When she’s not the good missionary

The other day I was on facebook and saw a missionary friend’s status. It had a picture of her two little children being dropped off for their first day of preschool. The caption said “First day of Preschool. It was rough.” The part that struck me was a comment on the status that said something like, “Why was it rough? They will learn Spanish faster than you!” I haven’t been able to get this off my mind. This comment really bothered me and I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why.

I’m sure this person really meant to encourage or didn’t mean anything at all, but sometimes I think people just don’t get it.

I wanted to comment back to her and say, “It was rough because she has uprooted her children from everyone and everything that they have ever known. It was rough because they had to wave goodbye to their grandparents in the airport and now when anyone says the word “Bye” they burst into tears and she has to ask the person to please wave and say goodbye to them one more time. Or ten. And they still continue to sob. Even if it’s the pizza delivery man. It was rough because they had to say goodbye to their best friends that they will probably, literally, never see again. It was rough because she had to leave all of her friends, support systems, relatives, memories.

It was rough because, more than likely, she wouldn’t have chosen this life. It was chosen for her and everyday she has to submit herself to it.

It was rough because now she is taking her kids to a school where the children and teachers don’t speak English, where she’s afraid that her children might not be able to communicate their needs. And she has to leave them there even if everything inside of her screams to just take them home because she has to go to language school herself. Its rough because she realizes her kids will say painful goodbyes for the rest of their lives. It was rough because she knows they will struggle to fit into the culture in which they live and the culture in which they were born. It was rough because she realizes that they will see their grandparents faces on a computer screen more than they will feel their kisses on their cheeks. It was rough because she, herself, takes away her parents’ only grandchildren. It. Is. Rough.

It’s not a super cool adventure and she doesn’t really care that her children will learn Spanish more quickly than she will.”

Lets just say this post is not from the good missionary. But she’s honest.

Sometimes I don’t want people to tell me that I’m going on a great adventure or that I’m so lucky or brave. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way.  Sometimes I feel like I was dragged into this kicking and screaming, with big alligator tears, feeling like everything I have ever known or loved is being stripped away from me and my children.

Sometimes the thought of cheddar cheese can bring me to tears.

If you’ve ever had any love for me in your heart or cared for me at all, please don’t complain on facebook about the grocery cart at your walmart or post pictures of your girl scout cookies or mention chic-fil-a. Please. Ever.

If I’m just going to put it all out there. I grieve. Missionaries are grieving. When we say it’s rough, that’s because it is.  Missionaries grieve the loss of the life they had. Friendships. Family. Safety. Familiarity. English. Yes, even chic-fil-a and cheddar cheese.

I grieve, but mostly I grieve the loss of my idols. I’m not asking for a different life. I am convinced that right now, this is the life that I was called to. Usually it’s a really good life, especially when I think of other, harder fields. I have friends that are in such dangerous places that they can’t say that they’re missionaries. They risk their lives everyday for the sake of the Gospel. They rarely or never see their family. Then I realized how spoiled we are in Colombia.

I’m reminded of a letter that Adonirum Judson wrote to his fiance’s father. 

Then I feel a little spoiled, but right after that I get on pinterest or I see something on facebook and I grieve the losses all over.

Can you grieve the loss of food coloring? Why, yes, yes you can.

So, when you see her on facebook putting it all out there, just tell her you’re praying for her. Tell her you’re praying for her children. Be sure not to mention chic-fil-a…

…And when she’s not the good missionary you think she should be, give her grace…because today, maybe she got on pinterest.

Today it might just be a rough day.

Follow up post here.


128 thoughts on “When she’s not the good missionary

    • Emily, I don’t know you, but I know my mother, who is a missionary in the Philippines. I know and understand grieving over things, as much as grieving over the time and people you must leave. I understand the pain of knowing that my children will know their grandparents by a computer screen(THANK GOD FOR THE TECHNOLOGY, it was not available when they first went), Many people forget that those in the ministry are human, and you have very human emotions that you must deal with. God gives the strength to survive it, but it still hurts.
      I am in the states and I grieve the fact that I have never been in my mothers home, I can’t just go for a visit, we can’t go shopping or have coffee together. Their are many things that are sacrificed by all the members of the family.
      I Thank you for what you do and I will pray for you, and your children, it is a different grace that is needed for the wife and children sometimes I think.

    • Thank you for that! My husband and I are missionaries to Guatemala, and take many trips to Mexico and this is exactly how I feel! God Bless!

    • Emily, we’ll let God decide the good and the “not good” of our missionary work. Read your replies and you’ll see one from Stephanie Montjoy. I’m her mom. “Dad” and I serve in the rural provincial central Philippines. Now in our 17th year.

      Cheese…how many years did I long for a slice of cheese. I’m thankful for progress….we have cheese, many kinds now, but not always. I actually cried one time for want of a real salad with a real tomato. Such little things…what frail creatures we are at times 🙂

      Just this past week Stephanie took her tablet to the school where 5 of our grandchildren were participating in their spring musical program. Only managed to get through on SKYPE for about 2-3 minutes…but I must confess that even after all these years I spent most of that time crying…and yes, I was crying for a part of “normal life” that will never be mind, or that will never be a part of our grandchildren’s lives. Yes, I am so grateful for the internet, for SKYPE, for low phone rates…all of that. But there are days when we are all “not good” missionaries.

