I've been thinking about this letter for days.
I'd like to write about the various roles that a missionary "lives", with of course, focus on our roles and our lives here in Poland.
First and foremost, of course, is the role of Disciple Maker.
We are sent by churches in the states to obey Matthew 28:19,20 where we are commanded to "Go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost..." This is the role that you all think about when we say "missionary".
For most of Independent Baptists this is church planting. Many churches in the states won't support a missionary who isn't "church planting". This is where the role of "soul winner" is foremost.
For some, however, this may be a primary ministry of teaching in a Bible college or institute, as a help to a group of churches already existing as usually there wouldn't be a Bible college existing with no churches backing it from which to pull students. Of course, teaching in a Bible college or institute indirectly helps church planting by providing trained workers for those churches, even though the missionary isn't primarily "winning the lost'" himself. It is easier to step into a role quickly if someone else has done the footwork and gotten the students together. Missionaries who primarily teach do not need to learn the language (though it would be best), as their ministry can be at least somewhat effective through a translator. However, missionaries who are primarily church planting...this is a whole 'nother ball game. You can not have a translator walk around with you while you pass out tracts on the street, try to deal with people over the phone, in person, etc. You need to be able to deal with the unsaved in casual, impromptu situations. These two roles tend to be different, with differing responsibilities and challenges.
Mike enjoys the formal role of teacher when he travels to other countries, esp., as he gets to deal with already saved young people, who want additional training. (For those of you who may not be aware of this, Mike has a PhD in Old Testament.) The role of soul winner tends to be here in Poland, where we are trying to meet people, witness to them, and help them understand what it means to turn to Him, trust Him as Savior, and then to become a disciple of His. It is not as cut and dried as being a formal teacher is. The formal teacher is usually "handed" his students, told what to teach and thus has a job. The "church planter" has to figure out ways to meet people, break down the resistance barriers, and present the gospel and claims of Christ to them. Then he has to disciple them. This discipling often does lead to the more formal role of teacher, if the missionary has enough interested people to form classes. Otherwise, this "teaching" goes on from the pulpit, lectern, or less formal Bible studies across a table.
(Something similar would be in the U.S.--the church planter, who has to go out and build a church "from scratch" and has to find his own set of people who will follow him. This can be incredibly difficult depending on the culture, personality and pride level of the people he is working with.) For most cultures, this "church planting" ministry can be harder emotionally, while the formal teacher in a Bible school has a more difficult job mentally--at least until the church planter has developed "the people" so that teaching them takes on a different level than teaching basic Christianity. Both can be quite taxing. Depending on your own skills, interests, and natural bents, as well as gifts, one may be "incredibly difficult," while the other "completely enjoyable."
Before I get a bunch of letters from people stating that "it isn't true", I think that everyone thinks that "their job" is the hardest. But, Mike has been both, and it is more emotionally more wearing to wonder if you are going to "have an audience" than "having that audience argue with you" as students tend to do, though that is also quite difficult and can cause the teacher much stress, especially if bad attitudes are prevalent. :) If students argue while fine tuning their own belief systems, this can be actually quite exhilarating, though of course, emotionally stressful as well.
If we are married, we have the role of husband/wife.
I doubt I need to go into this one much, but we have certain cares and concerns for our spouses that we must take care of. As a missionary, there would be few differences between our roles here and your roles in the states. Other stress factors may cause stress in this area.
We have the role of sons/daughters.
If our parents are in poor health or suffer a major setback like the loss of their partner, which is usually one of our mothers or fathers, this affects us and our ability to function in the role of disciple maker. Some missionaries go to the field without their parents' understanding their desire to serve God this way. I am thankful I was able to go back to the states for my parent's 50th anniversary this past June. It was a special time for me, in my role as "daughter." Sometimes people have had to leave the foreign field because mom or dad is too sick to be by themselves and there are no other siblings to help take care of them. Mike's family worked with us last year when we went to AK on furlough and planned a special time so that we could get together with his mom and dad and siblings. That was very kind of them.
We have the role of sibling. While this may be minimal with all brothers and sisters grown, many times the missionary on the field may receive a letter or email from a sibling who is having problems in their lives or ministry or who is not sympathetic to their ministry. This can cause stress to the missionary. If the brothers and sisters are close emotionally, there is a role that is at least a little time consuming, even if it is over nothing else but "taking care of mom and dad". While this may or may not be a major role, this is one that the distance does make harder. I happen to have a twin sister, Rachael, who is also our home church's pastor's wife. We are able to keep in contact through email. (I'd like to rejoice with her, also as her business was mentioned in this month's Woman's Day (September) magazine, or you can find the article at http://www.womansday.com/article.asp?section_id=6&article_id=9112&page_number=2&preview= page 2 of 4...www.thecouponclippers.com. When we hear wonderful news about our siblings, it is great. When we hear difficult things about our siblings, it can be much "harder" as we sorrow for them. Many times missionaries go back for weddings of their siblings if they have the finances and opportunity to do so. If they are unable to go back, this saddens them, if they are sympathetic to the marriage, of course.
We have the role of mom and dad, if God has given us children.
