Tuesday, January 1, 2019

the real reason missionaries don't stop

I lay flat on my back, unwilling to disrupt the IV awkwardly placed in the crook of my left arm. I inhaled – slow and intentional – a barely-there blood pressure not allowing for much vigor. I stared vaguely at the ceiling – white particle boards stained by drip spots. I closed my eyes and let go the words: “this is so nice.”

I caught that thought mid air before it had a chance to float very far. Then, talking back to myself, a revealing conversation followed.

Me: I’m sorry… what? Sickly in a third-world hospital, in no way classifies as “nice.”

Also me: Yeah, but no one is expecting me to do anything other than breathe. And that feels so good.


Also me: Dear God, how did I get here.

I would spend the next six weeks in recovery: physical, mental and emotional. My goals were getting my organs back into the range of “alive” and psychologically unpacking the twisted relief I had clearly found in hospitalization.

The lead up to the breakdown should have been predictable.

We’d been on the field for three and a half years without a meaningful break. We were trying to adopt: a logistical and emotional battle we never foresaw. We were expanding our ministry: a spiritual and mental battle we foresaw, but still. Three kids, two in diapers: enough said. Malaria: times seven. A season of grueling meetings with no conclusions. Midnight wake up calls. Other people’s needs. Mom guilt. Bureaucracy. Police Corruption. Loneliness. Exhaustion.

Despite being a recipe more obvious than a pb&j, it still caught me by surprise. After all, burnout is something that happens to other people. And yet I was apparently oblivious to the dwindling fire within. I kept putting on my brave face, telling myself and others , Yes this is hard. But it’s a season. I can do anything for a season. So I kept going. Always ramping up. Never letting down… But the season wore on, and my humanity –  ie the part that can’t lie – ran out of flame.

In my weeks of recovery, I accepted responsibility for my self-care failure. I was clearly beyond tired – which only happens to those who never stop. But why, exactly, had I failed to stop? I honestly didn’t know.

I set my mind to unpacking my mess. The habit of rest hinges on conviction, doesn’t it? I had solid theology on this point: God gives sleep to those He loves, and the Sabbath earned a spot in the Top Ten for a reason. Furthermore, I had read and accepted the research that proves that setting aside work and recharging properly improves not only happiness but also work performance. And yet… a stumbling block in the way of life-giving rest clearly remained.

After my discharge from the hospital, Jeremy, in his good-husbandness, packed up our family and took us to the capital so that I could get some advanced medical care and heal in a place where no one was demanding my participation. During that time, we received a call from one of the pastors in Mansa who was checking in on my progress. He said to Jeremy, “Tell Bethany not to even think about us. She needs to be well.” And as I heard his voice through the phone at Jeremy’s ear, the dammed up tears of a decade forced their escape. While Jeremy hung up and pulled me in for the hug, I found the words that explained my emotion: he gave me permission.

Permission to stop. Permission to withdraw. Permission to let go completely.

That phone call revealed a crucial felt need. Pastor Bwalya’s words were a healing balm on a wound that’s been festering for a third of my life – as long as I’ve been in Africa. And finally I realized more clearly that, even as I receive permission to rest from God above, and hold tight to self-granted permission within, I still consistently struggle with the lack of permission from a very important third party: other people, and specifically, “the donors.” 

Be gentle with my soul as I bare it for you here, dear friends. For those of you reading this who support missions – and in particular, support us – this is neither a guilt trip nor an accusation. It is purely honest. You need to know that I’m coming out of a very crowded missionary closet when I confess that there is a tension between finding the rest that we need and meeting the expectations of our donors.

My burnout story is not unique – which is part of what makes it so important to tell. There is a legitimate crisis in our modern missions culture as defined by missionaries who do not feel free to retreat from their work for the purpose of self-care without judgment and or financial consequence from those we depend on. 

The tricky thing about this topic is that any descent Christian would encourage their missionaries in keeping the Sabbath – so long as it’s not more than one day and it’s not away from home – ie, it doesn’t look like vacation. I’ve talked with our missionary friends about what this means in reality - how the implied constraints on Sabbath rest are so destructive that “Sabbath” often ceases to be Sabbath at all.

