The old paradigm of missionary story-telling was presenting oneself as the sacrificial hero, only telling stories of the triumphs achieved, with a radiating halo around the missionary’s head.
Here’s what a new missions paradigm would look like:
Get rid of the unrealistic expectations
One of the most damaging issues leading to missionary burnout is inflated and unrealistic expectations of what life will be like on the ground and expectations missionaries have of themselves. Heroic jaunts into the jungle to unreached tribes are fewer and farther between. A more apt representation would be less glamorous trips to the local market to try and negotiate for your supper, or a hot and dusty afternoon spent at your computer trying to write a newsletter with 20% of your battery left because the power is out again. That chasm between what you thought life would be and what it actually is, can lead to despair.
I thought I had to hide my feelings of being overwhelmed with real missionary life, so my supporters would continue being a part of my ministry. What I wanted to say was, “Today I spent eight hours in a government office trying to not get kicked out of the country, and no one got saved.” Trying to represent the super-hero version of myself and telling the happy stories led to self criticism, feelings of failure, and fragmentation.
Failures should not be swept under the rug
The reality is failures are an integral part of success and learning from them is how we create lasting and beautiful change. We need to give people the freedom to fail and celebrate the humility it takes to admit it.
Living in a different culture and understanding it takes time. It takes a lot of adjustments to create something that is effectively changing lives. It takes humility to say you were wrong and to try it a different way. We need to give our missionary leaders the freedom to make mistakes, share them, and get back up again, knowing we support them. Our obsession with only “success stories” will be our downfall.
We need to tell the truth
We need to tell the stories of heartache and disillusionment. As we expel our stories in exhales of honest surrender, somehow it helps us heal. Otherwise, we become isolated and continue to spiral down into despair. We must celebrate the tiny victories, but not inflate stories for our newsletters. We need safe people to whom we can say, "Hey I loved this girl for seven years and she still stole from me."
When we tell the truth, it gives others permission to do the same and we realize we're not alone. Telling the truth disrupts isolation, and ushers us into a community of other like minded souls who are safe and authentic.
We don’t have all the answers and we don’t need to
We often think our solutions to fix people are the correct ones. It takes a lot of time to learn what will really work to change lives in your particular culture. But taking time to just listen means there aren’t a lot of action stories to write home about. We need to understand it takes time to become culturally relevant and that change in people’s lives is often slow.
Our calling should not be more important than The Caller
In talking to missionaries, one of the big themes that continues to cause stumbling is falling into the trap of letting your calling define your identity. You’re the celebrated hero and the sacrificial martyr. But being a missionary isn’t about all that. It’s about being a partner with God to love people, about being an extension of Jesus, about being in a love affair with Him. The work should always take a backseat to your primary relationship with God and the Holy Spirit.
God does not need martyrs
God doesn’t need my sacrifice, he doesn’t need me to save the world. It’s his joy to co-labor with me. It’s his joy to partner with me so I can pursue my passions and bring glory to his name. The only thing required of me is to worship him forever. As we fall more in love with God, we fall more in love with people and the desire to see them walking in freedom grows. The work doesn’t depend on us, the work depends on God’s spirit.
We need saving before we can save others
One of the key differences between missionaries of old and new ones rising up, are that we see a need for emotional health and we aren’t willing to compromise our health because we realize without wholeness, we will be of no use to anyone. It’s imperative that missionaries protect their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
We need to forgive each other
If you’re a missionary you’ve probably been wounded by the way the church or sending organization has failed to look after your hearts. If you’re a church or sending organization you might be resentful of the less than fruitful efforts of some missionaries. What we need is brave and open communication, compassion and understanding. It takes great vulnerability to talk about your needs, to admit weakness, to say you need help or you don’t understand why something went wrong. Let’s be different. Let’s be intentional and proactive; let's be forgiving, kind, and open-hearted.
My hope is to see a new breed of missionaries and churches rising up, forgiving each other, and starting afresh with new eyes. My hope is that you will begin a conversation with other missionaries, churches, and leaders to say we’re not satisfied with the way things have been. Let's be brave and begin a revolution.
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See full article on Sarita's website.