It was an excruciating question to work through, partially because it was completely unexpected. We had had no thought of leaving the field. My husband's screen saver on his phone when we were dating said, "Go tribal!" Hadn't I known what I was getting into? No, actually! And yes. His heart for the Unreached has defined him, been his core, since I've known him. It seemed there was no avenue forward that didn't involve reconstructing either Seth's or Amy's make-up. We reached out for counsel.
As you may have guessed, especially if you already heard of our situation and were thinking "in our shoes," not many counselors had an easy answer. It would have been wonderful if God had spoken to us in a vision. Most counselors were unwilling and unable to give a certain "yea" or "nay." Understandably so.
What a blessing that most counselors were amazingly supportive. By "supportive," I mean that they understood and articulated that leaving our field was an obvious and valid option, and that we weren't bad Christians to be considering it--that godly Christians have chosen both paths, to leave or to stay.
But a few comments stuck with me memorably--in a negative way--that, in my opinion, made our decision even tougher. They hinted or outright stated that they viewed me as weak or wimpy to even go back to the States for an eight-week visit to think about our future, that I was holding back my husband (because his personality did not struggle with the decision to return to the field even a fraction as much as mine), thus I was unsubmissive and "wearing the pants in the family" (and therefore, my husband had blame for not "leading me" appropriately), that I was not obeying certain Scriptures that encourage risking all for Christ, and that I was not a strong person or missionary or Christian if I couldn't go back.
Well, comments like these (made by people who have not experienced even a quarter of what I have) were not accepted well by a traumatized woman concerned for her traumatized children! And there, in that sentence, may lie part of the answer. Some people cannot empathize fully with a wounded person until they themselves have experienced the humiliation of trials and suffering. I cringe when I remember my naive judgmentalism as a young missionary. Oh, how I've changed now, and eaten my words (rather, thoughts) a hundred times over.
It is true that many leave the field for wrong reasons at the wrong time. And it is true that we do not hear enough encouragement to risk all for Christ. I don't want to take the teeth out of Scriptures like these:
Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.But: Around the time when I was struggling with the fact that I knew that we would be going back to the field, I heard of a missionary woman who was likewise struggling, almost...despairing. And my heart went out to her. She had "put in her time," labored for years on the field, followed her husband to a difficult people, had children in inferior hospitals on the field, and after numerous trials, was beginning to crack under the pressure. I cried for her, someone I'd never met. Why should she, dear timid warrior that she is, be criticized if she needs to come home (America) for the sake of her sanity?
Honestly, I struggled to even word that last paragraph, because I know alpha male theologians who would respond that she shouldn't need that, that if she were responding biblically she could handle this, etc. But I think long-term missionaries understand what I mean, because They've Been There.
So while I truly don't aim to encourage anyone to leave the field, especially for wrong reasons, please understand my desire in this post. I desire simply to offer compassion to that lonely, spent missionary woman who so badly needs to hear compassion, not guilt trips, if she goes home for good or simply for a rest. At other times, I will take the opposing side and encourage perseverance. But for right now I want to simply offer compassion, only compassion, in an open letter to the few missionary women who may be in this situation.
You dear woman,
You've been told so many hurtful things.
It is okay. It is okay to leave the field because you are cracking under the pressure.
Your hair is prematurely graying. You are beaten down by the degrading depravity of your field. Your health is failing. You have forgotten that you used to have an easy laugh and can't remember what it feels like to converse easily with another Christian without weighing every word and its possible miscommunications. And you struggle to list one positive item per every fifty negative things about your field.
You have fought on the front lines of the war for a long time, and you are coming home a wounded soldier. Yes, soldiers wounded in the war receive an honorable discharge. You deserve a medal. Indeed you are a hero! So few people want your job that you are irreplaceable.
God bless you! You tried. You gave your all. You gave beyond your all. You submitted to your husband and raised your children in challenging circumstances. Now channel what remaining energies you have into enduring yet more change, but hopefully a more restful change because of its familiarity. If your coming home allows you to gain the benefits that Jesus got when He "came apart to rest a while," and to continue being a helpmeet to your husband and to keep going in the ministry, though it be no longer foreign, then come. Come home, and continue to follow Christ as well as you can in the place where you are.
You will hear no word of condemnation from me. Only compassion.
Only compassion, dear missionary friend.
Love in Christ,