To give you an idea, Jeremy and I Sabbath at home weekly. It usually looks like a “peaceful” day starting with pancakes, followed by a three hour church service in a foreign language in 90 degree heat, followed by a late lunch with overly-exhausted kids who eventually will snap-and-nap (bless it), at which point the adults might try and relax by reading a book or watching a movie, during which we will  be interrupted a mere sixty-seven times by neighbor boys wanting to borrow a soccer ball, pregnant women wanting a baby hat, someone with a nasty wound needing a bandage and young men looking for work. The evening will be spent solving the crises that only happen after dark and apparently can’t wait 12 more hours. Throughout this day, shutting the phone off and closing the door is out of the question. The callers will always send a child to ask us in person why our phone is off and if we try and ignore him, said child will stand outside and yell our names until we open the door. (Record yelling time: 37 minutes. Not one thing will dissuade the child who knows you're in there, my friends.) We try and hurry these interruptions along so we can get back to our peace, but alas: African time. And so, most Sabbath days, we can’t wait to go to bed so that we can rest from our rest. Lovely.   

Certainly, different missionaries have different living and working situations, allowing for different amounts of “closing out work” for the sake of rest and proper self-care. But a significant portion of missionaries around the globe have determined through trial and error (and hospitalization) that the only way to truly recharge in a way that is healthy and holy is to literally LEAVE  which is a scenario most Americans have a hard time relating to. The idea that “home” would be anything but a haven sounds unnatural.

It's the lack of division between work and life for missionaries that makes “Sabbath on the field” extremely difficult to achieve. Our proximity to the pressing needs, the interruptions at the door and phone calls reminding us of the problems we have not yet solved – even  sights and sounds themselves that keep the mind in the “on” position. For many, Sabbath in the village – or island/jungle/city/wherever they serve – isn’t Sabbath.

It just isn't.

Some missionaries have explained that expecting them to “stay home and rest” feels kind of like expecting a surgeon to Sabbath in the waiting room of the ER. It’s like asking a factory worker to heal without stepping away from the assembly line. It’s telling a soldier to take a nap in the middle of the battle field.

And so the word to the wise is that sometimes you have to get away… which unfortunately to outsiders looks an awful lot like a vacation.

church meme committee nailed it

We know missionaries who are criticized for Sabbathing at a “resort” because that’s literally the only place to go where the water won’t kill them… Missionaries drawing heat for flying somewhere to Sabbath because the country next door is cheaper…. And all African missionaries’ personal favorite, the subtly snarky: “Gee, I wish I could go on safari for my Sabbath.” (Side note: You can, America. It’s called the zoo.) The fact of the matter is that many missionaries have figured out exactly what it takes for them to find real rest, but it’s the negative feedback that keeps many from even bothering to try.

To be fair, opinions on how missionaries should use their time and money is absolutely a spectrum with as much diversity as my six year old's style.

But disapproval of missionaries resting away from home squarely rests at the top of the opinion bell curve. This is one of those “off the record” covos your missionary friends are having amongst themselves. Precious few have been bold enough to pull back the curtain and reveal their own journey but if you read those who have, you’ll notice a common theme: their words feel risky – scandalous even – as they share their stories. The pieces I've appreciated include:

There’s not a ton of published material on this topic - compliments of its taboo status. And in case you can’t blog hop right now, I’ll share a handful of comments we’ve either heard said to others or personally received over the years.

“We don’t pay you to go on vacation. We pay you to do ministry.”
 “I don’t think its right for you to go on vacation if we can’t afford to.”
 “You’re going on vacation? Maybe don’t tell anyone.”
 “We thought our missionaries were responsible... until we found out they went on vacation!”

Depending on how you personally feel about missionaries taking vacation, you’re probably either saying “amen” or “ouch” or “wowza” but let me reiterate that these are typical sentiments driving missionary families either to the brink of exhaustion or into actual hiding… and the results are not something to be proud of. Do a little research on missionary burnout, trauma in missions, mental health and missionaries or other related topics and you’ll quickly see how deep this rabbit hole goes. (I recommend getting lost for a while on Sarita Hartz's blog for some of the most thoughtful pieces in this genre.)

