Sometimes jobs come with perks; Like airline employees who get to fly for free. Or twenty percent off at the retail store. More valuable perhaps is a foot in the door toward a promising career or a gold star on your resume. Missionary work – so often described as a “sacrifice” – offers perks as well. They tend toward the character-building variety however. Hard to quantify. And likely unexpected at the onset. But ask any missionary who’s been at it for some years, and you’ll be surprised at how much of their journey has resulted in their good. Every journey is different of course, but here are a few benefits from mine.
Learn to live with less.
Missionary work will give you a new definition of “wants vs. needs.” Invariably, you’ll have to learn to make do with less… Less electricity, less security, less comfort, less money, less personal space… The list could go on. But despite the frustrations that may come, learning to live with (and love) a “simpler life” will grow you into a person with more: More patience, more resourcefulness, more contentment, and oddly, more time. And if you’re lucky, you may even become immune to the allures of modern mass-marketing – like Ad-Block for your brain.
The US Navy once promised to “show you the world.” While you may not make port in as many countries as a tattooed sailor, you will still amass a small collection of visas in your passport. You will pass through interesting places and see remarkable things. But the real reward will be in those few places where you put down roots. As you dig deep into culture and relationships you will come face to face with your presumptions and prejudices. Thrust into a world so foreign, you will be invited to truly see things differently: to see life, love, suffering, and the beauty of the gospel without the blinders of a compartmentalized and comfortable life. Yes, we see more in these travels and adventures. But we also learn to see better – to understand others, ourselves, and even God, better. The missionary life offers perspective. Invaluable, unshakable, life-changing perspective.
Super-Glue your marriage.*
The missionary experience is a unique incubator for a strong marriage. Husband and wife, suddenly flung in over their heads, beyond their abilities, and vulnerable. There will be no doubt that you need both God and each other. Grace will become a theme of your marriage as you carry one another through the challenges and hardships of living in a strange land. You will become a refuge to your spouse. You will pray more because you have to. Talk more because you need to. You will together bear witness to God’s miraculous provision. And you will share in amazing experiences that eclipse the shallow pursuits that so often occupy our lives. The result: a marriage forged by adversity and adventure and countless candle-lit dinners because the power was out.
Give your kids an unforgettable childhood.
Missionary kids: barefoot, bad haircut, a chameleon perched upon their shoulder. The stereotype often isn’t too far off the mark. Missionary kids may miss out on some special things, like time with grandparents and little league baseball. But a childhood in Africa will reward them with a rich and varied experience that is hard to beat. They will live and play a little closer to nature, see the world through the wonder of real adventure, learn to hear the rhythms of language and culture around them, understand the brokenness of the world a little closer to home, and see mom and dad live out their faith in daily obedience to God. All this leaves an indelible mark that they carry into adulthood – not unlike that mark on their forehead from the time they fell off the roof-rack of the Land Rover.
Gain a family.
Perhaps the greatest unexpected benefit of your life as a missionary will be the family you gain. The people you serve with, do life with, disciple, and learn from, will become a network of people who know you like few others do, or could. Sharing made-from-scratch meals in the desert, prayers in the midst of spiritual attack, and remedies for deworming your gut, you will be sharing life on a deeper level. These friendships – that cross cultures and cut through the superficial – will become lifelong friendships no matter where in the globe you scatter to next. It will feel like you gained a family, because you have.
When we answer God’s call in our life to “go”, we do so out of obedience and love. The journey itself is worth the effort of course, but it’s also amazing to see what God gives us along the way.
(* Not married yet? The mission field is also a terrific place to find your spouse. Especially if you’re a guy. Just saying.)