      I’m so often reminded of Matthew 19:29. For years I read that verse BEFORE God called me to prove it in my life. I remember thinking about it as the time for our initial departure arrived. We left for the field when our children were grown and either married or in college. Truly I thought I could not survive that first departure. I think my heart has never hurt so. And yet with that tremendous pain came a corresponding peace and joy. Grace and nothing but grace! That is surely a mystery of God.

      The family has “fine tuned” the separation process over the years. But the black cloud still arrives within a short time of our furlough beginning, and it just continues to gather until the day comes and passes again. Our grown children manage better these days…now the grandchildren have to learn their way through these cloudy times.

      One day, one day no more! You and I, and all the other moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, children, cherished friends who experience this path in our lives….we’ll all survive. Surely it will make heaven even more sweet, for there we’ll not ever say “good bye” again.

      Good missionaries go….AND grieve…but still go!

      God bless, from a sister in service!

      • Jill! I love what you wrote. Your last line is right on the money. Been overseas 8 years now and the “clouds” have often felt darker and more threatening. We thought making our lives somewhere else, building a new “home” would eventually render the pain of all the losses as less and less intense. In fact, our love for our far-away families has only grown and the chasm feels ever larger. So grateful for a God who is bigger than it all and that He has joy set before us. Thanks to Emily as well for this post :).

  1. Oh Emily, that was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your heart. Your honesty is what makes you a “good” missionary (if there is such a thing, since we are none of us good in our own right). I know I am not in a foreign country, but in many ways I can relate! We may still be in the USA with CFA and walmart, but family is 2400 miles away. Friends are the same. The West is just different enough to feel like another culture!! Many prayers come your way. Know that we all have idols to lay down and heaven forbid we judge another in the process!

    • Thank you Caron – you were on my mind when I was writing this. You always tell me you’re praying for me. This is more precious than anything. I’m so thankful for you!

  2. Wow! You have such a way to write exactly what I was feeling in Malawi and now in Corinth. Even though we are back in the States, we left our dearest friends when we left Malawi and it does hurt. We are praying for y’all!

    • Good to see you on here, LeAnn!!! It’s a small world!

      Wow, this post is SO TRUE and well written. As a now grown MK, I think the grief will never go away — and now I understand why I get separation anxiety STILL!

      Thanks for writing such a good article. . . sending on to my mom!

      Amanda (Long) Carlson

  3. You always have been honest (except that time Ben Hunter unwittingly tattled on you for going into that PG13 movie before you had been allowed to see such things). I’ll bring more cheese and food coloring when I come for my “real” kisses on my cheek and not those Skype kisses, even though I love them too. I wake up everyday and count the blessings of your being in Bogota rather than Uganda! Word kiss, word kiss!

  4. I know your pain!! Not to single out any one topic but I once needed food coloring for a chemistry project my daughter had. We went to at least 4 grocery stores in hopes of find it. And you know how hard it is to just go to one grocery store here in Bogota!! It took two weeks of looking here and there and we finally substituted with jello but DANG! I wanted to cry from frustration! BTW: I have seen cheddar before, not lately, but if I ever do see it again I will catch a taxi north to your neighborhood and personally hand deliver 🙂 Blessings!! Missy from Texas, now living in Bogota

  5. I pray for you and Josh, and all your children. My heart aches sometimes I miss you all so much. I can only imagine how hard missing everything here it is for you. You are an amazing family in so many ways. I thank God for you all and ask his grace and blessings on you.

  6. Emily, thanks for sharing. My husband and I are moving to Colombia in Sept. after serving many years in Costa Rica. Let’s keep in touch and hope to meet someday. I am now on the other side as I serve and my grandchildren are in the U.S.–they know me more from the screen than in person. Pam

  7. Your words touched my heart. Our daughter and family are serving in Colombia . As a parent of missionaries and granparent to 4 little ones going thru difficult adjustments, I hear you words clearly. Hearing grandparents complaining or just watching grandparents w grandchildren, I feel the deepest hurt and somtimes wish friends would not say many of the words you mention. Oh they are on a great adventure etc. We don’t get much comfort from those words. We are so glad the they are serving but we grieve as parents and grandparents. Sometime you just want Somone to acknowledge the grief not that they are having great adventures . Thank you for being so open. Today I feel like a bad missionary parent- because I continue to battle the loss of not getting to see them grow up. Again thanks. It was amazing insight.

      • Oh Annett, thanks for sending this post and your words of reply. I feel as you because I’m the other grandma to that Colombian missionary family. I can’t say enough as to their incredible capacity to serve. I many times ache for what they endure, and how we are missing out on the little things that we wish we were watching, especially with the little ones, and seeing our kids ministering…. but am so proud of how they handle situations of inconvenience and are so gracious with the people they minister to. God is replacing blessings by allowing them to see the fruit of their labor and I can’t wait to see them soon. There will then be adjustments for them here also in the States but we as parents/ grandparents will be able to help and aide them for the next few months. Love you Annett and your heart. Emily thank you for the post and knowing how it really is….

      • When we were in missionary training, the leaders told us that the grandparents may have the hardest job of anyone. Our parents really appreciated that information when I took their granddaughter 4000 miles away.

  8. Thank you for this! Three years on the field with the only grandchildren and yes, you are completely right.Thank you!!!

