Walking in Unfamiliar Territory

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Barnabas loves to hike! It doesn’t matter if we’ve walked the same trail a hundred times; he acts like it’s a whole new experience. He runs and plays and wears himself out. And because he is so good at hiking off-leash, Jason and I can hike at our own pace. Barnabas knows his boundaries. He understands he is allowed to venture off the trail, run ahead, or lag behind as long as we are always in his sight. And Barnabas follows the rules better than any other dog we’ve had. He’ll run over to the side to study something and pop his head up every few seconds to be sure he can still see us. If we move far enough away that he loses track, he forsakes his current study and runs after us. He stops at every bend in the trail to ensure we’re never out of sight. Every hike is a pleasant experience for each of us, and we love that we can depend on him to be so cooperative. Despite his many quirks, he truly is a good dog!

When we took him out yesterday for some much-needed exercise, we did a portion of the trail we’ve only done once or twice with him, and we immediately noticed something. Because the path was unfamiliar to him, he stayed within ten feet of us at all times. He still explored and kept his own pace, but he never strayed too far from our presence. Once we reached the familiar portion of the trail, however, he let loose and did his own thing though still within the bounds of what he knows we expect of him. As we discussed his behavior, Jason made a comment that echoed the words of my prayer that morning. He said, “Yes, he stays close when in unfamiliar territory, but once he’s back in his comfort zone, he feels more comfortable to stray farther from us.”

During my prayer walk earlier that day, I had poured out my heart to the Lord about how far out of our comfort zones Jason and I felt lately. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine, so the concept of being in a different church every week and always meeting new people is a bit overwhelming. For Jason, he is one who loves to be active and doing, so sitting at a desk for hours on end calling and emailing pastors and churches to book meetings is tiresome and tedious. We’ve both had to fight the temptation to say, “Let’s do something else today. Let’s do what we’re familiar with, what we’re comfortable with.” Some days, we have to make ourselves to what we know we need to do.

As I laid out my heart, a thought struck me, and I verbalized it to the Lord. “But maybe that’s the way you want it to be, Lord. Maybe you want us to be out of our comfort zones so we’ll stay close to You, so we’ll lean on You for strength and support. Maybe our time here is so we can learn to depend and trust on You more. So, Lord, please help us to keep this in mind when we get discouraged and want to quit. Remind us there’s a purpose for being in unfamiliar territory and give us the grace and strength to accept where we are.”

I guess we’re no different from Barnabas. When we’re in familiar territory, we tend to do our own thing and go our own way. Sure, we stay within sight of our Master, but are we really walking with Him? Once we’re out of our comfort zones, it’s an entirely different story. We stay close to the Master. We have to. We don’t know which way to go or what to do. We need His guidance. We crave His assurance. We depend on His knowledge and strength. Yes, in our uncertainty, we’re less likely to stray. And considering that—as difficult as it is for me to say—I thank God for removing us from our comfort zones. I praise Him for loving us enough to lead us through unfamiliar territory. The entire process serves as another reminder that what I think is good is not always what is best. Thankfully, God knows the difference!

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.
— Psalm 37:23
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9
And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
— Joshua 3:3-4

Turn the Page

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Today, I want to do something a little different again. I’d like to share with your our weekly mission update because it serves as not only an accounting of our mission efforts for the week but also of God’s faithfulness and goodness. If you’re facing a dark trial and wondering if God still cares, please read this!

“Sometimes before a miracle, our God sets the stage to show He will always come through, so turn the page.”

— Turn the Page by Jim Brady, Barry Weeks, & Tony Wood

That quote is from one of my favorite songs and reminds me that when things seem the darkest, God is simply setting the stage for another miracle. So, allow me to set the scene.

On Tuesday of last week, we had an unexpected expense of $100. Ouch, right? But nothing too big for our God.

On Wednesday, I had a doctor’s appointment (always pricey) the insurance company didn’t cover. Double ouch!

On Thursday, we took our Xterra into the shop, hoping its recent skipping was merely a spark plug issue or possibly the need for new wires. The plugs were fine, but the wires were shot, and so was the distributor. Seriously?

