By Frank Summers
Why do some missionaries who begin with the idea of making missionary service a long term or lifelong vocation later decide to leave the missions and return home?
Well, some may only be called to foreign missions for a time. FMC asks its missionary candidates to make a minimum two year commitment when entering our Intake program (for spiritual formation and special training). Of those who go through training and enter missionary service for two years, most leave FMC after the two years to reenter their lives stateside. A few don’t complete their two year commitment. Some return to their university studies, or seek a spouse, or serve with another missionary organization. Some enter religious life or the seminary. Numbers have found positions in stateside dioceses or church parishes, serving in youth or family life or evangelization and community building ministries, some in personal apostolates. Others get secular jobs in their area of study or previous employment. Most who leave do so on good terms with the FMC, after prayer and discernment with FMC directors. Our missionaries haven’t taken vows and only serve for as long as the Lord calls them to it.
But some of these missionaries fail to remain on the mission field when they ought to. Why? I think there are two principal problems: We go into the missions with some good motives, but our lives also remain driven by other incompatible motives. To live a missionary life, we are called to RENUNCIATION, giving up even good and holy things that aren’t part of the mission God is offering us. We give up our culture, country, language, families and friends, comforts, tastes… many of our favorite things. Missionary life takes a big commitment. My wife, Genie, has taught us to say: “All it takes is everything.” And if we are holding something back, sooner or later there can be a conflict between what we are willing to give and what the Lord’s mission requires. Jesus gave everything. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave. He was obedient even unto death, death on a cross. When we have put our hands to the plow, we can’t be looking back.
Then, will we accept the HARDSHIP that mission life entails? In theory, we may have accepted the idea of being persecuted, or even martyred for preaching the Gospel; this would be hard and require great courage. But what about other hardships, like not having social media readily available, not having air conditioning or excellent medical attention, or an automobile, or a house that measures up to U.S. standards, or a retirement pension? Suppose there is a lot of mud and bugs and strange food? Suppose living conditions are less than hygienic? Suppose almost no one is noticing our heroic lives and service – do we accept obscurity for ourselves?
American life has not prepared us well for the way of life lived by the vast majority of mankind – they are poor – in comparison, we are the very rich. FMC missionaries are committed to living in Gospel Poverty. We depend on the Lord for everything and live among the poor, to share their lives and to become their real friends. We believe Jesus shows a preferential option for the poor – His evangelization of the poor is the sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom.
In America we have built a society that is incredibly comfortable and convenient; we are determined to be safe and secure; we have worked hard to take hardship out of our lives. But as missionaries we need to accept the hardship and potential dangers that are part of the lives of the poor people around the world. To live in hardship day-in-and-day-out is a very great challenge for us Westerners; nevertheless, we must if we are to evangelize the billions today who live in all sorts of dire poverty.
“Missionary saints” need love, zealous faith, patience, perseverance, fortitude, long suffering. We will “keep on keeping on” when things are inconvenient and uncomfortable, difficult and dangerous. Scripture says:
“…bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2 Timothy 1:8..
“Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:3.
“…put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5.
“Take as your example of hardship and patience, brothers, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.” James 5:10-11a.
Missionaries are invited to renounce many good things, and are subject to much hardship. And as we bear our crosses and encounter so many troubles, as we suffer, we already taste the goodness and joys that are our promise of eternal glory. We more and more come to love this life. Yes, our eyes are fixed on Jesus and on heaven. Come Lord Jesus! May the Lord find us fully engaged in missionary evangelism when He returns.
By Frank Summers