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When I Was the New Missionary

I was 22 years old, I had just finished my teaching degree, and as far as I was concerned, I was ready to be a missionary.  After all, I had been an MK and thus knew everything there was to know about missions in Africa.  And for that matter, I pretty much knew everything there was to know about life.  Like any 22-year-old.

I went to our mission organization's candidate school twice.  Once while single, since the plan was to head to Tanzania after my first year of teaching.  Then this dream guy named Gil Medina messed with my plans and I ended up getting married instead.  So two years after my first time at candidate school, and 9 months after getting married, I went again--this time with Gil.

Visiting the States always brings back so much nostalgia for me. So much of my history is in America; it floods me with memories.  And this time around, I was reminded of that pre-Tanzania season of my life.  I was invited to be a facilitator at our mission's missionary training a few weeks ago--this time as the experienced missionary.  So I spent a week in July with our mission's newest crop of missionaries.  And I saw myself in them, 18 years ago.  

Candidate school, 1999
You would think that after being a missionary kid, and attending candidate school twice, that I would have been ready for my new life overseas.  I sure thought I was.  But in reality, I had no idea what was about to hit me.

I had a massive panic attack and mental breakdown ten days after arriving in Tanzania in 2001.  As a result, I was barely coping for the entirety of the first year we lived there.  I dug up my old journals last week while at my parents' house, which flooded me with even more memories.  This is what I wrote a few days after that breakdown.

August 10, 2001
Everything within me is wrestling.  I scream, "I hate this!  Let me go back!"
And the pain of missing people sinks into my soul and creates an overwhelming sadness.

I'm telling you this for a couple of reasons.  Partly because it's good to look back and see how far I've come.  Even though that period in my life was certainly the darkest I've experienced, it's reassuring to remember how God showed up in the midst of that pain--even though I couldn't see it then.  It's comforting to understand now how necessary that pain was, and how profoundly it contributed to who I am today.

But I also wanted to give you the backstory to this piece I wrote for 'A Life Overseas.'  I wrote it on the plane as I was coming home from helping to facilitate the new missionary training.  It was such a privilege to spend that time with about 40 new missionaries--many ages, many walks of life, headed to countries all over the globe.  And I hope that the beginning won't be as hard for them as it was for me.  I know that even if it isn't, it will still be hard.  But I wanted them to know that it's worth it.

I wrote the following piece through tears.  Tears in remembering, but also tears of great thankfulness and joy.  Because, oh, how it's been worth it!  That's what I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self, sitting in candidate school.  She had no idea how hard it would be.  But I'm sure glad she didn't give up.

Here's an excerpt, but I hope you'll read the whole thing.  It expresses a great deal of how I feel about the last 15 years of missionary life.

Dear New Missionary,

It’s going to be hard.  Really hard.
And it won’t just be the things you anticipate will be hard.  Sure, there will be the bugs and you might hate your kitchen and driving might terrify you.  You might cry because the potatoes are just not cooking right and you accidentally insult someone and no one speaks to you at your new church.  Your kids might get a strange rash and you will buy the wrong medicine and you’ll wonder what on earth you were thinking to bring your family to this strange place.
Then there’s the fear.  You won’t let your kids play outside without you; you’ll hold your purse a lot more tightly; you’ll worry about the pollution affecting your lungs.  You’ll sleep a lot less soundly and get up at night just to check out the windows, one more time.  It might feel like everyone is smirking at you behind your back.  And you’ll wonder why you ever thought you could have an impact on this new place.
But then there will be the things you didn’t anticipate would be hard.  Your sin won’t stay in your home country, in fact, it will seem to ooze out of you in buckets.  Your team leader won’t have enough time for you, and you’ll feel left dangling, high and dry and bewildered.  The poverty surrounding you will hang constant guilt around your neck.  You will communicate like a two-year-old.  You’ll lose your sense of self-respect.  You won’t feel good at anything anymore.
You will, in essence, lose yourself.  And it might feel like dying.
But, in that losing, you will find yourself.  And in that dying, you will live.

Read the rest here.

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