I believe that most mission supporters have strong feelings about this topic because it wrangles not one but two of America’s most precious commodities – time and money. Particularly in white American culture, it is not acceptable to waste either. Giving money to support church planting, clean water or outreach to children will make many a donor-heart sing, while funding the missionaries to sit on a beach and watch the lapping waves produces frowns. But missionary care is never a waste, and this is where a shift in missions culture needs to happen.

Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath exposes the negative impact of serving apart from Sabbath rest. “We are a nation of hectic healers, refusing to stop,” Muller writes. “Our drive to do better faster, to develop social programs more rapidly, to create helpful agencies more quickly can create a sea of frantic busyness with negligible, even questionable results. In our passionate rush to be helpful, we miss things that are sacred, subtle and important.”

The western church-missions culture would benefit substantially from appreciating that when funds are responsibly used for the sake of missionary R&R, it has the effect of amplifying effectiveness in literally every other realm. Spend some to get much more is not waste – it’s wise. The economics of human resources decrees that we need to keep our people in tip-top shape in order to achieve maximum output.

I can hear a distant amen from my missionary friends across the web. We know experientially that busy, fatigued, harried service does not draw out our best. We know – even intuitively – that if we could just step out of it all for a time, we’d be able to come back and serve better, which is our hearts desire.

While Muller speaks exhortation to those who refuse to stop, I feel a great sympathy for all of the missionaries who simply fear to. Many are afraid because they experienced the push back once and vowed never to do it again. Others are afraid simply by the perceived disapproval that seems to float in the air. Regardless, I believe that it is vitally important for both the senders and the goers to join hearts and commit to self-care, soul-care and Sabbath rest.

We, the missionaries, need to stop sheltering our supporters from important truths about our work environment, the pressures, and our need for release. We need to stop our work – and leave home if need be – not hiding our actions in the closet thereby perpetuating the myth of the super hero missionary who never takes a break. 

And as for the broader church culture, we need to stop praising missionaries who over-produce, and we certainly need to stop leveraging financial power to reward those who never stop while withdrawing support from those who do.

When we get this right, I have a feeling that kingdom efforts the world over will find for themselves eagles wings.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

pastors' response re: OCC

Last year, I wrote a blog post concerning Operation Christmas Child in Zambia and the breakdown in expectations between box packers and what is happening on the ground. I particularly highlighted that churches are paying money to the National Team to receive their boxes. Since this post has recently re-gained traction, OCC has published an official response.

The original blog post can be read HERE, and OCC’s response can be read HERE.

As many, many people have forwarded OCC’s note and asked me to respond to it specifically, I feel morally obligated to do so. However, not wanting to speak on behalf of our region’s Pastors without their input and permission, my husband, Jeremy, and I chose to first sit and talk with the leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship. What they had to say was challenging to say the least. Desperately wanting to see change, the pastors requested that their words be shared with the larger audience that continues to follow this issue.

To provide readers with the most accurate account, I’ve chosen to transcribe the conversation with our local Pastors. My words are italicized, and all plain text are direct quotes from the Pastors. The transcription has been edited slightly for readability and length, but none of the pastors words or sentiments have been changed. Bracketed text has been inserted for clarification purposes only.


26, October, 2018
Location: Wetuna Gardens, Mansa
In attendance: Missionaries Jeremy & Bethany Colvin, and four members of the Executive Leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship.


The number one question I’m getting is, ‘has this issue been resolved,’ and I’ve been avoiding giving the answer because I don’t feel like it’s my place to give your response.

[Reading of OCC’s official statement, passing out to pastors, after which the pastors take turns speaking.]