All of this happened, I should mention, after Jason received one of the lowest paychecks I ever remember. Yes, the grand total of hours for the two-week paycheck was 38. When you’re used to having 40 hours each week and getting a check for 80 hours, getting one for 38 is a kick in the gut. As you can imagine, by the end of the week, we were (or at least, I was) growing a bit anxious and discouraged.

Turn the page. . .

On Sunday, we had service with the precious people at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Marion, NC. The pastor graciously turned the entire morning service over to Jason (except the music, of course), giving him plenty of time to present our burden for Wales and to preach a moving message. Though Jason was intimidated by the size of the church and the amount of time he had to fill, he did a fabulous job and beautifully conveyed both our mission efforts and the lesson God had laid on his heart. When he turned the service over to the pastor, the pastor and church voted to take us on for monthly support. In the blink of an eye, we were that much closer to the mission field of Wales. We were speechless!

As we headed out to have dinner with the pastor and his dear wife and grand-daughter after the morning service, Jason handed me the love offering he had been given. I opened the envelope to peek at the amount and nearly fell over. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I won’t give you the specifics, but I’ll tell you this much: the amount of money in that envelope more than covered all of the unexpected expenses of the week. That, my friends, is just like God! He had set the stage, and once again, He came through in a mighty and miraculous way.

After lunch, we enjoyed some quiet time in the church parsonage and then made our way to the evening service. As in the morning worship, the singing (congregational, choir, and special) was out of this world. So much talent and all used for the glory of the Lord! That evening, a young man who is attending the Bible college at Zion Hill, preached a powerful message on trading in our best for lesser things.

The entire day was a lovely time of spiritual food and Christian fellowship. It was such a blessing to be around such caring people and to—once again—feel welcomed and loved. Pastor Walker and his wife were a delight to be around and were such an encouragement to us. All in all, the day served as a beautiful reminder of how God takes care of His children!

What a mighty God we serve! His love and compassion have no bounds, and He is faithful to the end. No matter how dark the valley may seem, turn the page. God has something unbelievable just around the bend.

What Every Missionary Wife Wished You Knew

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the things your missionary won’t tell you. Today, I’d like to post a similar article, but this one is from the point of view of the missionary wife. Since I don’t have children and am not yet on the foreign field, I can’t yet relate to some of these though I know they are true. Others, however, I am already painfully aware of, especially the one dealing with the taxing nature of deputation. So far, we’ve been blessed in having nice, clean places to stay when we’re away from home, so I’m super grateful for that. But the traveling does get wearying, and the lack of routine certainly makes it difficult to ever feel rested or refreshed. Anyway, I wanted to share this today to remind all of us that our missionaries need our love and encouragement.

We wished you knew that we’re not super-heroes. Just today I was chatting with another missionary wife about how going to a foreign field makes you realize how frail you are as a Christian. Sometimes missionary wives get put on a pedestal for being “brave, committed and dedicated,” but on the inside we all know that we are all just human beings who have to trust and depend on the grace of God with each every step we take. We learn that it is only Jesus Christ who is worthy to be praised — and we truly are only people who have the privilege of serving Christ in a foreign land. We feel privileged to be honored to work for the one true king!

We wished you knew we get very lonely. I never viewed myself as a woman who needed her “girlfriends.” I loved staying at home with my kids and spending time with just my family. However, I didn’t realize that I was spending time with my “girlfriends” every time I went to church and even at other events. I would also run into friends at the grocery store. But in Southeast Asia? I didn’t have the friends. It would get very lonely. The phone wouldn’t ring, the doorbell wouldn’t ring and no one would invite us over for Christmas. It was just our family for a long time and sometimes the world seemed almost silent. But someone, somewhere would listen to the prodding of the Holy Spirit and would take time to send me an email or write me a short message on Facebook. I would find my smile and laughter once again as I began to feel like a loved human. So what does this mean for you? It means you can encourage the missionary wife by just writing her a message on Facebook, sending her a short email or even better — calling her!

