Why Missionaries Give Up

I heard a wise woman say once, “85% of overseas missionaries will give up within the first 4 years. The most common reason they give up is because they have problems with other missionaries.” When I heard that, it shocked me. They didn’t give up because of death threats, and it wasn’t because of a poor health condition. Most missionaries quit because they have problems with other missionaries.

It may sound crazy, but that’s the same reason people walk away from the church, it’s the same reason many families stop talking to one another, etc. After spending 3 months living overseas in Africa and in the Middle East, my perspective on what relational boundaries should look like has changed.

I heard different missionaries share stories of how they’ve received death threats, they’ve had machine guns pointed to their head, and they’ve been vandalized. After hearing all that, one of the missionaries said, “I don’t call the police, in fact when the police show up, I tell them that I don’t want to press charges. The person who robbed me is going to be a great Christian leader someday. In fact we’re going to throw him a party to show him how much Jesus loves him.”

I couldn’t believe what I just heard! That made me reevaluate my perspective on what relational boundaries should look like. I’ve had people make fun of me and call me gay, I had people threaten to beat me up for speaking out against injustice, and ¬†I’ve had people gossip about me behind my back, but that’s nothing compared to what those missionaries have overcome.

I’ve always thought staying away from unhealthy people was setting a healthy boundary for myself. And while the idea behind that is good, I don’t believe keeping “the bad people” out of my life is the way of Jesus.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, yet Peter remained one of His disciples. David knew that King Saul wanted to murder him, but he refused to lay a hand on Saul being “Gods anointed King.”

When I was younger, I used to get made fun of a lot. With that thought in mind, often times when people have bad experiences, they subconsciously create a self protection based theology out of a negative reaction they’ve had with pain. Creating a theology out of a fear of what we don’t want to happen raises up a generation of people who are overly focused on protecting themselves from unhealthy people.

While I believe we should set boundaries against unhealthy people, I don’t believe that means we should avoid them like a plague. There should absolutely be a season for personal healing in these situations, but at some point I do believe we need to demonstrate the love of God to them in a healthy way that doesn’t benefit us at all.

I believe turn the other cheek means turns the other cheek. If my focus is, “I don’t want to be taken advantage of,” I’ve already missed the mark by creating a fear-based theology designed to protect me from pain. When we give without expectations and love without limitations, that’s when a real love the world has been waiting for becomes evident in us and through us. Our experiences should never redefine us, but they should refine us until we look even more like the Lover of our soul.

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