Misperceptions about Missionaries Part 2

Yesterday, I posted ten misperceptions about missionaries. If you didn’t read that post, I encourage you to go there now.  Here are ten more misperceptions: 

  1. “We’re never afraid.” Missionaries are faithful people, but fear can be a reality. Depending on where they serve, they may face public opposition, violence, threats, natural disasters, and strange illnesses. Some live continually ready to flee their area if necessary.     
  2. “We don’t need support from our home churches.” Many missionaries look forward to encouragement, support, relationships, and visits from the churches that sent them. They recognize it when churches seem to have forgotten them.  
  3. “Saying ‘good-bye’ gets easier over the years.” The good-byes for missionaries are numerous and seemingly continual: to family and friends the first time they leave home, and then each time they return to the field after a furlough; to friends on the field each time they return to the United States; to graduating children who go to college; to colleagues who leave the field; to aging parents, likely for the final time. It never gets easier. 
  4. “When we come back to the United States, we’re the same people who left.” Returning missionaries may look the same, but they’re different. Their experiences on the field change them. Temporary stuff that used to matter doesn’t matter so much any more. Big church buildings no longer impress them. Church conflicts seem foolish now. People matter.
  5. “We stay on the field because we love our people group.” They do love their people group, but that’s not the primary reason they stay. They stay because God loves their people group, and they’re just the vessels through whom God gets His message to them.
  6. “We can’t wait to speak energetically to your church when we return to the U.S.”  They really do want to tell you what God is doing through their work, but they’re usually returning after several years of hard work with few breaks. They’re tired. They’re facing their own culture shock. Some are also not naturally gifted to speak to large crowds.
  7. “We don’t have time to hear your prayer concerns.” Sure, missionaries want us praying for them . . . but they equally want to pray for us. Some of my missionary friends are the best intercessors I know.
  8. “We trust God, so we’re never lonely.” They’re never alone because the Spirit lives within them, but missionaries can still be lonely. Some serve in isolated places with no other believers within days of them. They long for their families, especially when they miss weddings and funerals; in fact, they’re often as close to their own families as others who’ve said to them, “I could never do what you do because I’m so close to my family.”  
  9. “We don’t know it if you don’t read our newsletters.” Many missionaries work hard to send well-crafted, concise accounts of God’s workings and their prayer concerns. Because of technological resources available today, they can know how many people actually open their newsletters and read them. Don’t discourage them by ignoring their news.
  10. “Our greatest conflicts come with nationals.” Actually, the greatest struggles often come with teammates. Interpersonal conflicts are typically magnified in a cross-cultural setting.

I’m sure I have my own misperceptions about missionaries, but I don’t think I’m wrong about this conclusion: they are godly people who serve faithfully around the world. Let’s learn about them, listen to them, pray for them, and walk beside them.

And maybe even become one of them.


  • Chuck, thank you for saying many of the things that need to be said. After just a few short years in Eastern Europe, I can affirm that points 4, 8, & 10 often invade my memories… even after being back for three years. I will never be the same person and I am thankful, but the change is often difficult to explain to my brothers and sisters here. We must be missional where we are… today. #goloveserve

  • Trevor says:

    As missionaries, we came to cultivate a mindset before returning home to not expect anyone – even our supporters – to have any understanding or concern for what we had been engaged in abroad. That way 1) we weren’t hurt and surprised when they didn’t and weren’t, and 2) it freed us to engage people where they were at with a kingdom perspective. A missionary’s ministry is not just ‘over there’, but also to those at home when they return from the field. And for the few who were interested and tracking with us, well, that was bonus!

  • Karin F says:

    Thank you! I am a missionary in Nepal, who just returned home on a home assignment after 2 years on the field- so this was a timely post for me. And very true. Yes, we are all different, but the generalizations were pretty accurate. I just may “steal” this to share with my congregation. 🙂

  • krazymomkat says:

    And…you nailed it again!!! Thank you so much for speaking up and speaking out!