  9. I don’t know how it is to be a mother/grandmother of missionaries. But I know what it’s like to be a “missionary kid.” I remember opening the occasional boxe sent form the US. We opened it and breathed deeply before diving in. It smelled like America. It smelled like home. And then we pulled out peanut butter. Mmmmm! Real peanut butter! And American candy! (It didn’t matter that we had Swiss and French candy at our fingertips. We wanted the GOOD stuff!) Oh. And potato chips. My mother would hoard them like they were some kind of drug! In fact… I don’t think she shared… Maybe that’s why I’m not a chip fan to this day…

    I understand what your babies are dealing with. The uncertainties of every knock at the door, every person that bumps into them, every strange smell, and so, so much more. Thankfully, I can say with confidence, that God is faithful. His mercies really are new every morning. He really is our protection and our strength. Even through the loss of a parent. He is good. And He never stops. Even when it hurts. A lot.

    Your precious children will know and trust God in a way that most people will only read about. Words of Truth will ring true with them, where others may only wonder why God put them in His inspired Word. Your children will experience what intimacy with their Covenantal Savior truly is. And He will always be a blessing to them. A shelter under His protective and loving wing. They will never doubt it. At least, not when it really counts. And that what counts.

    I love you guys. And can’t wait to see you! In just a month!!! Yikes! I better start packing!

  10. Hi. From this missionary wife and mother of five……a big hearty amen!

    I’ve had those days…. Dropped off for first day of school. Rough indeed it was. In a hundred different ways. You covered about 80% of those.

    Blessed we are to be called….. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.


  11. Thank you for this. It’s so nice to know I am not alone. I’m going to be sending my first child to school in the fall & already I feel sick deep in my gut at “what could go wrong” as he attempts to communicate his needs in a school where English is not spoken. I, too, feel bad at having the grandchildren so far away from their grandparents. To make matters worse, my 4-year old continues to say to me, “I wish we could go back to America.” Ugh! It’s a tough life we have chosen, but a blessed one.

  12. And when you leave the places the Lord has taken you (those far off countries or locations of grand adventure :), you will grieve again. I’m about to re-enter the world of the US after seven years living abroad and the ache is almost stronger with this leaving. But there is a depth and sweetness to what God has done in this time that will be impossible to express back “home”. If anything, I’ve learned to grieve deeper, build stronger, love fuller, and hold looser – all the while knowing in a new way, this world is not my home. Beautiful! Thank you for writing what so much of know but struggle in expressing.

  13. Emily:

    I don’t know you, but I feel like I do. Thank you for being real. I felt every word and understand each feeling. And I love the title of this ~ even though it makes me sad that to be a good missionary we are expected not to cry, hurt, struggle, or ever be angry. And definitely NOT talk about it to anyone. But thank you for helping “break the silence” if you will and just being genuine. I have added you to my prayer list. When my husband and I left home for Lima, Peru, we spent an entire day waiting for our flight in Bogata ~ I admire you and will pray for you & yours! God bless!

  14. Dear Emily, This is just a special “thank you”, from a ‘new’ missionary (10months) in southern Mexico. I feel as if you reached in my heart and wrote everything I have been feeling. Thank you, for helping me to see that I am not alone and that it’s ‘normal’ to feel this way. “I’ll pray for you….you pray for me…and together we’ll touch heaven from our knees.”

  15. Emily, thank you for being so honest! I admire fellow missionaries who “keep it real” even if it sounds bad to those who hold us in high regard (much higher than we should be!). My husband and I brought our, then, 2yo daughter, the only grandchild in his family and my family, to Madagascar last September to serve as missionaries of the Gospel.

    “and now when anyone says the word “Bye” they burst into tears and she has to ask the person to please wave and say goodbye to them one more time. Or ten. And they still continue to sob.” – I was struck by these phrases in particular because I couldn’t explain why our daughter has had such a complex about saying goodbye, bawling when Daddy makes a quick run to the market without blowing a kiss as he pulls out of the gate after the big to-do of hugs and kisses before he even gets in the car. It makes sense now and breaks my heart that our children are terrified of goodbyes.

    “Sometimes I don’t want people to tell me that I’m going on a great adventure or that I’m so lucky or brave. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I feel like I was dragged into this kicking and screaming, with big alligator tears, feeling like everything I have ever known or loved is being stripped away from me and my children.” – This is also me in a nutshell on the particularly rough days. I understand the desire for people to just see missionaries as normal believers with the same, carnal struggles and fleshly desires (i.e., wanting Chick fil a so bad you could punch someone or just wanting to go in public without being stared at).

    Thank you, again, for sharing your heart, for taking the words straight out of my mouth and my heart. I am thankful that there are other missionary mothers beside whom I am fighting the good fight to finish the race, while keeping the faith (2 tim 4:7).

  16. Refreshing. First time on your blog. We are overseas and you summed up a lot of real emotions. God bless you, your work and your writing!

  17. Emily, Thanks so much for your blog posting. It “hits the nail on the head” on every account! My wife and I are “seasoned” missionaries with nearly 35 years of ministry behind us. We were single foreign missionaries (in Fiji & Africa) for the first 7-10 years of service to the Lord and were “old” when we met & married in our late 30’s. Now, in our late 50’s, we’re grieving a teenage son, who is in the USA for college. We grieve the expected “loss” of our teenage daughter in just 2 more short years. Today, I grieve over pickle relish and would be willing to pay almost any price for it, but it’s no where to be found! Thank you for sharing our hearts when you shared yours! God’s blessings to you and your family!

    • It is so refreshing to see all the comments here. My family and I served in Central America and even though I felt so blessed to be there, I struggled with loneliness of a kind I had never experienced before. I talked to no one as I was certain that I would not be feeling this way if I was a “good missionary”.

