Just over a year ago, I returned home to BC after living and working in Jinja, Uganda for nearly seven years. What started as a 10-month volunteer stint at a non-profit called Ekisa Ministries (Ekisa runs several programs for children with disabilities) lead to the role of Operations Director where I oversaw the accounting and administration for the organization. The environment and community where I worked came with its fair share of struggle and conflict, but this provided ample opportunity to reflect on the traits I witnessed in those who were successful and those who left Uganda even more broken than they arrived.
This list is not exhaustive, but these are a few of the more essential components that, I believe, are key to surviving life in missions (and ministry).
Identity – Having a True Understanding of Our Identity in Christ
There is something that can happen when someone makes the choice to enter missions, especially when the location is seen as extreme, primitive, or lacking in a range of modern conveniences: esteem.
Refusing to allow this misplaced regard affect your identity is most crucial during transition. Often the identity of “missionary” (or pastor) instead of Child of God causes a great deal of stress, confusion, and crisis as many are left questioning who they are outside of their role in ministry.
Responsibility – Understanding What Is and Isn’t Ours to Carry
If you’re a visual person, I suggest drawing two circles, one within the other. Within the larger circle, write “God” and in the smaller one, write your name. Then write down the things that take the most mental and emotional energy in their appropriate spaces and be as specific as you can. There is a temptation to try to control people and outcomes but often, especially in conflict, our load to bear is nothing more than our own thoughts and actions.
During my time in Uganda, I saw too many people utterly overwhelmed by things they had no business taking responsibility for in the first place.
A Teachable Spirit – Appreciating and Utilizing the Wisdom of Others Who Have Gone Before
Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, there are many who have gone before us. Curiosity and humility are absolutely imperative.
In the context of missions, the least healthy individuals (and ministries) were those who came with preconceived notions, who wanted to do their own thing, who believed their North American upbringing and education gave them all the answers, and who refused to humble themselves to any voice of opposition or counsel. Not only does this cause harm to the individual, but it also causes harm to the people they are meant to be serving.
My time and experiences in Uganda forced me to recognize the very real difference between surviving and thriving; the hard part is developing the awareness to identify seasons when we’re merely surviving and pursue a better way.
Know who you are, identify your scope of responsibility and be receptive to the wisdom of others.