Some more than ten years ago, the same [National] team came to Mpika with one gentlemen from America and his wife. I was just invited, I wasn’t in the management team. During the discussion, that gentlemen from America was explaining that these shoe boxes reach the beneficiary free of charge. ‘It’s free. It’s covered in the costs.’ So… when his explanation was heating up, it was perceived it was going to attract questions, like, ‘why are we paying?’ and so [National Team Member] came out and spoke in Bemba, saying, “Bane, ifya ku sosela tafyawama…” (Brothers, tattling is not a good thing, let us not report each other.) And the gentlemen from America asked, “What are you saying” and [National Team Member] said, ‘I’m just clarifying for them,’ as if we weren’t getting what he was saying. And so in a matter of ten seconds, he [National Team Member] changed everything that the gentlemen from America was saying. To shut us up. And no one could speak against that. And it has haunted me for years that none of us was bold enough to tell the truth. And that gentlemen went with that perverted version of what is happening. What’s happening now is just a repeat. When they came to Mansa they brought a pre-typed letter saying that everything has been resolved and we the leaders refused to sign it.

I was very disappointed when I read this letter from OCC because they are shooting these gentlemen [fellow pastors around table] and hiding criminals in the name of this update. The least they could have done would be send some folks who are not a part of this, and instead they send [the National Team] to come and ask us questions. But there was nothing like questions, they just came to threaten us by saying “your children will not benefit from this.” And they have carried out their threat. Last year we did not receive boxes and this year, since we have not heard anything, we conclude we still aren’t receiving. They came to shush us. It was a rebuke. As if we are doing something scandalous, trying to stop something that’s beneficial to the children, when actually the key issue is trying to expose an immorality that has been going on.

They [the National Team] are the principle suspects. They are cashing in on the program. Why should they be sent to investigate? [OCC] should have sent an independent person or group to come and hear from us. That could have given us a fair trial. But now the same group comes here… what kind of investigation is that? They’ve been in this thing for more than ten years. And they have been manipulating the system.

[National Team Member] has bought a truck, and that is the same truck he uses to deliver the boxes. We suggested here, “Can’t we send our own truck to collect the boxes” and he said, ‘no, you have to use our truck,’ because it belongs to him and he charges [for its use], and that money goes into his pocket. Is that not corruption?

When we were told how much we should pay per box, for Luapula Province, it was more than K200,000 ($20,000) and for Mansa specifically it was K40,000 ($4,000). To bring a truck from Ndola to Mansa, you can hire that [a private truck] for K3,000 to K4,000, now they’ve charged K40,000 and where has the rest of that money gone?

Before the boxes come, they [National Team] has to come and do a training, but when we look at the cost implications of the [training], we pay a flat fee per church but then each individual Sunday School teacher has to also pay and you are required to send a set number of people to the training per X number of boxes you are to receive which forces the churches to send more people to the training, each of which have to pay to attend. The [National Team] says the money goes towards their accommodation here, but what happens is they will come and see us in Mansa, Samfya, Nchelenge all in one trip without sleeping here yet still having collected all that money. And this doesn’t include the payments the children have to make.

And when they [National Team] came they said, “No, the reason why we are charging you is because there are other regions that are more vulnerable, like Shangombo,” and then when you call Shangombo, you find out that they’ve paid too, so its all a lie.

They [the boxes] are not helping in terms of building the church. If anything they are destroying the church. Our colleagues from Ndola have not been faithful. We are not against paying something, but when the money does not go for what it was said it was for, it’s going into someone’s pocket, and then they declare that God has blessed them… that’s what we should discourage. And so if the same individuals are being entrusted with the task, then I would say, its better not to have it. Unless if they [OCC] can find a fairer system to help the churches. Because like our brother said, they [the National Team] has been doing this a long time. This is something they [National Team] has gotten used to, they aren’t going to change. If they [OCC USA] is going to keep using that same channel, then I think let it not come to us.

The little I know about Americans is that they champion the spirit of openness, the free mind, freedom of expression… now when we want to express ourselves, someone comes and says ‘shut up’ and follows with an action – suspension – now are they representing the spirit of the donor? Let the American people know that when things are pointed out by the locals here, they [National Team] stop giving boxes to people who are reporting those wrong things.

We are the people on the ground. We know ourselves. We are Zambians. And these people are Pastors. How can I submit to [National Team pastor] who is cheating me? If it were just a secular person we could just say, ‘well they are sinners,’ and let them go. But these are people with collars, showing the world that ‘we are servants of the Lord.’