When I got to hear the sound of an American, Christian voice, sometimes I would have to refrain my tears. It had been so long since I had enjoyed a conversation with an American, Christian friend and I was overwhelmed with happiness of familiar sounds, laughter and sayings that I grew accustomed to in my native land. Go ahead, send that email or call that missionary wife today. Psst! You can find most of her personal information on her family’s prayer card or website! You’ll be so glad you did, and she will treasure that communication for a very, very long time!

We wished you knew we want you to say “hi” when we visit. When we come to a church or group, sometimes people walk right by our display and never say a word to us. Even if we’re busy looking after small children, it makes us feel more welcome if you just take a few minutes, say hello and check out our missionary work. It makes all the traveling and late nights much more pleasant!

We wished you knew we don’t “fit in” anywhere. Yes, being in our homeland has it’s perks, but after living overseas for many years we just don’t fit in. Our friends, families and churches have changed and moved on — and even our native country we use to call home has as well. It’s almost impossible for us to feel completely at home in our native land when we’ve learned to live in a completely different culture; and without realizing it, we’ve grown accustomed to the strange, new place. But also, relationships have changed. Our previous best friends have gotten new friends and we have less in common now. It’s really no one’s fault, just something that naturally happens. But even on the mission field we will never “fit in” completely. People seem to notice our foreigner face, accent and strange customs. Even when we try our best to relate and adjust to our new cultures, we will always be “the foreigner.”

Not having a true home encourages our hearts to focus on our eternal home. Many times I sit and wonder just what exactly my home that Christ has prepared for me looks like. I often daydream about the day when people from all tribes, tongues and cultures come together and bow the knee to the one true God. Since I have no true, seemingly permanent home on this earth, I find it easier to focus on my heavenly home. And that, dear readers, is a “perk” of being a missionary. It was a painful perk in the beginning, but as time goes on, I realize it’s a beneficial perk to this home-maker who loves to decorate, bake and decorate some more! This benefit to the missionary life helps me keep my decorating nature under control!

We wished you knew that we’re not all created equal. I’m a missionary wife who loves to sing and play the piano. However, that does not make me a better missionary wife than missionary wives who do not feel gifted in the area of music. There are many other talents and qualities a missionary wife can possess! Each missionary wife is hand-crafted by a loving Savior who knows just how to use their special, unique talents to bring glory to His name. Even their personalities, strengths and weaknesses are all different. Love the missionary wives for who they are and don’t expect all of them to fit in the typical missionary wife bubble!
We wished you knew furlough and deputation are not vacations. Very well-meaning people say comments about enjoying your vacation to a missionary who is passing through. I understand that many people associate traveling with vacations, I really do. But, if you want to know the “inside scoop” of missionary wives, I will be the first to say that deputation and furlough are trying times — though it has some blessings on the way as well! Why is it not a vacation? Most of the time you travel and have no idea what your housing situation will be. It may be someone’s home, a hotel or an apartment in a church building. Sometimes it’s only one room for an entire family. Sometimes it’s clean, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you’re put with a super-nice family who uderstands your traveling needs. Other times you’re put with people that have drastically different standards and do not like children. Sometimes, ahem, you’re put in a very dirty, cheap motel where you won’t dare bathe your kids in the bathtub and you hope and pray that your family will be safe since you noticed the bullet-proof glass in front of the receptionist’s desk.

Also when you travel with a large family you are almost guaranteed someone will run a fever or puke. It’s just a deputation, furlough Murphy’s law kind of thing. It just happens from an increased exposure to thousands of germs and staying up late night after night. It’s also a result of your body never getting in a routine long enough to feel completely rested and renewed. Then, because you have a large family, you exert futile effort to keep sickness from spreading in your small, crowded quarters. Your body is also exhausted from having to be giving 100% of your mind, heart and soul to people that you desire to share the love of missions with. Even though it’s a great thing to do, your body tells you it’s too much of a good thing. So, eventually your family collapses and needs a full 24 hours to recuperate and begin another traveling adventure that many people still call a vacation.

