I haven’t had a place I can call my own for the past six months. I haven’t had a “real” job for even longer. I would love to say that I’ve been on vacation for the past eight months due to the fact that I did something fantastic like winning the lottery. I would also love to tell you that I’ve been playing the system, living off of coupons and the free beef I got with my Les Schwab tires, but that is not the case either. The reality is that my husband and I took the money we received from our wedding, along with a few thousand more laboriously earned fundraising dollars, and climbed in my awkwardly small Toyota on our way to being first-time overseas missionaries.
This is the part where I should tell you that becoming a missionary was the best thing that ever happened to me. That the dozens of lives I have impacted for Christ since I have arrived have left me stunned, and that there is nothing on earth that I would rather be doing with my life. I expected to be able to repeat those statements verbatim and to talk long-distance to friends back home about how powerfully and obviously God is working in my life. Don’t read too deeply into my obvious state of discontent, I am in fact glad to be here, and I do believe that God has called us here for a reason. But so far I seem to be missing the sense of purpose and warm-fuzzies normally described by others returning from the mission field.
I can hear the voices of friends, family and various advice columnists. “Her expectations were too high,” or, “Does she want some sort of trophy for serving God?” Maybe some of these statements are true of my life. Maybe I have actually become what I always feared: a bad missionary assistant. Maybe I have let other’s experiences shape my perceptions and lost sight of true servitude. God is slowly teaching me to see its light once again.
About a month into our journey, it came time to send out our first newsletter. Weeks earlier I had been so excited to send out this mass mailing of impersonal updates surrounding our current happenings. We would tell people how we made it safely, how my luggage was lost for two days somewhere in the bowels of the London-Heathrow airport and give colorful descriptions of our new jobs. We would then of course share a bit of our newfound “Godly wisdom.” Instead, that night my Word document did nothing to help my lack of enthusiasm to write as the glow of my bright, textless page shone blindingly in my face. One of my lowest points on the self-esteem meter came with the realization that I had nothing to say.
Not that I wanted to brag–I do like to think that I am at least a step up from winning the “bad missionary” award of the year. I wanted to encourage our supporters that their hard-earned dollars were going to the right place. I wanted to show our amazingly dedicated, yet unashamedly poor college friends that they were right in giving their money to us instead of paying their cell phone bills on time. I wanted to convince myself that I was worth it.
To give you an idea of what this cranky lament has been about, my husband and I work with a ministry that shares the gospel with millions of people every week, but struggles at times to communicate with or effectively manage the missionaries within it’s own walls. The office work I am doing now, though sometimes it still seems pointless, will eventually save the ministry lots of money some-odd years down the road. It’s been a challenge to work in a non-community oriented environment, especially coming from a campus ministry group that is strongly relationship oriented. My husband has received much of the same plight, as he spends much of his days grooming the lawn or coming up with the most creative way to organize the garage. Many late-night discussions and knowing looks between the two of us have begged the same questions: “Isn’t there something more important we could be doing for the Kingdom of God? Why would God call us here just to have us spend our days grooming shrubs and creating intricate spreadsheets?”
I am realizing that God is more than boredom and frustration. He is more than co-worker relationships and workflow issues. He is a relational God in an un-relational landscape. It is possible, to quote a Godly man, that God cares more about our character than our happiness. He cares more about our relationship with Him and our future in Him than in our own personal fulfillment and sense of accomplishment.
A word of peace came one morning, strangely, from another missionary at work. As he stirred his third cup of coffee and described to the group how the Israelites were brought out of Egypt and into the desert, I think my own espresso kicked in as I began to see my situation as a desert period in life. The Israelites must have thought that they had been brought out of Egypt to do something remarkable, something important. It would have been natural for them to think that God had brought them into success and abundance, and that the milk and honey would have started flowing a little sooner. But God brought them into the desert.
Of course God had a plan for them, in His own time. But first he wanted His people to be humbled. And here I am, gingerly chipping off my piece of spiritual manna, while grumbling like the biggest jerk in the entire Israelite community. Manna, Ramen, Mac and cheese—whatever—at least I know that God will throw me the occasional quail.