Last week was our Guateversary. We moved to Guatemala two years ago, and it has left me reflecting on our time there this week. I haven’t spoken much to our experience there because it has been clouded by the abrupt following of God back home, but our time in Guatemala truly changed the way that I view missionaries, and I think some of them are valuable lessons for all of us as we do life among those that serve abroad.
We were only on Guatemalan soil for a little over six months, but because we were preparing for a lifetime there as career missionaries, it seemed like it truly was a lifetime. We didn’t live our lives as short-term missionaries, trying to make as much impact as possible in as short of time as possible, but instead spent our days purchasing a vehicle and applying for residency. We fully intended to be in Guatemala until we were old and grey, but sometimes God has other plans as He did with our family. If you are new to our story, you can read about our unexpected move back to the States in one of my very first posts, When Following God Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Planned.
In our time in Guatemala, it didn’t take long to realize that missionaries face so many things that many of us can never comprehend. So often I think we romanticize the life of missionaries down to a life in an exotic place doing incredible things for the Lord, but we forget to talk about the hard things and the sacrifice. As a result, Christians in the States are often left lacking understanding of how to pray for and how to care for the missionaries in their circles. Our time in Guatemala was life-changing, and consequently, I will never pray for my missionary friends the same again.
Sometimes Grocery Shopping Takes All Day
I often long for the simple days of grocery shopping before I had kids. However, I also find myself so very grateful for American grocery stores, yet so very overwhelmed by them. Grocery shopping in a third world country is no simple task. Missionaries are often stuck trying to adapt the recipes that they have always cooked to the ingredients that they have access to in their country. Often to find out that even the expected ingredients are out of stock at the store. Random items that we often take for granted here in the States are the things that are the hardest to make do without. For our family, it was lemon juice, breakfast sausage, hot chili beans, Mexican cheese sauce, canned biscuits, and cinnamon rolls. Add in a food allergy and it’s so much more complicated (Guatemalan Doritos have gluten, American ones do not. American corn flakes have gluten, Guatemalan ones do not).
Grocery runs often took us two hours on a good day. If we had to check numerous stores or go to the local market for produce, it often became a whole day affair. We struggled deeply with this until another friend told us that it was totally normal for grocery shopping to take longer, but we were still left feeling so unproductive to accomplish so little by American standards in one day’s time. This has given me so much compassion for those who do this for a lifetime. I encourage you to celebrate the little things with the missionaries in your life like a successful grocery trip. Sometimes the little things mean more than you know when living in a world that is so unfamiliar.
Everything Moves Slower in the Missionary’s World
America is efficient and fast-paced. We take that so deeply for granted, but our missionaries don’t. About a month after we moved to Guatemala, our church youth group came for a visit. Our first month had been full of visa appointments, trying to buy a car, trying to rent an apartment, ordering appliances, and endless runs to the Capital. I will never forget when one of our church members said to Brad, “So what have you all even done since you’ve been here? It seems like you are just hanging out on vacation down here.” After a month full of set back after set back, and adjusting to a culture that runs slower than ours it was almost like a slap in the face.
We quickly learned to embrace the slowness of the Guatemalan culture, but still always felt the tug between the culture we were embracing and the fast-paced culture of our supporters. The people who understood our life and understood the pace that things got accomplished became like God-sends to us because around them we felt at ease and like we didn’t have to account for what we did each day. The biggest gift you can give to the missionaries in your life is the trust that they are using each day in the best way they know how to serve in the place that God has planted them.
Their Marriage Is Constantly Under Attack
What is the easiest way for Satan to dismantle a missionary’s ministry? By dismantling their marriage. We felt the pressure on our marriage from the moment we stepped onto Guatemalan soil. More often than not, missionaries have no one to watch their children and consequently completely give up date nights in return for their calling. Mix that with the target that Satan has on their marriage, and the everyday pressures of living in an unfamiliar setting, and things can get hard. After six months with no dates, the pressures of missionary life, and adding a newborn into the mix, things got hard. This is now one of the first things I pray for the missionaries in our life. Healthy marriages are essential for healthy ministries, and it is our role to intercede for that.
They worry about their kids.
We sacrificed a lot to go to Guatemala, but so did August. He gave up normal toddler years to move to another country, leaving behind his grandparents, church, and friends. In exchange, he was deeply lonely and became an anxious little guy. As a mama, this was hard. Watching my little guy struggle as we followed the Lord was so tough. For other parents, they worry about safety and schooling. Many times they leave their freshmen on college campuses knowing that they are going to be a whole world away. Not only this, but their children are also constantly under spiritual attack. When we were on the field, all I wanted were for people to pray for August. It would be such a blessing today for you to reach out to your missionary friends and ask how you can pray for their children.
Some days they hate everything about the country God has called them to.
One of the most empowering things our boss told us when we got to Guatemala was it’s okay to have days where you hate it here. It is inevitable, you just have to get up the next day and pray for a fresh mindset. He was so right. There were days where I despised the tight parking and having to use bottled water to brush my teeth. Many times I longed for the independence of the States where it was safe for females to run errands alone. I missed my family and friends, and I missed the wide-open green spaces of Kentucky, but those days were few and far between. Other days, the views of volcanos would take my breath away, and the beauty of the city that we called home was awe-inspiring. Doing life and worshiping in Spanish is something that I loved and adored. But there were those days, where I needed all of the prayers I could have to keep going.
They Wouldn’t Trade Their Life for Anything
Leaving Guatemala was the hardest thing we have ever done. Even on the hardest days, we were awestruck that God would choose us to serve Him cross-culturally. So many missionaries feel the same way. It is all worth it to live the life that they live and have the ministry that they have. The experiences we had in Guatemala and the people who we came to know changed us. I often spend my days longing to be surrounded once again by the kindness and the hospitality of the Guatemalan people. I miss my church and long for the day when we will all worship the King together. Guatemala was easily the hardest, yet the most wonderful thing we have ever done, and I am sure that many missionaries around the world would echo the same.
Missionaries aren’t superheroes. They are just willing servants, in awe of a God that would use them. But they need you. They need your understanding, they need your friendship, and above all, they need your prayers.