      I remember about a year in, wanting a saltine cracker so badly that I swore to myself if I found them anywhere, I would pay whatever they were asking! I finally found a huge tin of them (and only one!) at a stop-n-go and didn’t even look at the price. I grabbed them up and went straight to the register. When I got home, I felt enormous guilt for spending $17 on saltine crackers!!! Who could I have helped, what could I have done with that $17? To make it worse, in that humidity, they were stale before I could even make a dent in them : ) But they sure tasted good at first and I was happy every time I ate one.

      My husband told me that God was delighted to give me something that made me smile and I shouldn’t grieve over my purchase. That tin stayed in our kitchen the whole time we were there as a reminder to me that God loved me enough to send one lonely tin of saltine crackers all the way to Central America just to make me feel better.

      I am so glad you have this forum. I hope that all you who are in preparation will go easy on yourselves. Even Christ grieved over things that made him sad. Press on toward the mark…..

  18. Thank you for your complete honesty. It is sooo refreshing!
    I too, although I am not on a foreign mission field have been experiencing some of the exact grieving that you spoke of. Some of your words could have come from my heart.
    I say all that to say. Thank you.
    Thank you for honesty and truth and being real.
    Hugs to you!

  19. A missionary friend (who’s a mom) shared your post today on FB, and that’s why I’m here…and I’m glad I am. Your post made me tear up. Praying today for you and all the missionary families I know and don’t know! Blessings on you!!

  20. It is difficult to say goodbye to our loved ones in America and the way of life we are accustomed to, but not all of us missionaries are grieving overseas. My husband and I, along with our two daughters (12, 9) are thriving in Romania! We really, genuinely like living here, and I’m not just talking about the ministry God’s called us to. We like the slower pace of life living in a small town. We love the beautiful countryside and the friendly people. We have Romanian friends and our girls do, too.

    We’ve been here almost 4 years, so our girls were young when we came and thus experienced many changes. But we’ve always encouraged them to not see the changes as “good” or “bad”, but just as “different”. And that’s help them a lot. Our girls love being with their Romanian friends and being part of the community. The first time our oldest went to Romanian camp at age 9, I was scared. No phone contact. No English language. No cereal for breakfast. How would she do? But then she came home LOVING camp and DYING to go back!

    Of course, our days have their ups and downs, but we don’t cry over the life we had. We enjoy the life we have now. All that being said, I’m sure that the more different the culture and way of life of the new country are, the more difficult the adjustments are. Still, I try every day to not focus on what’s different or what I can’t buy here, but on what I can get and what is wonderful about my new country, home, and ministry.

    • I am also thriving in Bogota, but the calling to put to death our idols and to lay down our lives as living sacrifices and to take up our crosses daily is a painful process overseas or at home. This is what we’re called to. This is the Christian life. We have more blessings than we can count, but life is painful sometimes. The sanctification process hurts. That’s all I wanted to communicate.

      • I posted a comment to this on another post. But I agree with you Emily. Yes, I suppose there are some who mysteriously focus on all the positives in their lives at all times. And I really commend those people. But Google anyone who has been in ministry for any extensive period of time (perhaps those that have already gone ahead of us) and we will see that they faced tremendous periods of “sanctification” which involved the “loss” of something, even if it was the loss of that feeling that God is near. Sometimes I feel like when people can’t express their difficult times, it means they are fake. But perhaps that is judging. Perhaps they really do see their glass half full. I pray that God will let me see my glass half full but that I’ll never forget how to empathize with others through difficult times.

  21. Came across your post randomly today, but it was such a blessing from God that my soul needed. To make a long story short, I’m struggling desperately with anxiety and depression and your post today gave me hope. And comfort. Thanks. God bless you and your family.

  22. +1 from the Atkins serving in Guinea Bissau, West Africa. We once had a family member mail us a block of cheddar cheese – and when it got there four weeks later, we rationed it for months. 🙂

  23. Thank you, that is one of the most amazing posts I have ever seen from a missionary.
    I have a whole new look on the sacrifice you all make. What a blessing.

  24. Its a hard thing to make me do, but I am snot crying. Mother to 5, 7 and under. Missionary, just one country over and up. I am confident I am going to write the curriculum for “Missionary 101: Cussing Cross Culturally.” (Just hopped over to your blog from my la la land, Pinterest.) Thank you for the tears and certainly the truth. I needed them.

  25. Thanks – we know and support many missionaries – I appreciate your thoughts. My husband is a pastor and our oldest son just took his first job as a pastor of discipleship and worship in a church 11 hours away. They have our only grandchildren. I grieve regularly too. With both in churches – we just don’t have many weekends available – there are no cheap flights between our two cities and an 11 hour drive makes frequent visits impossible. It’s not as much a sacrifice as yours, but very real just the same. It’s a very real grief and the thought that we’ll spend eternity together just doesn’t cut it some days.

  26. Soooooo true! It isn’t that it doesn’t hurt. It hurts! But Christ is worth it! What a great privilege to serve Him even through the tears. Thank you for not painting the rosy fairy tale picture of missions… That world doesn’t exist. If it did, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and ChickFilA and cheddar cheese would be at every corner. But after a months of searching every store… One store finally got a shipment of vanilla flavoring!!! It was right beside the food coloring. PTL!
    Southern Asia (closed)

  27. Thanks for capturing how I feel today! I’m encouraged knowing I’m not the only one out there feeling that way. 🙂 BTW… que chevere que estas en Bogota! Mi esposito es de B, y tenemos mucha familia alla! Abrazis y si quieres conecciones me contacta! (Recibi su link de una amiga mia en Vancouver.) 😉

  28. I don’t know you but will pray for you today! Thank you for your post and your honesty. No one can understand what it is like until they have walked in your shoes; this is true of everyone, missionaries or not. But when someone can take the time to share her heart like this, it helps us have a little glimpse and gives a little understanding. So thank you!

