Friday, October 4, 2013


We came to Spain in 1984 with a ten-month-old baby in our arms. We hadn’t made a survey trip. We knew no Spanish—not one word—and no one besides our co-workers and the Spanish pastor’s family. When we arrived in the Madrid airport in the early morning, we had lost almost two nights of sleep. Our co-workers met us in a very strange looking, Siata van, something like a squarish tin can on wheels. We piled in along with their family, and one of the first things the lady said was, “Husband, we need to find a bar.”

I was suffering from jet lag and from wrestling with a very active baby the whole trip. And this wonderful Christian lady was looking for a bar? (I had never set foot in a bar in my life!)

Several miles down the road, we pulled into a spacious parking lot outside a lovely cafeteria where we got breakfast rolls and coffee—or in my husband’s case, hot chocolate. Lesson Number One: a bar in Spain is not the same thing as a bar in America.

Lessons Number Two and Three soon followed. Two: there are different kinds of bars—those for men, and those for families with children. Always look before entering. Three: bars always have public restrooms. It’s a very helpful thing to know.

I would say that our whole first term—five years—we felt like strangers in a strange land. We got to be fairly fluent in Spanish, but people still stared at us like we came from another planet. (I was clueless about dressing to blend in, and there weren’t many non-Spanish/Basque people living in the Basque region in those days. Plus, those were the Reagan years, and the sentiment was very anti-American.)

After our first furlough, when we returned to Spain, we felt oddly “at home.” Oh yes, there were still some big challenges and many learning experiences, but we knew that God had called and we were where He wanted us to be.

Fast-forward sixteen years from our arrival. Our daughter called home from college in the States. “Mama and Daddy,” she began, “should I say the Pledge of Allegiance?” Our eyes were opened to the reality of third culture kids. Our daughter wanted to know if it was honest to pledge allegiance to a country she had never lived in. Oh yes, she was a U.S. citizen from birth, but . . . .

Are there days when you feel like you don’t belong? (After twenty-nine years in Spain, we still have them.) Do you wake up sometimes, look out the window, and want to turn over and pull the covers over your head? Do you long for the things you had back in the States? Do you miss ________________? (doughnuts, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, creature comforts, people looking up to you as a missionary; you fill in the blank.) Do your kids struggle with being in between? Or do they already feel so much a part of their adopted country that they think America is the foreign country?

Belonging . . .

Let me share some important concepts and Scriptures with you.
  • To the new missionary: hang in there. Eventually, this crazy foreign place will feel like home. It is very important to go back for that second term. Give yourself time to learn and adapt. It won’t happen in one or two years. Be patient. Moses said, Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations (Psalm 90:1). Home is where God is.
  • To the single missionary: We admire you. 1 Corinthians 7:34 tells us how important single women are to God’s work: The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. Serve the Lord and keep yourself pure. Make friends of everyone—male, female, all ages, and complete families. You will find your “family” in the people to whom you minister.
  • To the mother of little ones, who would like to be more involved in the ministry, but you’re barely keeping your head above water: there are seasons in every life. Your ministry now is to your family and what you can do in the church. Ask your husband what he would like you to do. (You’ll probably be surprised by his answer.) Follow his leadership. She that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34b). Be sweet. Depend on God’s strength daily, and make sure you have a regular quiet time. Your impact is greater than you think.
  • To the homeschooling missionary: your children are an important part of your ministry—the most important part, excepting your husband. When you homeschool, you are not only imparting knowledge and school subjects; you are also pouring your values into your children. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is a good outline for homeschooling. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. First, you love the Lord with all your being, and then you share the Word of God with your children—all day long and in every life context.
  • To the tired missionary: Jesus said, Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Lean on the Lord. Leave your burden. Find soul rest in the Lord. 

You do belong.

You belong—right where you are, right in this moment. God has led you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. You belong to Him. (Hebrews 13:5; Romans 14:8)

God bless you, dear sister.


Charity said...

This is such an encouraging post to this rookie! Thanks for sharing!

Joyful said...

Beautiful and full of wisdom. I'm sure your words will resonate with missionaries from around the globe.

Carole said...

Excellent article!!!

Mom said...

Thank you for taking the time to write the article. It was excellent and encouraging. After serving in missions for 36 years, I can say that I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and encouraging post!

Jen said...

Thank you so much for this! Very encouraging!!

Jolene Sloan said...

Fantastic advice for missionaries in all stages of service!