one. Then we see others reaping a harvests of souls while we’re only seeing small growth. We see how other missionaries speak the language better, have many more resources than us, and how the locals love them! Without realizing it, our focus shifts to comparison and competition with others on the mission field instead of keeping the focus of living out our callings to see locals know Jesus.
The reality is, God did give each of us the best plan and strategy yet! The best one for us individually and for the people we are supposed to reach. He did the same for those we begin comparing ourselves against. It’s because His heart is for all people, so He uses different ways, teams and individuals to reach all with His love. Instead of compete, we can join together in unity, encouraging each other’s dreams and successes because our main goals are the same: To love Jesus and bring others to love Him too.
It’s because His heart is for all people, so He uses different ways, teams and individuals to reach all with His love.
7. Being too busy or distracted for time with God
When we leave our home countries, we are saturated in prayer and God’s presence, fully trusting Him for our new life overseas. No words can accurately describe how much we love Him, how much we know He loves us and the whole world. We’ve spent hours of time listening to God’s voice and being affirmed in this new venture He is sending us on.
When we first arrive overseas, our relationship with God even deepens, as we have to literally trust Him for everything: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But after a few months, it’s easy to be too busy serving God to spend time with Him. Maybe we’re out counseling a student till midnight or staying up with an orphan late into the evening hours. Our alarm goes off 3 times before we crawl out of bed the next morning—just in time for our meeting! We may grab 10 minutes to read a Scripture, then another 5 minutes later to pray. Soon, we’re tired and have a loss of direction. Then we realize, “Wait! I forgot the most important thing! Relationship with Him! How did this happen?”
The most important part of ministry is the time spent alone with Jesus. It’s there He speaks our identity and fills us to overflowing with love and living water. The enemy will try everything to steal that away—from phone calls to exhaustion. We must be disciplined and hold on to Him, no matter what the particular situation. Even if the ministry is falling apart, we must never let go of Jesus.