  • Bob and Gayle Hill says:

    We just returned to the States with the VRI after 12 1/2 years on the field. We so relate to the things you have shared! Thank you for your insight and your prayers.

  • The Lees says:

    This is spot-on (just like the Part 1 from the previous day). #6 for us is a struggle in a different way. We now have a ‘home’ church that never even asks us to share. Others may give 3-5 minutes to share about the work, the need, and time for us to say ‘thank you’. We’re grateful and always ready to share. However, the longer we’re away on the field, the more real the struggle to connect with congregations in such a brief time.

  • thanks for this list! i actually wrote a post regarding #9 here; hope people will find it a tad useful: http://wp.me/p23X9X-7Y

  • Blessings says:

    Your lists are spot on. I’d love for you to expound on some of the points, though, if you have time to write longer pieces. Maybe you already have. In which case would you please to link to those aticles at the bottom of your blog post?

    Often American Christians are ignorant of the lives and needs of most missionaries… that’s to say they simply don’t know. Perhaps you can share appropriate responses of sending and supporting church members.

    Thanks for your work to advance the cause of Christ and highlight missions in the US.

    We’re following you from the African bush (although NOT living in a hut or eating too many bugs).

  • Thank you for these articles/posts. Back in 2001 I was in full time missions as a single man till 2005 took a break to date, get engaged, and married my wife (whom I met in missions) and then returned to missions in 2006. Left in 2009 because our funds were dropping, people seemed to forget about us, out of sight out of mind. Or maybe it was the economic downturn in the US during that time? We returned from spending that last year in Liberia West Africa. We started a family (two boys) and we want to return while our kids are still small. Sigh. We feel a STRONG call to return. — your right though, our organization even debriefs and helps us prepare for “re-entry” but we still struggle with “church” and programs…its all about people and relationships. The Gospel.

  • Lencxjo says:

    After 29 years in the same foreign country, my younger brother has very few financial supporters left. He has found ways to support himself by doing business on the internet, a car loaned by his daughter while he is in the US, and what not. He ministers in a difficult country, and has branched out to learning a second foreign language (truthfully third, since he somewhat knows more than one foreign language in his foreign country) in another country when he only has 30-day access to his foreign country. He has some fascinating stories to tell! I think he once told me he preached about 20,000 messages in his foreign languages, sometime with a translator into a local dialect he did not know, preaching in the national language. His name is Lee. He is a faithful man, and loves our Lord and His people and His soon-to-be people.

  • A friend had posted these on FB and happen to catch his postings. They came at the just the right time – trying to use them as a template to share my experiences on the field with those who support the work here in Peru.

  • My wife and I have been on the field 20+ years. This is spot on. Thanks.

  • Boureima boubacar says:

    Thank, love, respected and preyed for the missionary be cause of those sacrified commitnément of the LORD.

  • Matthew Boyd says:

    Spot on Dr. Lawless! Our family just arrived back in the States last week after a year in language school and three years in rural West Africa. Thank you for posting this as this truly resonates with where we are as we come back for a few months before returning to our home in West Africa. (PS: There is hardly a week that goes by that I do not think of something that I learned in your Spiritual Warfare class at Boyce many years ago.)

  • Crickett Green says:

    Great article. Spot on. Some of us return to contempt from the churches that sent us. Instead of helping us reintegrate into the church family, I have seen responses of “well that is what you get, you chose to be a missionary.” Some of us are so devoted to the mission that we spend all we have and return broke because there was so much more to do, and we forget we have to take care of ourselves because we cannot count on any help upon returning, in some instances. I have been gone so long that I am uncomfortable being home, I get overwhelmed by things that others take for granted, and it is so hard to return to “Normal ” life. Pray for those like me.

  • Gordon Elliott says:

    We find the saying goodbye gets harder in proportion to the number of grandchildren.

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