What has to be highlighted is that an investigation has not been done. What was done could just be termed as a cover up – an intimidation. OCC, Samaritan’s Purse from the United States has not investigated. What’s missing categorically from this process is an independent inquiry towards the actual interest of protecting the huge investment that is being put into all this. It’s no longer even what we can call a gift box. They [the donors] would be amazed to learn that the children are buying these gifts and those people are proud to sell. I remember one of them [national team during training] trying to encourage us, “even I’ve benefited a lot just from doing ministry to children.”

In this section on the official response, it specifically says that the $9 covers shipment to the countries and to the 1,100+ delivery sites within the country. I don’t know how you read it, but it makes it sound like boxes are supposed to be sent from Ndola to Mansa and then from there the distribution costs are upon you. But what I hear you saying is that you were even willing to help cover the Ndola to Mansa cost – which just shows how much grace you have in the situation. But this is what a few hundred thousand people in the US are waiting to hear, whether this issue has actually been resolved in terms of the churches still being charged to cover transportation to the distribution sites – Mansa, Solwezi, Choma, Chipata etc. That’s what people are waiting to hear.

Actually I just called Reverend [name withheld] since I know they are still receiving boxes and I asked, ‘Were you charged anything this year?’ and he said ‘Yes, we paid for the boxes as a church.’ And he explained that they were told, ‘Don’t charge the children but you as a church pay for the boxes,’ and they were given an amount to pay and he also said, ‘We know how these people are, they’ve really benefitted from these boxes so just know that the way you’ve started talking to them, you’ll not be receiving boxes,’ and I said, Exactly! We didn’t receive and the Reverend said, ‘yeah, that’s what they do.’

These things are not gifts any more. These are enterprises. Those people are no longer qualified to represent Samaritan’s Purse. We speak for Zambia. We have to do whatever it takes for the sake of the children we are representing here. We know that those people are stealing from the children – it’s not speculation. It’s not rumor. Because [states denomination/branches around the whole country] has paid money each year for the children we have registered. We have receipts. It’s everywhere. It amounts to thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s what has been covered up. And no one seems interested in that.

Are there things that you want HQ to know?

We don’t agree with the statement that the matter was resolved because those who came to investigate are the suspects and secondly, the whistle blowers have been suspended for two [cycles] so far. Was this the resolution? Or is America aware?

We have not seen the values that OCC has projected to us applied in our region. If OCC can come up with a different [National] team whilst they are carrying out a proper investigation it will really serve us.

How connected in the past have boxes been to child evangelism. Are children coming to know Christ or are the boxes just a demonstration of Christian love.

The program is not happening like its supposed to. The same kids get the boxes over and over, and it’s the ones that can pay for them. [Evangelism] has been the emphasis [of training] in the past but practically, no. When they [National Team] comes they conduct those programs and say, ‘this is a tool for evangelism, and the emphasis is that the child will know how Jesus loves him through another child sending them this.’ But this is not evangelism. A lot of people are participating thinking we can just pay ten kwacha and get a box and go home.

If we could convince them [the donors] to just send it [the funds], it would be a very good idea, because I feel that even though this is for the sake of Christmas, the things that the kids get, and we thank God that what they are getting is American standard, but still it doesn’t really meet the needs of the children. These kids get a box – they’ve never been to school! They might get a toothpaste that is of a higher American standard, but we also have toothpaste here. So it’s nice that Christmas comes once but we can use cheaper things and in that way Christmas can go on and have a more lasting impact. Maybe we can convince some to just turn that [their box] into money. Because child-centered programs are incredibly important. And there’s a lot that can be done to mitigate the challenges that the children are facing.

People have asked us if there are alternatives. What if we were to put together a list of needs within the churches (school fees, blankets, clothes etc.) and collect funds to connect people with Mansa directly to meet tangible needs?

It can really have a lot of impact. We would be more confortable if our friends in America would be able to convert their boxes into cash so that we partner with Jeremy & Bethany [choshenfarm.org] in terms of administration and accountability for those resources. As we partner with you [Colvins] it would be an opportunity for the Church to focus on what it’s supposed to do and in a way that its supposed to be done. We have to go the Biblical way with structures of accountability. It’s not about dishing out money, its about making sure that things are done Biblically and people are accountable to leadership that is set.

