An Open Letter to My Fellow Up-ended Missionary

Dear Friend,

First I want to just sit with you for a minute. I may not know what’s happened for you, but I know the ache. I am sorry you’re in this place. So, so sorry. It’s ok to feel breathless. Life just knocked you onto your back. And it’s right to grieve. You’ve lost something precious. Maybe your dreams, or your security, or your innocence. Maybe relationships, or your ministry, or even your home. Maybe, like us, you’ve gone over and over what you could have done to keep that Thing from happening (or what others should have done). But that road’s a dead end, because it happened. It’s done. And this place is where you are.

I know how hopeless this place can feel. It hasn’t been too many months since my family was struggling to regain our footing in the wake of our own nightmare. But we are finding our feet again and finding some valuable truths along the way…

Don’t go it alone. When things come crashing down, we aren’t meant to pick up the pieces by ourselves. Find friends and family you can trust who will hold your story quietly and gently, people who will cheer you on as you heal. Talk to a good counselor. Maybe for a time you’ll need some anxiety medication, like I have. There is no shame in that. Hiding and pretending you’re ok just hurts you and the people you love.

Keep your rhythms as much as possible. In the middle of a crisis, our daily rhythms can be a good reminder that, while life may be changing in a huge way, we will eventually find our new normal. Keep eating together, even if it’s tuna sandwiches. Go for walks and feel the sun on your skin. Something as simple as taking a shower can make a world of difference in how you’re able to cope.

Psalms, Psalms, and more Psalms. For a time, I couldn’t make myself read anything other than the Psalms. There were questions I wanted to yell at God, but I couldn’t find my own words, so I borrowed ones already written. David and the other psalmists didn’t pull punches. They unapologetically flung themselves, raging emotions and all, at God’s feet, and I flung myself with them. I found safety in knowing that groaning and praising aren’t mutually exclusive.

Don’t toss out the good memories with the hard. We went through some horrible stuff on the field. This is absolutely true. But we also made some incredible friendships and saw God work in breathtaking ways. I understand how hard it might be to untangle the two at first, but give it some time. It does get easier. Remembering the good things doesn’t minimize the hard things, but letting the hard swallow up the good just adds to your loss.

Most people won’t fully understand. Maybe you’ve chosen to be open with your whole story, or maybe, like us, you’ve decided to keep the details quiet. Either way, there are probably times you feel misunderstood. All of us form opinions, and many of our opinions are based on assumptions, and sometimes our assumptions are wildly wrong. Especially if you have chosen to keep quiet out of respect for others or a need for privacy, it’s possible that there will be people whose opinions of you and your situation are not based on truth. This is a harsh reality even in the body of Christ, but you are not responsible for what others think. Do what you and your family need to do, be obedient to the Lord, and let Him take care of the rest. And, yes, you might lose ministry partners and maybe even friendships, and maybe these losses will feel like a kick in the gut after whatever heartache you’ve just gone through. Acknowledge these losses, grieve them however you need to, and then lean into this beautiful mystery… When loss knocks a hole in us, that hole becomes the very place where God pours Himself in and fills us to overflowing. Our gaps are an invitation for His filling. My family’s hard season left us with so many losses that we felt like swiss cheese, but as we heal we’re finding that being holey is leading to becoming holy, owned and filled by Him.

And, friend, if you don’t hear anything else I have to say, please hear this:

Don’t confuse crisis with failure. God has worked through you during your time on the field. He’ll continue working there even if you never return, and He’ll continue working through you wherever you land. There’s a good possibility your situation involved sin or brokenness on some level, either yours or someone else’s, or maybe a combination of the two. But here’s the jaw dropping truth of Grace – God is not limited by darkness. He is working to redeem all of it. ALL. OF. IT. He isn’t surprised or thrown off His plan even a bit. He has a way of weaving every broken detail, even the shards with the sharpest edges, into something that brings glory to Him and freedom to us. When we’re broken and transformed, there’s victory. When we’re held and healed, there’s victory. When we can move forward in hope, there is victory.

I wouldn’t have chosen this path. I would have been terrified if I had seen what was coming. And I’m not to the point yet where I can honestly say I’m grateful for what we went through. But I can say that I’m grateful for where we are now because of it. As we passed through a season that, in some ways, felt more like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone than a field term, we couldn’t see the view waiting on the other side, but we’re starting to catch glimpses.

Keep walking, friend. It’s beautiful.


  1. lkn
    Jan 27, 2017

    Thank you. I wish someone had as clear as that when we got burned, 25+ years ago.

  2. Judy Branks
    Jan 30, 2017

    An insightful letter from a mutual wounded spirit. When we were evacuated out of our place of ministry I was angry, betrayed, devastated…every possible negative emotion pouring through me. But I can truly say that Jesus never left my side with His healing and restoration 17 years later. Wish I had had access to a letter like this one. Praise God for kindred spirits!

    • beth
      Jan 30, 2017

      Judy, I think there are a lot of us who have lived through this kind of thing. We’ve been blessed to have friends around us who have walked this road before and can remind us that God can wrap any kind of hard thing in healing. Blessings.

  3. Kathleen Carriger
    Feb 20, 2017

    Yep, my turn was 2005, being forced off the field by malaria, feeling devastated. And the Lord restored my soul, one day at a time, and gave me a whole new unexpected life & ministry that was a JOY! Now I’m retired and starting over again, and He is faithful. God is good – all the time!

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