Most of you realize this and do think about this. I've had many of you ask about our children and want to know how they are doing, what they are doing, etc. We have one church who sends us Christmas presents every Christmas, and it is very kind of them. Many times missionaries have to deal with sicknesses or diseases of their children. Sometimes they have to change their plans about going to the mission field, or leave a field due to a child's health problem. Some have left the field because of a child's rebellious nature and their need to spend extra time with the child and the child's destructive influence on their ministry. Many parents are homeschooling, which is quite time consuming. So under this role could be, and often is, the role of educator. Leaving kids in the US for college is difficult for the missionary parent who realizes that they can't be there to help if the child needs something (often grandparents and aunts and uncles help out, I understand--we're not there yet).
We have the role of citizen of the US and alien in another country. This is a tad bit different from most of you reading this. We have to vote absentee ballot (I'll confess here, that I didn't take care of it during the last election and held my breath to see how FL went as I didn't vote and was kicking myself the whole recounting time. Don't worry, I've taken care of that absentee ballot stuff this time!) We can't just "live here"...we have to do it legally and that means finding out what the government requires and then trying to abide by it. This may not be simple as some of these countries don't tell you more than you ask. This means, that you may get to an office, stand in line for an hour only to find out that you don't have one of the necessary papers that you didn't know you needed. When you mention that to the clerk, she might reply, "Well you didn't ask if you needed it." Of course, many times we haven't the base of knowledge to even know what to ask if we need something until we've gone through the procedure a few times. The American way of "freely offering information" is often nonexistent. Starting bank accounts, buying property, building, getting a cell phone, all require a few more leaps from us than a native of the country where we live (possibly because of the language problem, but sometimes simply because the people don't want to "do it'...i.e. loan money, let you get a cell phone, put something in your name, etc.).
We have the role of being a friend.
If God has provided other missionaries with whom to work with, or close friends on the mission field, that role takes time, just as it would for you in the states.
The role of coworker.
Once again, if the missionaries are working in a group, there are responsibilities of spending time and getting along that fall under this heading. There are meetings and get-togethers, both informally and formally, as people work together. A pastor and his pastoral staff would have similar issues.
The role of secretary/correspondent.
I read an article before we came to the mission field where one pastor thought that most missionaries fall down on this job as correspondent. For the missionary who loves to write, this isn't a big burden, but for the busy mom with several kids and husband who doesn't enjoy writing letters, this responsibility can fall through the cracks--or be put on hold while the kids are small. I remember one time (before email) of feeling like I was writing all the time, until one time I finally wrote one person, "Well, I'd better get off the computer so I can go do something to write about." :) I've had contact with missionaries where neither husband nor wife enjoys writing. Then, you don't tend to hear from them...ever. Missionaries have to write prayer letters. In our case, our home church, Temple Baptist Church in Dade City, takes care of the printing, folding and mailing for us. We are so thankful for their ministry to us in this regard. (That's a little public pat on the back, too! It takes a big load off of us wondering how it is going to get done, and we appreciate it.) We have to keep in contact with our mission boards, so that they know "what's up" with us.
The role of "sole" spiritual teacher for the kids.
I'm putting this one down separately because it is heavy burden to us. In the states, even if you are a pastor or an assistant pastor, usually there are some SS teachers, youth workers, Christian school teachers, who are helping influence your kids for God. Often on the "virgin" mission field, where there aren't many other Christians yet, you are "it" for your kids. There aren't Bible clubs, Awana, SS, Youth meetings, Bible memory programs, etc. unless "you" do it.
We have the role of host and hostess.
We open our home to other people quite often. Hotels can be quite expensive for people, and we do have a guest bedroom. This can save people literally hundreds of dollars. We've had people stay after adopting children in the Ukraine, work teams, mission teams, nationals just passing through, people who didn't have a place to go, family members visiting, other missionaries either from Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus or even Russia. I enjoy this role, especially because we don't have any coworkers and I do miss having another lady to talk with about things!!! But, it does take time and energy. Usually, however, the blessings of encouragement and uplifting are well worth any energy expended. We have invitations out to missionary friends in France and Germany to come and visit us, but most people don't want to come "east" to visit. I think all of our missionary visitors have been from farther east than we are. :)
We have the role of student.
Most of the time we are dealing with people in their own culture that we are not native to. This means that we have lots of learning to do, and thus have to take on the role of student--language and culture wise. The wise missionary continues in this role, probably just about all his life while on that field. I'm not sure when this particular role is "over"--I think "never". I know that I'm still learning a lot about Polish culture, thinking and certainly, language.
Any other role that you may have in the country where you live.
In our situation,
we've formed a small Independent Baptist missionary group which has
started getting together twice a year, once in May and again in Nov. (we have
holidays then). Mike is the defactor
leader of this group, meaning if he hadn't organized it, made phone calls,
arranged it, it wouldn't be happening. :)
Lord willing, in the future, we will be adding to our missionary
numbers, and thus, enjoy these meetings even more. We will see where this group leads us, but we
are hoping for some more training opportunities as we work with our other IBF
missionaries here in
That's it. There are probably some roles I've forgotten, but this covers almost all of it.
missionary wife in Poland