Sue Vinton was asked to share at the Rush Creek Women’s Missionary Dinner and this is the topic that she chose; “Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became a Missionary” and she shared that, “Actually, the list is quite long, as it would be for anyone starting a new career. But I’ve chosen just 3 things to share with you tonight.” Sue is currently Stateside for home assignment for a year with her husband Bill. They will then be returning to Malawi where they were for five months prior to their return to the States. Before beginning their ministry in Malawi, the Vintons were missionaries in Congo for 27 years. Please take a moment to read these very insightful thoughts from Sue:
1. I wish I’d known I wasn’t going to like church.
Living in Congo (and really, in any place where another language and culture are experienced) can be very draining. It was actually kind of dehydrating. I lived in the rain forest but, although my skin was always very damp, my soul was dry. Why? Because I needed to come to the water and drink—drink in the Spirit. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God (Ps 42:1). Instead, I went to church. But wait, you say, isn’t church where we’re supposed to find God? I know it sounds hard-hearted, but I have learned that finding God in another culture and another language is HARD. There’s just nothing like worshiping God in my home church, alongside the people I know and care about, the people who have grown with me, those I look to for prayer and support and guidance. There’s no comparison to singing my heart out in my first spoken language. And the sermons that are preached to another culture just don’t impact me the way sermons in my home culture do. So, whenever we’re in the States, I like to rehydrate at my church and I like to worship God in ways that feel worshipful to me.
Don’t get me wrong – There are some awesome churches in other countries! I don’t want to demean what God is doing there, or the churches that are obviously seeking Him as they serve. It’s not them, it’s me – half the time I didn’t even know what was going on. I found myself concentrating so hard on deciphering Swahili that I walked away feeling depleted. I was always thinking about Swahili grammar, wondering through every song why they used this word or that. It’s not exactly worshipful. I would spend so much energy on translating what the pastor was saying, I couldn’t enjoy it much. Not to mention it was confusing. Because why is this pastor talking about pooping on the livingroom floor? To be honest, sometimes I really hated going to church there. It’s just so tiring…
But this is not intended to be a complaint. It’s intended to prepare you, to let you know that it’s OK to not like church when you’re a missionary. It takes a very long time and you may never find that the sermons really meet your need to be fed, encouraged, challenged. So I suggest that you not neglect your soul, but that you find fellow Americans (maybe even Brits or Australians or Dutch—English speakers with a culture similar to your own) to worship with on a regular basis. Not instead of going to a local church, but in combination with it. Sunday night, a week-night. Try to be a part of a ladies’ Bible study. You’re going to need music and sermons that reach in and grab hold of you, filling you up with the Spirit.
2. I wish I had known that we would be nearly forgotten by those who had been closest to us.
I wish I had known that we would be “accidentally” forgotten by our closest friends and family. They don’t mean to forget, they just get busy with their family, jobs, activities, and just life back home. The first few weeks or months the emails, Skype calls, and letters come frequently and are so encouraging and uplifting. As the months turn into years, they come less and less frequently. Eventually, some stop altogether.
You must know, before coming overseas, that their lives will go on. Some who you think never will are going to “accidentally” forget you. Don’t take it personally. Try to keep the lines of communication open.
Also realize your value system is going to change dramatically. Poverty and suffering is just “in your face” and it will be difficult to listen to your friends back home talking about things that seem so shallow to you. Try not to judge them. They are living in a different culture, with a different “normal”. Their frustrations, trials, hardships are very real, even if they aren’t life and death. God has put each person in the circumstances in which they are living, according to His choice. So don’t judge. Educate and accept, but don’t judge. Living overseas will change you so expect your friendships here at home to change. It’s OK.
3. I wish I’d understood how the locals would view me.
My standard of living was drastically lower in Congo than it was here. But no matter what level I lived at, I was always considered wealthy in the eyes of the nationals. And in fact, you are wealthy. Funny how in the US missionaries are often considered “poor”, but where they live and work they’re considered wealthy. In the local currency $2,000 US dollars would equal a million, so almost all the missionaries are “millionaires” there. And even if you find it hard to live on the support you receive from back home, you still had enough to pay a ticket to come here, whereas your everyday national could never pay a plane ticket to visit another country.
Also, one encounters the common idea that it is the duty of those with more money to distribute it to help others. So the nationals will never look at someone who has more money than them and lives at a higher level than them, and drives a car, as someone who is making a sacrifice. Don’t expect to be congratulated or thanked for the sacrifices you made to come. Better get over that before heading overseas.
Another fallacy is that nationals should applaud that you have “sacrificed all” to bring them good news about Jesus. The reality is that they probably won’t have a clue! Many missionaries go with the idea that they should be “appreciated” by the nationals for the sacrifices they have made. In fact, they may even think that you came to exploit them. Perhaps they’ll think you’re taking photos of them in order to get rich by selling their pictures to National Geographis. They may think that you’re there to exploit the country’s natural resources (i.e. Congo—gold, ivory, diamonds, minerals, wood, etc.) I guarantee there will always come a time when you will feel that you are not “appreciated” (whether by the church, the heathen, or even your own colleagues).
What can help in these situations?
• Have alternative times of worship, devos, family retreats, etc.
• Faith and an eternal view in mind, Rewards in heaven
• Servant attitude
• Obediencr to God not doing Him a favor so He would feel better about me or bless me
• Don’t feel sorry about your circumstance but rather do something to change it (learn the language, initiate skype)
• Remember your standing in Christ and your mission
• Find your niche that allows you to use your spiritual gifts