Many missionary reports from the field are positive, and filled with joy for what God is doing and hope for what He might do. But a longing of the missionary heart that rarely appears in letters home is the desperate yearning for more co-workers to join them on the field. Of course, missionaries mention the need for more workers, but they often do not fully express the sense of isolation that occurs when one is on their own in the work for years at a time.
This yearning was narrated quite well in a letter from a friend who recently returned from an short-term exploratory trip to a Muslim majority country. He is planning to return there long-term and was visiting various missionaries to find out where he might fit best. I am grateful that he has granted permission for me to reproduce the following excerpt:
“I had no idea places like this existed. I'm visiting city number three. Walking through the old section of town would have been unthinkable just a short time ago, but our host introduced us to the narrow, winding streets and their amazing people today. Eager shopkeepers noticed us, but most were so surprised to see foreigners that few remembered to invite us in.
My friends and I are staying with an expatriate couple that has been in this city longer than I have been alive. He speaks in short bursts of scarcely more than five words at a time. He thinks before he speaks and then astounds you with his concise opinions born out of decades of passionate service to the people. She is a warm-hearted mother who makes you feel so at home that an invitation to tea makes you want to cry.
Sometimes, when I am exposed to many exciting opportunities all at once, every one sounds perfect and I change my life plan 20 times a day. This week, many workers have extended invitations to us, desperate for more help. I have had to hold on firmly to guidance my Dad has given me the last year or so. But some direction has come that I think still fits the overall direction, namely, that I should use my period of language learning to be mentored by a team leader. Also, I think this city would be a great place to do that preparation if I can find solid minority language teachers.
This took me a long time to wrap my head around, but evidently there are only 10 foreign workers in this city of several million people. Seeing a bustling fraction of them today deeply affected my heart. You need to see these lovely people to get it. I wish each of my friends could visit...
We were invited to "Wally's" house after lunch. His wife ushered us to a shady spot in the front yard near the 10-foot brick wall. She gave the girls a reprieve and let them remove their head coverings. "Nobody's watching us," she reasoned aloud. One by one, we met their charming children, excited to share the homemade cake that would accompany afternoon tea. The men got straight to the practical issues of living here, while the women shared many laughs and became fast friends. The kids ate cake, the youngest intermittently wiggling her loose front tooth.
We heard about how so many workers had moved to this area but failed to stay for very long. Security, children, boredom and marriage were all cited as reasons. Wally seemed disappointed and almost embarrassed at his language ability. Working at the office had distracted him from learning early on while his wife had been able to visit women and make friends. I infer that she is one of the five expatriates who are truly fluent in a language spoken by millions.
After a game of Settlers of Catan with the kids (I won by 5 points!), we enjoyed a humble but tasty little meal and talked about our plans. My heart broke watching Wally's wonderful wife; she has the most tremendous burden for the people here. They both long for more workers to come and help. They joked about all the reasons we should come to this city and help these people. The conversation was like a Macedonian call from a couple using humor to soften their desperation.
Leaving their home, to me, felt like walking past a crippled beggar who deserves a handout. Not that this family is crippled, but I feel a sense of responsibility to serve them and disappointment at not being able to do so.”
When you pray for missionaries, remember this desperate longing for more co-workers. Not all missionaries feel like this, or at least not to the same degree. But do pray - not only for co-workers, but that the Lord would sustain the missionaries on the field over the long haul, even if no more co-workers come. But if you do know of someone who could go join them, then please send them along.