  29. I’m with you. Convinced of our call. Spoiled in the non-dangerous nature of our country and work. Still grieving losses big and small 2 1/2 years in. Tempted to chuck it all because I crave the ease and comfort of the life we left and lets face it, I’m not really spiritually fit enough to be a missionary anymore anyway. I deactivated fb earlier this week for the very reasons you mentioned. I can’t stand to be faced with what appear to be the easy lives and simple struggles of those we left far away. It feeds the grief more than it serves as a source of positive connection. My kids have started to thrive and are the sweetest part of my days… but it crushes me that we can’t share them with our family and friends. I’m with you. It. Is. Rough. But it’s worth it…. right? United in Christ with you.

    • “lets face it, I’m not really spiritually fit enough to be a missionary anymore anyway” Amen sister! I’m right there with you! He uses us in spite of ourselves.

  30. Amen! I’m back in the States now, but spent nine years on the mission field in East Africa, struggling soooo many days to be obedient and stay. It was wonderful in so many ways, but there is a grieving that’s hard to explain. You explained it well. The hardest for me was when I realized that I no longer fit anywhere, here or there, and that I’d never really be “home” again until forever. That was also the best, since now I long for my forever Home like I never had before.

  31. As a fellow missionary, (to the Dominican Republic) I totally relate! Especially the part about feeling spoiled in our field while friends of ours have a much more “primitive” life. But it does not make every day life easier. Thankfully God is strong in our weakness! Praying for you and yours!

  32. As a missionary mother of three getting ready to send our last one to the states for college I totally understand all that you have said here. It is a grieving that most cannot understand. We will have all our kids in the states and my husband and I will be empty nesters on the field. My heart aches and yet I know this is what He has for us to do. God will give grace and we will work through the grief. I am grateful for your open and honest post. You said what I fear is not acceptable at times to say out loud and often wonder why.

  33. My wife and I are now two months into our journey of serving overseas, and we have likewise dropped our kids (ages 3 and 4 1/2) off for kindergarten in order for us to go to language learning classes ourselves. Our son (4 1/2) in particular is having a “rough” time adjusting, missing his grandparents, cousins, and friends back “home”. Your post brought tears and encouragement at the same time. Thank you, and may God bless you and reward you in your work in Columbia.

  34. To those of us in churches can we indeed give love, grace and support to the ones God has called out among us. Can we never look at them as failures if they get discouraged, bear their soul and perhaps even return home for what can be many varied reasons. Can we allow them to be honest as this dear one has been. Yes, it is so hard….harder than we can imagine(no matter the country)….and hard enough that often makes us unable “to get it”. Can we share in their grief b/c that is what it is….grief over big and small things. Can we feel for them and with them to the best of our ability and above all pray for them and encourage them and thank God for their giftedness and ask Him to sustain them and help them through every situation. He who called them is faithful!

  35. Have a son and DIL moving for another ministry position. Can’t compare it to moving internationally (so it isn’t comparable). But she’s lived in the same city w/ the same friends for 10 years. And it’s hard. I’m sending this along. So well written. Blessings as you share Jesus with the world!

  36. Thank you so much for your honesty so refreshing. I have been in Aalborg, Denmark for almost 9yrs now and know oh so well this grieving especially the past 2yrs after suddenly losing my Dad this has been challenging but has deepened my love and dependence on Jesus like nothing else. Its just so comforting to know I am not alone that there are other sisters out there who know.
    A very greatful sister in Denmark!

    • Thank you Kylene. One of our teammates just lost a family member. It’s so much harder when you grieve your family from another continent, separated from the rest of your family that is also grieving. Thankful we don’t grieve as those without hope…

  37. I don’t even know you but I cried hard as I read such a truth of life of those who serve overseas.
    I am an MK who grew up in the Philippines…so I know the aches of all the goodbyes and it breaks my heart when I have to say goodbye to my grandkids who live in siberia not so much becasue i miss them but becasue I know what their life will be like. On the other hand being an MK is such a blessing…full of rich experiences etc but it is also unique and painful and confusing alot of the time.
    Thanks for sharing…so so true and i wish others “got it”

  38. Thanks for sharing. This is so true and so hard to understand until you have been there. Sadly, when the time comes to return to your ‘home” country it all happens in reverse, and so I can relate to this on two levels: the leaving of “home” to a new place…and then making that place “home.” And then returning to what is supposed to be “home” with all its luxuries, only to discover “home” was again left behind, in another country that no one from this “home” understands. And in the midst our kids try to figure it all out while we are wondering, sobbing, messes with each transition. May God be enough where ever we are! But I think it takes those empty, “I don’t want to do this” days to get to see His face, down there in the mud and the muck where we bend low to empty our woes and find He will lift us up. Maybe not that day, that week, that month, or that year. But He will in time lift us up.