We wished you knew we don’t get acclimated to being separated from family. Oceans and thousands of miles divide us from people we dearly love — and years do not make it any easier. Sometimes people assume that you grow hardened and even callous to being separated from your loved ones, but it’s simply not true. We don’t cross the ocean to leave our family and friends, but rather we cross the ocean with tears and precious memories of the faces of people we may never see again on this green earth.

We wished you knew we want you to love our children. It means the world to a mother’s heart when someone loves her children. Missionary kids travel from place to place and rarely have enough time to make close-knit friends. How can you encourage the missionary child who looks totally confused when you ask her where she’s from? It’s simple, really. Talk to her when she visits you. Read up on the country where she lives so you can actually engage in conversation about the foreign place she calls home. Another simple thing? If you know missionary kids are coming to visit your church, you could prepare a small bag for each child that has some well-loved kid snacks, coloring books and small toys that just seem to shout, “HEY MISSIONARY KID! WE’RE SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE!” When someone makes a dedicated effort to show our children love and affection, we don’t forget it. We treasure that, and so do our children. And when you encourage our children, you encourage us.

We wished you knew we don’t care what time of day or night you call us. If it’s at night, our phones will be on silent. Don’t hesitate to call and leave a voice mail. We love hearing from you and we also know that sometimes people forget the time differences. We forget about those pesky time zones too!

We wished you knew we need your patience when we’re on furlough. After leaving overseas for several years, we’ve picked up unusual habits, phrases etc. And our kids? They’ve picked it up even more! We also forget some manners that don’t apply in our new home country. And, most likely, America has changed quite a bit since we have visited. We may have forgotten how to work the credit card machines, the soda fountains and even how to order our favorite cup of coffee. And just one more thing. We may be a basket of emotions when we’re on furlough. Try to imagine hearing about 5 divorces, three deaths and wayward children in just a few weeks. While everyone else has moved on and already come to terms with those situations, they are all thrown on us at one time and are fresh wounds. Then, add in the joy of reuniting with loved ones, learning how to function again in your native culture and you have a woman who is bound to burst into tears over the silliest of things. Yes, we need your patience, grace and time to adjust to our “homeland” once again. Give us a few months and we should be semi-normal again! :)

We wished you knew your prayers really, really matter. We know when our family has faces a ginormous battle that relief and help comes because people like you were on their knees begging God to help us. Remember Peter in Acts 12:5? He was put in prison, and would have most likely been killed by Herod, but the church prayed for him WITHOUT CEASING. And what happened? An angel came and rescued Peter out of prison. That’s just one biblical example of how God uses your prayers to work in people’s lives. Please pray for the missionary wife in your life!

We wished you knew that the money and time you spend on packages are not wasted. It’s amazing how we are quick to assume we’re not materialistic. We live without air-conditioning, carpet, Wal-mart, Target, dishwashers, clothes dryers and other conveniences we were accustomed to in America. But when we see that unopened box sitting at the post office, we bubble over inside with anticipation of seeing Butterfingers, Crystal light, Crayola crayons, Yankee candles and Kool-Aid. Who knew that those small things meant so much to us and give us sweet glimpses into our native lands? You see, to you it’s just a box filled with ordinary things that costs an exorbitant amount of shipping. But to us? It’s a rare, tiny taste of the land we grew up in. But most of all? It’s a tangible reminder that people are still thinking of us in America. That people still love us, believe in the work we are called to do and count the sacrifice of money and time worth the investment. Yes, those packages are priceless to us and we remember every single one — and our kids do too.

We want you to know that we love being a missionary’s wife. Though our paths our often fraught with difficulty, we count our sacrifices very, very small when we think of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We are excited that we get to travel to foreign lands that do not have the privilege of hearing the gospel on radio stations, televisions or in churches. We are excited to be able to be the first people to tell others who never knew about Jesus Christ about the salvation, hope and peace that only He can bring.

Do you know a missionary wife? If so, use this list to remind you how to be an encouragement to her. If you understand her struggles, experiences and needs, then you will be better equipped to provide the encouragement she needs!

Let’s all encourage a missionary wife today and make a difference — one missionary wife at a time!
— What Every Missionary Wife Wished Your Knew by Alison Wood