Several years ago, we sold our first house and bought another on the other side of town. We were so excited. Our family had grown and we needed a 3rd bedroom. The Lord had answered our prayer abundantly. A few weeks after the move, we were finally settled and I was so lonely. My kids did not change schools, we were attending the same church, I was hanging out with the same friends, but I felt so isolated. I missed my old neighborhood and familiar stores and roads. I told my friend that I did not understand this. She told me the grieving process was settling in. I didn’t quite understand this at the time, but I knew she was right.
When we moved to the field, I experienced this at a new level. Part of grieving is adjusting to a new way of life. It’s sort of like after a funeral. The hubbub of the funeral is over, the family meal is finished and everyone returns to their normal routine, except for the immediate family of the one who died. They have to learn to live day by day without the lost loved one. When you move to the field, the old way of life is over. If you add to that the unfamiliar, it is overwhelming. We have to turn to the God of all comforts (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He is waiting with open arms. “The Greek word for ‘comfort’ is related to the familiar word paraclete, ‘one who comes along side to help,’…’comfort’ often connotes softness and ease, but that is not its meaning here. Paul was saying that God came to him in the middle of his sufferings and troubles to strengthen him and give him courage and boldness”(MacArthur Study Bible).
When we arrived in Japan, I felt unprepared for the emotions that I would experience. I had no choice about the home we lived in. I was frustrated because I could not communicate. I felt lost driving on the “wrong” side of the road and not being able to read the signs. I didn’t know where to shop. I didn’t know what prices were good. I had no friends and I had to put up a good face for my children who were watching me. It was terribly overwhelming. I remembered what my friend said about grieving and I was helped. It is o.k. to grieve. It is not a sin to feel sadness. It’s even o.k. to cry. The attitude behind it is what can be sinful. Where do we turn when the emotions flare?
Many times, when I have shared my struggles, I was told that “we all have to go through it.” I did not find this comforting. If our comfort comes from the Lord, we have an obligation to share with others what brought us comfort and gave us strength(2 Cor. 1:3-4). I was determined to find some answers in the Word. When another missionary lady came to me, I wanted to have an answer.
Memorizing God’s Word has had a life-changing affect on me. Find verses that help you and memorize them. If you do this, God will bring them to your mind when you need them most. For example, I had to have a mammogram here. It was not something I looked forward to. I will not go into the whole big, long story. They do things differently here and it was pretty traumatic. I couldn’t talk to the doctors, so my hubby was translating. That was a different stress of its own! As I was lying on the examining table fighting the tears, the Lord brought to my mind 2 Cor. 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I had instant peace and the tears fled. If I had not memorized those verses, they would not have been there when I needed them most!
Several verses have helped me on a regular basis. I meditate on the fact that God is present with me (Ps. 46:1, Jer. 23:23-24, Ps. 139:7-10, Mat. 28:20). Others may forget me, but God does not (Is. 49:15). When I am overwhelmed, I must go to the Lord. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, that I can’t remember to do this and then He leads me to Himself (Ps. 61:1, 2). Spurgeon said about these verses that “he who communes with God is always at home.”
Perhaps the most exciting truth to me about God is His faithfulness. He keeps His promises. I have seen this in my life before, but it has been magnified on the field. He strengthens me, helps me and holds me up (Is. 41:10). He guides me with His eye (Ps. 32:8). He goes before me. I do not need to be dismayed (Deut. 31:8).
When we moved to the city we are in now, there was no one living here to show us around. When we needed a doctor, God led us. When we needed an eye doctor, God led us. Both of these speak some English! I needed a friend. God went before me and hand-picked one and put her in my path. Then there was the time I needed something at the store and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t ask the clerk and even if I could, I wouldn’t have understood her answer. After several minutes of searching and mounting frustration, I cried out to the Lord and He led me right to it. I could go on and on…
Another lesson I am still learning is to not compare myself and my situation with others. 2 Cor. 10:12 tells me that if I do this, I am not wise! There will be someone who raised support faster, learned the language faster or has a bigger and better house to live in. We prayed for a teacher for our children. God did not see fit to give us one; but yet, I saw Him supply this for another family. Another friend has been on the field less time than I have and she already has the language ability to lead a Bible study. My language study is slow and difficult. At this middle age that I am in, sometimes I feel too old to do it! Someone younger would do a better job! Some missionaries are able to plant a new church every term. In our country of service, it may take the rest of our lives to plant one. We are all different. Every country and language is different. My focus must be on God and His will for me today. I cannot compare myself to others. God has put me where He wants me to be and has given me what I need to accomplish His will (2 Cor. 9:8, Phil. 2:13).
