Before coming to Uganda with my wife as missionaries, I served in Singapore for 2 ½ years. Singapore was the first place where I served as a long term missionary. Given that Singapore is well developed, you would think it was easy for me to transit, right? Unfortunately, my experience was far from smooth. My wife had to spend many nights listening to me feeling the sense of loss of my home, friends, and family. Though I am Chinese from descent (I was born in Hong Kong), I am more ‘Ang Mo’, a Singaporean term to describe Westerners, given that I spent more than 20 years living in Canada. Living back in Asia was a shock to my system in various ways.
For many missionaries, homesickness, loneliness, missing friends, and family are often some of the stressors one experiences on the field. Lately, I noticed there were a number of posts published online about the suffering a missionary goes through. Unfortunately, for me, these posts tend to discourage rather than encourage. They list a bunch of things a missionary suffers but do not offer solutions to them. These posts might make me feel like someone out there understands my situation. But for me, empathy is not enough. I need more.
During those times on the field when I am down, my encouragement comes from reading the Bible. Paul, as an apostle (and also a missionary), suffered much for Christ. Whenever I open the book of Philippians, I am inspired by Paul’s desire to follow Christ, even to discount all things as a loss (Phil 3:8). His message to the church of Philippi is not merely to say ‘yes, things suck’. Rather, he not only stated the trials he went through but also brought the Philippi church up and encouraged them to keep the faith. Yes, things are not going to be good. But it is worth it. Paul is the right person to say this. He wasn’t sitting in an Ivory tower and giving orders. After all, he was
- Five times beat with forty stripes minus one
- Three times beat with rods
- Stoned once
- Three times shipwrecked
- A night and a day in the deep
- In perils of water, robbers, own countrymen (Jews), Gentiles, in city, in wilderness, in seas, in false brothers, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in hunger and thirst, in fastings, in cold and nakedness
Source: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NKJV)
If Paul, the one who suffered so much for the Gospel, can keep going, I can take that message. This is a message that gives me hope and courage.
While we were here in Uganda, we had an experienced missionary who told us that people from back home will disappoint us. Now, this might sound negative but this is a reality. The reality is that no one at home will truly understand 100% what we are going through. There was a time when I was upset at my friends and supporters for their lack of sensitivity. But after a while, I needed to move on. It is ok if people do not understand. It is ok because the source of my strength is not from them. It is by looking at Jesus that we can continue to labor in joy despite hardships. Following Jesus is a hard thing to do. When we talk about labor for Him, it really means to labor with sweat, toil, and heartache. But at the end, it is worth it. It is important to keep the end in mind.
I remembered my first Half Ironman (a very long triathlon event). I was 10 km from the finish line. We started in the morning and by then, it was noontime and it was hot. Even though the triathlon is an individual race, there are times when you race together to encourage each other. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that two is better than one and a cord of three strands will not break (Ecc 4:12). It is especially true in triathlon.
I somehow ended up with two other participants. We exchange a few words as we jogged along. One of the participants began to complain how hard the course was and how hot she was feeling. The more I listened to her, the more I did not want to listen. Realizing her words were not helping me to keep going, I wished her well and ran ahead.
I did the same race a few years later. Once again, the race was hot and muggy. This time I hadn’t trained as much and was struggling. At around the same part of the race, I gave up and started to walk. Just as I was trotting along and making up every reason why I should walk, a much older gentleman passed me. As he passed me, he turned around and waved at me to keep going. In triathlon, it is common for them to write down your age at the back of your calf. This person had a 60 on his calf! I told myself, if someone twice as old as I could keep going, I could as well. I started jogging again and caught up with him. This man was very encouraging and we exchanged words to keep each other going to the end.
It is the same when we labor for the Lord. The situation is difficult and it is tough. We will feel lonely and a sense of loss. But we need to encourage one another to keep moving and keep our eye on the eternal crown. He is the strength and the source for us to keep going. Life is short and we need to accomplish all the things He marked us to do. The suffering we are going through is temporary compared to the glorious eternal prize we will achieve when He calls us, ‘good and faithful servants’. AMEN!
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV)
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)