    • Jaci,
      The best explanation for the reverse culture shock for me was: think of the country you live in as a blue country and the country you go to as a yellow country. When you go there you never fully become yellow, but rather green, so when you return home, you think you are blue but you have become green….. then the only people who really understand you are other green people…. it is hard, and this simple analogy helped me to understand some of the whys…. =) Blessings

      • That is an excellent analogy! I had a missionary kid one time (as an adult) tell me she always felt purple. This is exactly what she meant…

  39. Wow. Missionary wife and mom here in the remote rainforest region of Honduras. My mom tagged me in this on FB and I am SO thankful that someone else has tried to share the ‘real’ side of missions. I have tried to keep it real on my own blog, and it was great to read someone else sharing from the heart. You have so well expressed so many feelings that I have had and still have…excitement over finding a familiar food from home, aggravation at seeing yet another person update on FB telling which restaurant they’re at, or how well their vacation is going, fear in knowing that when we return to the US next year for our ‘furlough’, my oldest daughter will not be returning, and yet relief that she will once again be able to experience church and life as we knew it, worry over my other three, and whether or not they will be able to re-integrate into youth groups and find friends after being out of the country for almost 4 years…all emotions that can and do go thru my mind in the course of a day.
    And yet, the realization of how blessed we are would never have been as clear to me without have experienced life here.
    There are days when the reward is greater than the sacrifices, but there are also days when I could just hop the next plane ‘home’ and never look back.
    But knowing that this is where we are called, and having that peace that passes all understanding, has kept and keeps me going so many days.
    So thankful to be one of those who can go, for those who give and those who hold us up in prayer, and for those who have been willing to let us go, it takes everyone doing their part to make this thing called missions work.

  40. So much of what you said made me feel a bit of relief actually… I am not the only one! LOL I am in N. Africa and am so happy for fb and the internet as that is my ONLY social life in English, other than with my family here! LOL This was a real post and I think we a lot of times are not real enough because we feel we need to put on our big girl pants, and also frankly those not in our situation do not understand or have empathy so it is taken wrong when we are honest with our feelings…. thanks for your post and making me understand it is ok to be hurting in those areas from time to time! =) We are human =) Blessings to you…. kindred friend, Cindy…

  41. I echo many of the comments here from other missionary women/wives/mothers! You expressed so much of what I have felt so deeply. Its hard to express what you did in a way non-missionaries understand. After all, isn’t being a missionary in Italy like being on vacation? No. I can finally see the beauty here but that doesn’t replace what is lost.

    We just had our first child (while overseas) and I am dreading the goodbyes to come when it’s not only my husband and I leaving but also our daughter who we will take from her grandparents and other family and friends. It was freeing when I realized culture shock is largely a grief process, as you also articulated, which means it ebbs and flows. I love the first line of Robin”s last paragraph. It’s so true! The rewards are there when you are in Gods will but sometimes the sacrifice feels stronger and I wish I could just fly “home” though that will never be the same anyway!

    Keep writing. God is obviously using it.


    • Roger,
      For many of us, we would say it is only a choice of obedience or disobedience. For me, disobedience isn’t a choice. I hope I didn’t communicate that I have a terrible life. I have an incredibly blessed one, but I have hard days sometimes. Following the Lord’s call, whether overseas or at home is hard.

  42. I am also a missionary in South America. I felt like I was reading one of my own journal entries. You expressed my feelings so eloquently…and have touched many others in the process. Thank you for your transparency!

  43. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  44. Emily, thanks for your honest heart. Reading your post I felt the slightest hint of jealousy that you are even able to be so honest on your blog. We live in South Asia and have to watch our words. Therefore, I can’t say much on our blog about 2/3 of my life or the frustrations about being an expat in the country I live in (I caught some flak about this early on from a national I know, now I’m guarded). It feels stifling and frustrating at times, particularly for someone who loves to, as my husband would say, “over-share” because I so value authenticity.

    You are not alone. There have been a million deaths here since we arrived. And I imagine more to come. Obedience doesn’t always mean happiness and I think this is a concept that N. Americans on the whole don’t quite grasp.

    And the whole Pinterest and FB thing, bleh… I think I’m going to have to take a break for a while. My heart is not in the place where it can handle it. Maybe that just exposes the ugliness in my heart or maybe it’s the heat here. I think I’m going to go with the heat. 🙂

  45. As the mother and grandmother of missionaries who serve in a European country may I add the pain of those back home who never know how much to share with our missionary family members about what we are doing “back home” ? We long to keep them feeling connected and not left out, but fear we will bring them grief just as you so clearly describe of what they have given up

  46. Amen. I am a missionary mom and wife in the Dominican Republic with five kids ages 10 to 2. Your blogs sound like the exact words that have come out of my very own mouth. I even cried over them because my heart resonates so much. Continue on sister! He is faithful. Always.

  47. I enjoyed this post and also realize that it is painful both ways, we have been on our field in the Philippines 15 years now. We have 4 kids and as we look ahead to taking our first back to the states to leave for post high school, that will be a new kind of sad and pain. I remember the goodbyes when we first left with a 1 and 3 year old and each furlough after that when we said goodbye to friends, family and especially grandparents. But, God has also blessed us here on the field and so we have to say goodbye to them when we leave here. Such mixed feelings! So glad that our God is bigger and mightier than all this earthlier “stuff.” Heaven will be great!!!!!

  48. I just found you via a friend posting this post on Facebook….and am I ever glad I did. It’s my first year as a married woman in Hungary (I was here a before I was married though…and he was in Kazahkstan). And though we don’t have children, which proabably makes the distance a little with our families, your words still HIT the SPOT on how I’ve felt so many times. I know that God has called my husband and I to be here, but it’s just so hard sometimes. …to know I’m missing moments of my niece’s life. missing one of my best girlfriend’s wedding shower and bachelorette party. missing my brother and sister graduating from High School. and then missing my other brother graduate from college. And I feel as though the list could go on. and not just of important and loved ones events, but other menial things, like cheese. and shopping at Target.
    and it’s frustrating at times because I feel as though I’m the only one feeling these things.. because my husband doesn’t also miss or grieve the same as me. So a big THANK YOU Emily for putting into words what we all seem to feel at one point or another!