I remember well when the “culture shock” started to set in. In the USA, we talk about “bad hair days.” Here, we have “bad culture days.” =) I was reading the fruits of the Spirit in my study Bible and the notes that went with them. I realized as I read, that these fruits manifested in my life will take care of any “culture shock.” Longsuffering is “the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations.” Gentleness is “a humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense, while having no desire for revenge or retribution” (MacArthur Study Bible). When I offend the culture unknowingly, when I am stared at because I am different, when things are done differently than I would do them, when I am mistreated or misunderstood, what fruit do I exhibit? Is it longsuffering and gentleness? The only way I can do this is to be in the Word, walk in the Spirit and have lots of grace from my Lord (2Cor. 12:9-10).
In closing, I want to share some practical things that have helped me.
- While on deputation, I begged the Lord to give me a verse that would keep me on the field when the going got tough. As we went through the Netcaster program, the Lord began to burn 2 Cor. 5:15 into my soul, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” My life is not about me, it is about the One Who died for me.
- Several years ago, a friend counseled me to fill my mind with good Scriptural music. I play it in the car, on the subway and while in the house. This has helped me countless times when I couldn’t seem to control my thoughts. One time in particular was after a rough day of language school. I put in my earbuds on the subway and started to listen to the cd A Quiet Heart by Soundforth. One of my favorite songs, “I Could Not Do Without Thee” began. When I arrived at my destination, the frustration and turmoil were gone. God met my need through the music. Another favorite cd is Come and Sing by the Stouffer men. This brought me tremendous comfort during the days before and after our departure for Japan.
- Keep a journal of what God is teaching you and the blessings He gives. The entries don’t have to be long. A simple “I was so lonely today and God gave me Mt. 28:20” or “I wanted cheddar cheese and God led me to it and it was on sale!” is enough. When the emotions are threatening to drown you, get out the journal and read. It is hard to remember God’s help in the past when you are overwhelmed. Having something to read will help you to remember and encourage your heart.
- And last, but certainly not least, read missionary biographies. Others have gone before us and we can learn from them. The circumstances are different, but the struggles are the same. I have been helped greatly by the writings of Isobel Kuhn. She is very candid about her struggles. My two favorite books of hers are In the Arena and Green Leaf in Drought.
I hope that someone will be helped by these things. It has been worth the time for me to reflect on them. I think that we do others a disservice when we hide behind a mask and pretend that everything is o.k. We are human and we will struggle. We can help someone else through the struggle, if we are willing to humble ourselves and be transparent. God knows that we are dust (Ps. 103:14)! How marvelous that He still chooses to use us!
11 thoughts on “Adjusting to Life on the Mission Field”
I enjoyed your post very much. I told a friend on facebook about you. He and his wife want to go to the mission field. Are you on Facebook?
This was very well-written and thought out. I have passed it along to 3 friends who have arrived on the field within the past month.
I hope to refer to this again in a few years as the Lord allows us to serve Him in Japan.
Thanks so much. I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your transparency!
Thank you for your encouragement. It is my prayer that the Lord will use what I am learning through my struggles to help others.
thank you so much this was so helpful, my husband and i just moved to the field of North Africa and we’re about to move into our apartment tomorrow. We’re so excited to get there, but part of me is scared to death of how the culture shock is going to hit, with my kids husband and all.
Thank you for all your practical tips I’ll be putting them to practice
I’m glad this was helpful. I understand well the mixed feelings of fear and excitement. It is my prayer that you will find God’s grace to be sufficient for you during this time.
It has been so helpful to read your experiences, we are serving in Sao Paulo Brazil, this isolation is very real and needs a spiritual response .Your honesty has helped me realise I am not the only one to feel like this..
God bless you ma, your experience has lightened my countenance may the good Lord continue to uphold you in Jesus name, amen
Hi Senkyoushl, First thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I know the Lord had called me to the Mission Field so I’m preparing to go. I’ve read various blogs and articles of Missionaries experiencing struggles in the field. And I know that one struggle that keeps coming back is the one that you shared about the loneliness. I’m preparing for the emotional struggle because I know that I will miss my loved ones. Thank you for sharing about memorizing scriptures. The scriptures will keep me during my time of loneliness and struggle because it will keep my focus on the Lord.
Thank you for your comment. Loneliness is a struggle that never goes away, but memorizing Scripture and communion with God helps ease the pain. God’s grace is amazing!
Thank you so much for this article. I attend a church in the U.S. Things are not well at the church, and I had been hoping and praying that we could leave and find another church. However, my husband (who is a full-time employee of the church) believes the Lord has told him to wait. At the same time, the Lord was assuring me that he is our provision and that this is our mission field. Loneliness is what I feel most of the time at church and the Lord just spoke to me this morning about getting on top of scripture memorization. Reading this article was confirmation for me. God Bless you for your honesty and obedience in sharing your struggle.
Thank you for your encouraging comments. Scripture memory has helped me to control my thoughts in my struggles. God’s Word really is the living Word! I pray that you will find peace in His presence. BTW, I took care of the editing. =)