We didn’t know what to do about this whole thing but the sharing you did, God used it to try and help us find the way to really address an injustice. We were stuck. We thought they [the National Team] was the beginning and the end. We didn’t know there was elsewhere we could report and other contacts we were able to get through to and you were able to do that for us and I think that was a major breakthrough. And now we are hoping that we can use our voice and correct this – even if they [OCC] doesn’t support us any longer – but maybe correct it for the other regions that are receiving, that would be a major breakthrough, and God will have really helped us.

I think the transparency of this is really helpful and people are going to thank you for taking something that was previously in the dark and putting it into the light.


Meeting closed in prayer. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

you didn't fall in love with Africa

Remember that time I accidentally dated Jeremy for two years and then we decided to just do that forever so we got married? Not once did we go out for dinner and a movie. We never even went bowling! We did dine by candlelight, but that’s only because my hut didn’t have electricity.

So I clearly have no idea how modern romance works.

I fell in love in Africa, which, of course, is a very different thing than falling in love with Africa – something that seems to happen quite regularly for other people. I gladly accepted living in Zambia. But I loved Jeremy. And we felt like God had ordained that our work was to continue here. So we stayed. But lovie dovie feelings for the country itself were never really a part of the equation.

my earliest photo of the now husband

I think this is why I’m so intrigued by the number of people who travel abroad – to Africa and elsewhere – for a two week trip and “fall in love.” And sometimes those people who visit for two weeks and vow to return really do make their way back to the continent, which is equally intriguing to me.

For me it begs the question, what does it really mean to love a place?
There are many things I love about Zambia:

I love the fresh air.

I love that there is no such thing as a bad time to visit your neighbor.

I love the way the flying termites come out after the first rain and all the kids and birds run around like crazies trying to catch them.

I love that you will always be invited to dinner even if they hadn’t planned on you.

I love the footprints down every bush path showing big toes and little toes.

I love that the clock controls nobody.

I love that any woman will mother my children like they are her own.

I mean, what's not to love about this picture?

Zambia is an extremely loveable place. It’s easy to understand how someone could come here for a short trip and “fall in love.” But as my story with Jeremy reflects, I’m not exactly the romantic type. I love Zambia for reasons beyond its natural beauty and inherent charm. In fact, I love it despite its flaws – of which there are many.

I love it despite the fact that “I’m coming” does not in fact mean “I’m coming.”

I love it despite the fact that the same roads have been under construction for a decade with no finish in sight.

I love it despite the fact that venomous snakes are constantly watching me with their beady eyes.

I love it despite the fact that people are more concerned with being cursed than of being honest.

I love it despite the smoldering trash heaps lining every road of every town.

I love it despite the fact that no one can tell us the rules of the country, including the rule makers.

I will never love this. Look closely to count the eggs in that snakes belly. That was my breakfast, spawn of Satan.

 And this is how love goes – in marriage and in residence. True love does not put the good and bad on a scale and choose to follow which ever side carries more weight. True love is about choice and commitment which means that Zambia’s virtues and vices are, in many ways, irrelevant to me. I love this place because I have committed to it whether it scintillates my senses or grates on my nerves.

And this is where all the short term missionaries who in two weeks time announce that they’ve “fallen in love” with whatever third world country make me nervous. I see this happen every year as fall arrives and the season of short-term missions comes to an end. In all the reports, the love theme is prolific. From what I gather from most fresh returnees to America, excitement and wonder are captaining the good ship happy-feels and it’s apparently too easy to believe that this is all one needs to know.

This whole scenario probably wouldn’t even catch my attention (I mean, what kind of cynic poo-poos on love?) except for the number of short termers who “fall in love,” vow to return, and then actually act on it. It happens more than you think – we meet them here, and learn about them elsewhere: missionaries who have moved overseas on a long-term basis with their main explanation being, “I spent two weeks here last summer and totally fell in love.” And every time Jeremy and I bump into this story, we take two steps back, fully anticipating the fairy tale to blow up at any moment.

