Chicken, hamburgers, french fries and peanut butter and jelly – that is basically all our little kids wanted to eat when we returned to America after over three years in China. They didn’t remember what American food tasted like because they had never eaten it before. They loved Chinese food, but it was hard to find authentic Chinese food where we were living. None of us are very fond of American Chinese food, so our boys ate lots of chicken, hamburgers, peanut butter and jelly and french fries.
We assumed when we returned to China after 6-8 months in America that it would be like returning home for our young kids. They would quickly remember the language, enjoy the food and make new friends. It didn’t turn out to be so easy. In six months little children are able to forget Mandarin, and it doesn’t come back immediately. They even forget what the food tastes like and constantly ask for chicken and french fries. Slowly, they reconnect with their love for the food and begin to recognize some Chinese words and phrases. The transition back is not any easier than the transition to America.
After living for over five years outside of my home country, I am finally beginning to accept that missionaries live in a constant state of transition in one way or another. Adjusting to living in a new country and culture is much more complicated than finding a house, school and new friends. It involves learning a new language, culture, new pace of life, new foods, new expectations. It involves learning to live without the support of close family for the most part. You are not able to call your parents to come babysit at a moments notice. Sometimes the only followers of Jesus that a missionary family knows within four or more hours is themselves.
For those of us blessed enough to live in cities or towns with other missionary families, there are other issues to consider. Families are always coming and going for a variety of reasons from sickness to furlough. Each time a new family comes or a family leaves, your family goes through another time of transition. It may be saying bye to good friends and good playmates. It may be getting to know new friends and playmates and helping them to learn language and culture. Each situation takes a mental toil on each family member in different ways.
I share all of this not to discourage missionaries from living in cities together or to discourage them from bonding with other families in their cities. I write this to reveal the reality that moving overseas is hard and just because we have already lived overseas for three years or five years or 20 years does not make the next transition any easier. It is part of the cycle of life for missionaries, and probably every other person living cross-culturally.
I share this to encourage you to pray constantly for your friends, family and church family members who are living overseas or moving overseas soon. We don’t just need your prayers for our transition during the first few weeks but for the first six months, and then after that please continue to pray for us and our ministry. And when a missionary writes to let you know that a co-worker is leaving, understand that the missionary probably feels like a close family member is moving away. It will be a time of grieving and transition. Please remember to pray often for them during these times.
5 Ways to Pray for Missionaries Who Are Going Overseas
- Pray they will remain committed to seeking and worshipping God daily. It is easy when dealing with jet-lag and all the chaos that comes with moving to neglect time in the Word. Pray that missionaries will have a hunger to be in God’s word regardless of how tired or busy they may be.
- Pray they will be flexible and patient in all areas of their life. Finding a new apartment or house can be a difficult week or more. Many of us live in a hotel room while looking for an apartment. A family with young kids in a small hotel room is not always a pretty picture. Once an apartment has been found the journey in many ways is just beginning. The family then has to move all of their furniture or buy furniture. Often the apartment needs a thorough cleaning and normally within a week or two leaks will be found or plaster will fall off of the ceiling. Something unexpected will happen. Then there is also the need to register locally with the police and possibly change your visa. The missionary may be going to school or opening a business. There are many areas that require extreme flexibility and patience.
- Pray that they will be aware of the people that God is placing in their lives during this time of transition. Jet-lag, culture shock, impatience, busyness all can keep a missionary from seeing a person or family that God has placed in his path to help him or for him to love and share the Gospel with even during a hectic week. It is easy in the midst of chaos to not be as aware of the people around us and not to be as intentional at turning ordinary conversations into spiritual ones. This is an important time to be a light for Jesus as it is the missionary’s first encounter with many of his new neighbors. Please pray that missionaries will be aware of the people around them and seeking to shine for Jesus.
- Pray for people of peace and new local friends. One great way for a missionary to be reminded why it is worth enduring the difficulties of moving and culture shock is to meet a person or family who is seeking Jesus or even to meet a new friend who wants to help her navigate the new city and culture. Local friends can reduce stress and make many things easier because they understand how everything works. Meeting someone who wants to hear about Jesus provides that extra adrenaline and energy to keep pushing ahead. Pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare local friends to help missionaries navigate their new surroundings and pray that new local friends will believe the Gospel!
- Pray that sending churches will remain closely connected to the missionaries they send out. Navigating a new culture in the first few weeks and even months can be so exhausting that missionaries forget to write home or call back to their home church. Sometimes it is not possible as they do not have the necessary Internet access. However, regardless of whether or not you hear from the missionary, you can know that they value your prayers and your notes of encouragement. Please pray that missionaries will be aware of how much their sending churches love them and pray for them.