“You are what you do!”
Is that true? For missionaries, it can sometimes feel that way. Wendy Marshall, an OMF Australia worker in Japan, continues our series on missionary identity by looking at how missionaries can feel defined by their role and lose perspective. She also shares how supporters can help their missionaries in prayer. (If you missed the first post in the series, you can read it here.)
As challenging as describing my occupation as a missionary is, I sometimes wonder how well I’d adjust if I lost that label. How tied up has my identity become with my role?
This is a common challenge for missionaries who have to leave the place they’ve been sent to serve in for one reason or another. Be it a sudden change due to illness, a much-agonized change due to conflict, or a planned change due to retirement. Former missionaries frequently go through a period of grief as they adjust to their loss of the role of “missionary.”
I asked a former mission worker and pastor about her experience of role loss and she said:
“I struggle with not being known by people around me. I’d been attending a church for almost a year when I first led worship, and someone said, ‘Wow, you’re a natural at this.’ I didn’t know how to explain my background of 25 years of ministry in Japan, without sounding proud.”
It’s something we need to be careful about while we are still in that missionary role. If our identity gets bound up in this title, then we’ll have difficulty living a balanced lifestyle. We’ll try to prove our worth by our work. Simply taking a day off or a holiday will be difficult.
The antidote to that is keeping our eyes fixed on our Lord. He gave us this role, and we’re just participating in his work. Having God firmly in the right place in our thoughts will give us a better perspective and the security we long for. It will give us the freedom to take breaks, to be misunderstood and to be less defensive about our roles.
How you can pray:
- Pray that missionaries will keep their eyes fixed on their Lord and Provider.
- Pray for people making the transition from mission work. Pray that they will be able to grieve the loss of role and know their Lord’s provision for all they need.