  49. Emily,
    We had been trained early on that the “missionary life is a life of loneliness without privacy” and that the road ahead would be a difficult one. The apostle Paul talked often of his life being one “full of sorrow, MINGLED with Joy.” Notice that he wrote that his life was a life of sorrow mingled with joy…not joy mingled with sorrow. But, oh, is it not true that the Joy far out-weighs the sorrow. Is not the “daily bread” that the Lord gives, so much greater than the store bought 3 week old bread. Do we go hungry sometimes, do we miss family back in the states, do we long at times for the life we had before….yes. Missionaries are real people facing real problems in real places far from “home.” Thus all of it seems,amplified. Just a few weeks ago, I was speaking with a young lady who found out we weren’t coming back for a long time, if ever (we are in our deputation stage in the states right now, after 10 plus years of training and waiting on the Lord). She said to me, “it must be much simpler overseas, being a missionary.” I smiled, bit my tongue, and began to share with her the grace and mercy that Christ has shown us (my wife and 4 sons through all of this). I asked her to think for a moment about all the hardships she goes though daily: “Now imagine those things 100 fold amplified. Loneliness for instance.” She was taken by this, especially considering this young lady is lost and without Christ, (at least for the moment, praying for Christ to save her). I went on to share with her the goodness of God to give unto us such depths of loneliness (etc), because it was not given to us to exalt us, but to move our hearts to cling in deeper and deeper dependence upon Christ our Elder Brother, Lord, Shepherd, and Savior. He gives us ‘amplified pain’ so that we can better minister and serve others like her. We are, by His grace, slaves of Jesus Christ for the sake of others (Titus 1:1). And, as I shared with her,, although some of our days just ‘suck’, we wouldn’t trade any of them to be back in “Egypt.” This is the calling that He has placed upon our hearts. This is what He created us for. And oh, the daily bread (fresh baked and still hot) that our God gives is far better than the bread any man can give. Do we hunger and go without much of the time….do our children struggle with thoughts of leaving their ‘grindaddy and mimi.” Do I not struggle with just giving them the so-called “normal life”….giving my sons a dog to raise, a yard to run in…and all the rest.. Has all the years of our moving from state to state, all of our training been in vain. No. The Joy has indeed far outweighed the Sorrow. The Joy is the experiential, growing knowledge of Christ overflowing out of our hearts and onto our sons and all those around us.
    Emily, thank you for sharing your heart and being courageously honest. Transparency is indeed a gift from God, and it is good to see that there are others among the 100,000 of us (read recently that there are only that many missionaries in the world) that have some hard days. Truly we all need each other. Even David Brainerd, the missionary “legend” of the 1700s struggled with loneliness and depression, but his joy in and knowledge of his God truly gave him the strength to do great things for God. I pray your whole family will have the same. Lord bless you. Psalm 73 has been a huge help to us. Take time to make a cup of coffee, sit down with Asaph and the Holy Spirit of God, and read prayerfully through this Psalm, remembering that Asaph was most likely a Levite priest, who, because of this, owned nothing….but his Inheritance was the Lord. It will encourage you to see his transparency and how the Lord answers him. One more thought before I end this….the same man who taught us that “the missionary life is a life of loneliness without privacy” (an 83 year old missionary kid who was raised in Kenya and is the founder of The Master’s Mission training school in Robbinsville, NC), also told us that one of the greatest gifts that we can give to our children, is the missionary life in service to Christ. He speaks from a life of experience as an MK and as a Missionary Father. Praise God for such a wonderful gift HE has given to our family in making us one of the few.

  50. A friend put your blog on a link on FB; so glad I looked at it. When my husband and I left for China after our oldest child left home on her own, I was so looking forward to this “great adventure.” Even after the first couple of years, I still looked on our time that way. But as the years passed, I found it more and more difficult to feel so “adventuresome” as I more and more missed the people and many of the familiar things from home (yes, cheese especially.) Even when more thing became available to us and relationships became more satisfying and the ministry prospered, it seemed that days of discouragement came more often. (I think the enemy became more active as he saw all that was happening!) And then our children married and began giving us beautiful grandchildren, adding a whole new dimension of “grieving.” After 10 years we returned “home,” only to find out that we were both “green!!” (Loved that analogy!!) And we began to grieve over the things we missed from our “yellow” home, even as we so thankfully enjoyed what was here and especially time with our children and grandchildren. I’m going to hold on to what one person said about Paul’s comment that life was “full of sorrow, mingled with a joy” and try harder to keep my eyes fixed on the finish line as I continue to run this race; anticipating that time of complete joy where sorrow will finally be no more. We’ve been back in the US a couple of years now, and your words and others’ comments have helped me understand and sort out some of the things I’ve been wrestling with. Thanks for your honesty and for your guileless love for the Savior! Blessings.

  51. This is so precious. I’m a middle aged mom of six who had to leave all I was familiar with, a community that I called home for 20 years, a church that was once family, and half of my children, to relocate across the country – not because it was what I wanted. When God directs, we bow our heads and say, “Yes, Lord.” But, yes…it is just rough. And though this sometimes feels like a cross-cultural move, it is nothing compared to what you are embracing. There are no easy answers. No pat condolences. Lots of loss and grieving, yes. Our sole consolation: He is here, with us, in it. Grace to you.

