Who are Christian missionaries? They are people who further the message of salvation through Jesus Christ or carry out parallel work such as in medicine or education. One missionary we know aptly stated that the role of missions is to “establish a beachhead” before broader evangelism occurs. Missionaries often leave their homes, sometimes permanently, and travel with their families to harsh environments and risky parts of the world to carry out such work. Usually working more for the sake of their higher calling, they make relatively little money, live in simple housing, and drive simple cars, all while facing opposition and working very, very hard. In sum, Christian missionaries are selfless individuals willing to forsake all for God’s purposes. The problem is that despite their gallantry for the sake of God and others, missionaries are susceptible to human limitations just like the rest of us. Christian missionaries are people. Special people to be sure, but still people.
According to The Traveling Team (cited by “About Missions”), there are 140,000 full-time protestant missionaries in the world. About half of these missionaries are American. Mission organizations, researchers, and missionaries alike indicate common difficulties for those “out there” on the mission field. For example, missionary Jack Voelkel says missionaries face many hardships in the field, including: family and marital problems, loneliness, discouragement in results, financial strain, limited schooling options for children, and low security. According to Mission to the World, missionaries face several common cross-cultural stresses, including various situational difficulties, daily hassles we don’t deal with here at home, missing out on family life events back home, witnessing recurring traumatic events in foreign countries, and personality clashes. Further, Doulos Partners states, “Stress manifests itself in many forms, and it is an unfortunate truth that overseas mission work offers the perfect number of conditions for stress to grow and thrive.”
This stress has consequences. In her article about missionary burnout, missionary coach and writer Sarita Hartz states, “Eighty percent of missionaries burn out and don’t finish their term. Forty-six percent of missionaries have been diagnosed with a psychological issue, and of those eighty-seven percent are diagnosed with depression.” She emphasizes that stress is a very real problem for missionaries. Not unlike other highly motivated, service-oriented professions, Christian missionaries can overwork themselves. They can get tired and lose sleep. They can face financial strain. They can struggle in personal relationships, including their marriages. They can get lonely. They can get frustrated over lack of training or resources. They can get discouraged and depressed. They can even face all of these simultaneously, while alone and in a distant country. Stress and trauma on the mission field is very real. Despite the trials and risks, there are countless amazing stories of missionary heroes. Here is one man’s story:
Living in a family of great affluence in the early 1900s, it seemed odd to many that William “Bill” Borden would “leave it all” to become a missionary—preaching the Gospel in some distant land. One newspaper headline read, “Young Millionaire Renounces World to Be Missionary.” But convinced of the reality of God and the value of Scripture’s message of love and hope, Bill committed in his teens to live a life telling others who Jesus was and what He had done for them. And so he prepared by studying at Princeton and Yale, refining his personal character, and laying aside worldly possessions and affairs of this life. Bill Borden, however, is not known to us for the impact he made on the mission field, the novel evangelizing methods he used, or the austere life he lived in a remote village. Instead, we marvel at his remarkable character and service before reaching the mission field, as well as the short but significant phrases he is said to have penned in his Bible. You see, William Borden never reached the mission field. He died in Egypt, where he was learning Arabic and Muslim culture en route to his assignment in remote interior China. He was only 25 years old. He left a wonderful legacy for the world. He gave us an example of personal character and service. He showed us how God can use someone—even a young person—to reach others in great need or to lead a campus revival. And, we are told that in his Bible Bill Borden left a legacy for all of us on how to be stewards of the lives God has given us. First, at one point in his preparation, when considering what he was leaving behind, he wrote, “No reserves.” All of his time, talent, and treasure were committed to the Lord and His kingdom. Later, he contemplated successful options in business or athletics (a personal love of his) instead of being a missionary. His answer? “No retreats.” There would be no going back now. Then, nearing death with cerebral meningitis in Egypt, looking back on his life he penned, “No regrets.” Borden gave all for the Lord. He set aside the trappings of this world. He worked hard at preparation. He took risks. In doing so, William Borden gave all of us a model to live by: no reserves, no retreats, no regrets.
In order to be successful in the mission field, missionaries have to adopt a “no reserves, no retreats, no regrets,” mentality. Such commitment, though, deserves any support we can give them. With billions of unreached, unevangelized, and disbelieving people across the globe, the task remains to “establish a beachhead” wherever opportunities open. Along the way, we need to take care of our missionaries and their families. They need us and deserve our help. Through its developing Life Ranches, Forward Free seeks to mitigate and prevent the secondary consequences of trauma and stress experienced by Christian missionaries and others, including disabled and wounded veterans, first responders, Gold Star families, foster families, widows, and more. We do this through awareness, advocacy and compassionate service. Join us!