The pitfall is obvious if you borrow from the marriage analogy again. Anyone who dates for two weeks and rushes to the alter would be well advised to slow things down lest they find themselves rushing to divorce court soon after. Of course it works for some, but not for most. There’s a missions equivalent to this too. Short-termers who fall in love and rush to sign up for forever have basically speed dated an exotic country and mistaken infatuation for committed love. And their happy story doesn’t end in divorce, but rather missionary attrition which is helpfully well-documented. The mis-step here is ignorance to the universal law that true love can only be substantiated through the test of time – a luxury that short-term workers do not have. 

One of the hardest parts of our long-term work here is the constant. The constant requests. The constant threats to our work and wellbeing. The constant push to make things happen. The constant barrage of people coupled with the constant feeling of isolation.

When a team or individual comes to partner with us, their experience is categorically different. As good hosts, we’ve dealt with most of the hassle ahead of time so that their work can come off without a hitch. We’ve mitigated risk so that challenges and inconveniences are minimized. We’ve made arrangements that set a team up to complete a successful project in a specific amount of time.

In short, we work hard to buffer short-term visitors from real life. Our ‘constants’ do not phase the short-termers because their time has a liberating end.

I’d be enamored with my life too if it always ran so smoothly. But in reality, it doesn’t. And it can’t. Not on this scale – not for this duration. Dealing with hassle is a default setting. Risk of failure, injury, disappointment and disaster are every single day occurrences. Nothing happens in a two-week time frame. Not. One. Thing. And vacillation between triumph and tragedy is just inherent in moving a ministry forward.

Efyo caba. That’s how it goes.

But in contrast, for those two weeks, everything stays (relatively) golden for our visitors because the time-frame ensures it. When folks walk into an African hut and find it “cozy” and “romantic” that’s because that grass roof hasn’t dripped on you every day for half a year. Truly, a person can sleep anywhere, eat anything, interact with anyone for two weeks. This is not hard and requires no real adjustment. It’s easy enough to hold your breath for a fortnight. But long-termers who too once held their breath have all had to exhale… and then inhale again. Our time-frame ensures it too. The lumpy beds that were comical for two weeks are tortuous after two years. The kids on the porch who ask for sweeties every day are endearing at first but eventually become emotionally draining. The local cuisine is no longer “delectable” once the stash of Cliff Bars has run out. Time will always do its work, and there is no speeding that up.

And how we watch this play out time and time again is that last-summer’s short-termers who come back as newly arrived long-termers typically try to function in ways that are reminiscent of their previous trips. Perfectly understandable, but detrimental still. In most cases, these folks try to live a life that is both unrealistic and unsustainable for long-term work and they burn out so fast. They run full speed through a parallel and imaginary universe where everything is magical until their bodies, minds and souls collapse from disillusionment and unmet expectations. Over the years, our observation is that every last one of them cries out, “this isn’t how it was before!” and then goes home.

And its my compassion for this scenario that underwrites this post. At this time of year, when so many people are still riding on the highs of the trip they took this summer, I pray these words speak a most gentle truth into the swirl of excitement.

For those of you who went on that trip, I know some of you are committed to returning. Your lives were changed and now you feel you need to get back to where you went and this time its going to be forever. I love the passion wrapped up in this. I want success for you. I don’t want you to become an attrition statistic. I want real and lasting joy for your service. And I truly believe that the best way to achieve that is to be brutally honest about the ways that short-lived emotions tell a fabulous and false story.

My challenge to you is to put it all on ice for a while and take the time to assess the source of your confidence. If your desperation to return to your host country is fueled by your love of the people and the warmth of the culture and the inspiration of the work, then stop looking at one way tickets. You are setting yourself up for tears and a demoralizing flight home. Those loving people will eventually sin against you, and the culture will eventually stand on your last nerve and the work will eventually feel overwhelming and then the good feels will be gone.

If, however, you feel like God is asking you to go, then pray into that. Happy feelings alone will always fail you, but a call of the Lord will sustain you in the dark nights. Only God can give you a love for a place teeming with corruption and trash heaps and juju and when he places that kind of love in your heart, you’ll know the peace of living sent.

Seasoned missionaries: Anything you’ve observed that you’d like to add?

Short-termers hoping to return: Anything you’d like to ask? How can we support you better?