  52. Thank you for writing this! We are in South Asia with 2 young kids. I grieve a bit daily knowing our family is missing out on their lives, and that we took my parent’s only grandchildren to the other side of the world. I also miss cheese and cfa. It’s comforting knowing I’m not the only one!

  53. You don’t know me either, but I also wanted to thank you for writing this. My husband and I just moved to Peru with our 1 year old daughter and so much of what you said rings true. Just earlier today I was thinking about how I would just rather be back in the States. I miss our families and many other comforts we no longer have. And I was wondering if it is ok to think like that. I mean, I’m a MISSIONARY shouldn’t I have it all together? So thanks for reminding me that it’s ok, and that I’m not alone.

  54. This article was a blessing. I told my husband I could have written it myself! It did make me cry, though. It is a blessing to know that I am not the only one struggling with these thoughts of missing out on this or that. I can totally sympathize with the cheese thing, too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your heart. ¡Qué Dios los cuide y bendiga allá en Colombia!

    Erika Cisler
    Missionary to Uruguay

  55. Thank you for posting! I think we need more Christians to be honest. It was good for me to get a new perspective toward missionaries I know in the field and prepare myself for life overseas as I prepare to serve in South Africa. I have been trying to better appreciate the time I have now with friends and family before I leave but your post really sent it home for me. I know I’ve been on the naive side of missions as I’m still on that ‘calling high’ but I’m also all about being prepared and your post has definitly started to prepare me for what’s to come. Not only for myself but my future family. Thank you.

    Alyssa Carrel
    Future missionary to South Africa =]

    • Hey Emily- I’m a missionary in Venezuela- I saw your blog because an old college friend of mine, Kayla Gilley, posted it on her facebook. I feel your pain and I love your ability to state it. I’ve been in Venezuela now for five years and am about to have my first child here. Just wanted you to know you’re not alone and I appreciate the way you said everything. Thanks!

  56. Hello,
    As one on the opposite end of her miss’y career (having raised my kids in Africa and now within sight of retirement) I remember those days that you are experiencing. God bless you, b/c honestly, if I could have seen the future I don’t know if I would have stayed! I’m so glad those years are behind me.
    I used to say that our miss’y life was harder on our parents than on us, b/c we were where we felt called to be, and they were separated from us and the grands. Now we are facing that kind of loss ourselves, as we are still in Africa and our children are back in the USA!
    Through it all, just keep telling yourself: God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. (repeat, ad infinitum)

  57. Thanks for this wonderfully honest post! We’re going back to the States in 8 days, and I am trying hard not to covet the beautiful green grass behind the picture of your beautiful children. My husband and I teach MK’s in West Africa on the edge of the Sahara. Along with affordable, already shredded, cheddar cheese, we miss green grass!! My first grade MK students are certainly having a rough time saying their goodbyes during the last week of school!

  58. I have a block of precious cheese that was flown here to the jungle from a caring friend. When should I get it out to eat it?!@# I protect such insignificant little things…mostly my 3 MK’s that are grieving the coming loss (next week) of 5 missionary families leaving the field. Being in our 10th year, I realize I have put this tremendous pain on my children…to say hello, fall in love with friends, and then have their heart ripped out over and over. It doesn’t get easier. Praise God for Internet and technology! We miss cousins, grandparents, aunties and uncles. Now they just text them from the jungle-WHAT!? They have friends all over the globe. They have an incredible world view. They love the poor, broken-hearted, and widows so easily. They eat jungle meats, bugs and other foreign foods yet appreciate great steak and crab and fine foods too. They are in elementary school! They speak 3 languages. They hold regular and mature conversations with adults, children, elderly…anyone! They are witness to miracles. My kids know God is REAL and they tell their friends, cousins, and family all about it over Skype and Vonage! My heart is ripped out almost daily at the pain of missing my best friend raising her adopted and prayed for baby girl…God catching 10 years of those tears. I bleed (it feels like) from the pain of a sister going through divorce and one who is sick, nieces and nephews in need, and elderly parents alone in Alzheimers. I check ticket prices and dream I am quickly wealthy…maybe a trip just to ring the front doorbell and catch a loved ones’ face in surprise. Priceless! My 3 babies travel well…hours by plane, car, canoe, or foot. They have seen places in a decade that most of the world will never see firsthand. They name the terantulas that live in our home (to rid the nasty and dangerous other bugs), hunt with indigenous friends, slide down unknown waterfalls, visit most US states and the “famous” places as guests of supporters, and know what it is to want, and to have much! They actually do really well with that. They don’t struggle like their mom does; with pinterest, facebook, and online magazines. Most of all, they feel famous because of the incredible people who partner and love on us as missionaries. They know it takes those who will GO and those who will GIVE and those who PRAY always. They know and understand something far greater than us all…to be a small part of bringing His Kingdom come here on earth!! It is that understanding that keeps this mom keeping on and puts my life back in perspective. What a privileged life I lead:)…and sometimes really hard!

  59. I just left Facebook two weeks ago for part of what you wrote. While there are many positives, for me the negatives were outweighing the positives. I can still share photos and such through email with people who sincerely care. I love reading missionaries who honestly share from their heart.

  60. I moved to Asia recently and it’s good to read the perspective of someone who understands that some days, the many little costs just seem to add up to one BIG cost, and it feels a little overwhelming. Thankful for His patience and grace with us when we need to grieve or regain proper perspective.

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