Missionary Challenges

We spoke with our friends in Japan, who shared some challenges commonly faced by missionaries. They have been there for about a year, and as expected for most newcomers, the adjustment is a steep climb uphill.

First and foremost got to be the language barrier. We experienced a little of that ourselves when we went to Taiwan for our first mission trip. Although we are ethnic Chinese, we were born and raised in Hong Kong in the 1950s’, and spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin. So whenever we approach the local folks, they assumed by our looks that we speak fluent Mandarin, and would talk at such a speed (to them: normal, to us: way too fast) that we could hardly understand what they are saying! It’s only when we ask them in our broken Mandarin “Can you repeat that please?” that they realized they have to slow down.

Typically there are two routes to deal with this challenge. The hard way is to spend several years to acquire the language, so that they can function in the native tongue to evangelize, disciple, train leaders, and plant churches. This is tough depending on the complexity of the language, but opens more doors if you want to serve large segments of society, especially the working class. The other way, without knowing the language well, is for missionaries to feel more comfortable staying among English-speaking expatriates, and teach English as the means to do outreach. This takes less learning time, but limits their exposure to only those who want to learn English.

The second hurdle is culture. Some ethnic groups are by nature more friendly and open to foreigners. Others, such as the Japanese, are more reserved towards strangers. They are polite, but not warm in welcoming aliens in their midst. In fact, the more eager the missionaries are in getting to know their neighbors, the more guarded the neighbors become, assuming there must be some ulterior motives in the missionaries’ friendliness. One more factor peculiar to Asian missionaries. During WW II the Japanese fought against the Chinese and the Koreans, and some have not put this animosity behind them, which adds another barrier.

A third obstacle is isolation and loneliness. Unless your ministry is reaching out to foreigners who emigrate to your country, cross-cultural ministry means leaving your family and friends to move overseas for the sake of the gospel. That means cutting ties with relatives, friends, home church, classmates etc. Even though technology made it so much easier to maintain contact now, the fact remains that most of your support network is gone, and you feel like walking on a tightrope without a safety net. You love to have your buddy there to talk things over when you are encountering difficulties, but you can’t. To be sure, you can still Skype or WhatsApp with them, but they can’t be there physically like when you were still in your hometown. It’s just not the same anymore. Loneliness and sometimes helplessness sets in, even depression. You got to build a network of friends and advisors to de-stress and bounce off ideas, otherwise you and your ministry would suffer, sometimes irrevocably.

The fourth is children, especially teenagers. Every missionary with children is concerned with how they will be educated, how well they adjust. For themselves, they already counted the cost when they responded to God’s call to go to the mission field. They know about spiritual warfare, culture shock, getting out of the comfort zone etc., and are prepared to pay the price. But the children? They did not choose to sever ties with their friends. The decision was made for them. Some adjust well, others not so well. The parents are prepared to suffer for the cause of Christ, but it hurts to see their children in pain when they can’t adapt to the new environment.

These are just a few of the challenges faced by missionaries going overseas. I hope we can learn to appreciate and support them more. Some go abroad right out of bible school or seminary. Others have had successful careers before giving up everything to follow where Christ leads them. Pray for them. Don’t assume because they are outside the four walls of your church they are less important. They are fighting on the front lines for the Lord, to extend His Kingdom. Support them in whatever way you can. They are worth it.

Kidnapped!

kidnap 8

When you are a missionary, you deal with a whole new set of challenges that the average pastor in N. American would never have to contend with. Sure there is the usual preaching, teaching, reaching, counseling and leading, that’s just part of the job description of a pastor anywhere in the world. But if you are serving in a foreign field, then you encounter issues, e.g. exorcism or persecution, which you would rarely face in Canada.

kidnap hotspots 3

In the Middle East or Central & South America, one particular problem is kidnapping. According to SCR Ltd., a company which specializes in dealing with kidnap and extortion, Panama is not listed among the top kidnap and ransom (K&R) countries in the world generally. But to the local Chinese, K&R is a very real issue because they are often the target. Partly this is attributed to the perception that the Chinese are rich, as they are hard-working and many own their own store. As well, few of them would testify against their abductors for fear of retaliation, making them easy prey.

We visited one lady whose husband was kidnapped, apparently by local gangs. A Spanish-speaking man called and asked for a large sum of money. She wanted assurance that her husband was still alive and well, so they passed the phone to him and allowed him to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money right away, and that they would release him after they receive the ransom. She raised the money and dropped it off the next day, and waited. But weeks passed without any sign of him, nor further communication from the abductors.

She was superstitious and started consulting idol-worshiping mediums to appease the spirits to find her husband, but to no avail. It was then that we were introduced to her, nearly two months after the kidnap. What can a short-term mission team do under the circumstances?

The Bible has only four verses on kidnaps:
• Joseph was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Gen 40:15);
• Kidnappers shall be put to death (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); and
• The Law is made for those who are lawless, including kidnappers (1 Tim 1:10).
The law will punish kidnappers if they are captured, but that is no comfort to her who is waiting anxiously with their three small children, running their store by herself and worrying about his safety.

We decided the best we could do in this situation is to lead her to Christ, so that she could lean on Him. One team member shared the gospel with her while the others prayed. Previously she would have rejected, as she had forbidden church members from taking her kids to Sunday school. But calamity could break down a person’s objections in a way no other means can, and she prayed quietly to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior, entrusting everything, including her husband’s safety, into His hands. Since we will leave Panama in a few days, we asked her relative to follow her up.

Usually we would rather share more with her over a longer period of time, but these are not normal times. We just do what we can with the appointments the Lord gives us, and leave the results in God’s hands. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to the Father. All He asked of us is obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope you will do the same.

Why You Should be a Missionary

missionary 1

Our missionary friend in Taiwan shared J. Trotters’ “Ten Reasons You Should be a Missionary” on her Facebook. We came back from several mission trips this year and found his points spot on, so I’m commenting on a couple of items from our recent experience.

Take number 8 for instance. Unlike traffic in Canada where cars are supposed to pass and merge in from the driver’s side, cars in Panama cut in from both the left and the right. And they usually cut it real close. It’s like playing “bluff” to see who “chickens out” and brake first to yield to the other driver to avoid a fender bender. In Taiwan, the challenge is scooters. They are as numerous as locusts, and weave in and out of tight spaces between cars. If a car driver is not alert, he could send a scooter flying into the air! Even some experienced drivers from N. America are scared of driving in developing countries. If you are accident-free in the third world, you can drive anywhere in the world.

Or take number 6. Police in Russia often do random checks on Asian pedestrians and ask for identification. Aliens who do not have proper IDs are fined or even detained. Even if your documents are in order, they usually manage to find problems where none actually exists. In exchange for not getting a ticket, you can pay a fee directly to the officer. One time our missionary friend in Panama made a left turn where he was not supposed to, despite the fact that there are no road signs telling him this was not allowed. He was stopped by a traffic cop who asked what’s his “offer”. Since he does not pay bribes as a matter of principle, an interesting negotiation followed. This would be especially interesting when neither side know the other’s mother tongue.

But at the top of the list every missionary can identify with is of course number one. Leading someone to Christ in your own language, culture and vicinity is exhilarating enough; doing so when you have to cross barriers in some or all of the above is pure joy that is often indescribable, not to mention the fact that God had seen fit to use you to serve Him. I hope you will take at least one mission trip as part of your bucket list. It will do wonders to widen your heart and mind to fulfill the Great Commission. Some have even changed careers as a result.