The Hardest Thing About Being a Missionary

I am coming down off of a pretty difficult time with my own attitudes regarding missionary life here in Cameroon. I can honestly say that right now I feel content, excited, and motivated. But not everyday is like that, and some worse than others. When I mention these struggles what comes to your mind? What do you think is the hardest part of being a missionary? People have told me the hardest part would be the heat, bugs, snakes, isolation, sickness or language learning. But I would say that none of these things are the “hardest” part of being a missionary. The hardest part, at least for me, is the people.
Our neighbors, the people we work with, and everyone we relate to everyday are sinners. I have given money to some for transport, so that they could come dig a well, and they never came, keeping the money. I have been lied to countless times and drunkenness and violence are common. But probably the most painful of all is when we are sinned against by those that we are seeking to disciple at our church. Those that claim to be our brothers and sisters acting like our enemies. I have realized that people can hurt you a thousand times more than a snake, sunburn, or an amoeba.
I should not be surprised by these things, first because I know that all people are sinners. But also because if I am really honest, the hardest part of ministry in the States is also people. We ministered with Speak for the Unborn with our church in Kentucky, trying to persuade women not to go through with abortions right in front of the clinic. I have heard people refer to this as the most difficult ministry at the church. Why do they say that? Is it because it gets really cold to be standing in front of an abortion clinic at 6AM in Kentucky? That part was difficult, but was that why it was a hard ministry? No, it was because of the vacant look in women’s eyes as they go to kill a child, and you can tell they know exactly what they are doing. It was because clinic escorts volunteer their time every week to prevent us from speaking the truth. S4U is a hard ministry, not because of circumstances, but because of people.
And again, in the same way as above, the hardest type of conflict is when you are hurt and attacked and sinned against by those in the church. People leave churches in the US all the time, bitter and frustrated. Is it because of the color of the carpet, or broken air conditioning? No, we do not leave churches because of carpets, we leave churches because of people.
As I was working through these issues, I kept running into passage after passage in the Bible that calls us to love. We are called to “bear with one another” and be patient and long-suffering. None of these calls would be necessary if living with other people was easy. So, I decided for this blog I am going to give three reasons that we ought to love even when it is hard. I do this because I need to hear it, and I figure some of you might need to too.
1. We love because we can be unlovable too.
As I was reading all of these verses calling me to love my neighbor, I realized that these verses were written to my neighbors too. I have no doubt that if you were to ask some people the hardest part of their time in the church, my face would pop into their minds. Why? Because I am a sinner too.
I was convicted reading about the confrontation between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2 the other day. Here was the Apostle Peter who, in spite of earlier failings, had been so bold to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem in Pentecost. He had followed the Lord to preach to Gentiles, even when that idea had originally disgusted him and he knew it would be opposed by other Jews. He was one of the first leaders of Christ’s church. But Paul had some pretty strong words for Peter: Paul said “he stood condemned,” that he had been “fearing the circumcision party,” and “acting hypocritically.” This godly man sinned in such a grievous way that he needed public confrontation.If such a conflict can arise between two authors of Scripture, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves clashing with others. I know people that have chosen to attend another church because of me. I have hurt my brothers and sisters with my words and my actions. I am not better than my Cameroonian neighbors and it is far too easy to condemn others without considering the log in my own eye. We ought to love hard people, because (at least some of the time) we too are hard to love.

2. We love because he first loved us.
Keeping in mind the above point, that I am a sinner, it is astonishing to realize that I am to pattern my love after the One who loves me. When Jesus calls us to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt 5:44) he is calling us to do something he has already done. Romans 5:8 tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Loving our enemies is being Christ-like because when he chose to love us, he was loving his enemies.
Would I call my neighbors my enemies? Yes, sometimes. Many of them are not committed to my holiness, in fact, some of them encourage me to sin. My honest prayer and hope for these men and women is that they become my brothers and sisters, but for now, I love them as my enemies. And even if I do not count them as my enemies, how much more should I love them as my friends. For me, loving them means venturing out into the neighborhood and talking to them in Kwakum, knowing that some of them will make fun of me. It means repairing things that have been broken without a begrudging spirit. It means praying for them when I feel like knocking the dust off my sandals. It means bearing with my brothers and sisters when they fall right back into the same sin. Just like Jesus pursued me when I did not love him, fixes the relationships I break in spite of me, and forgives me when I fall right back into the same sin. I love my neighbors because God first loved me.
3. We love because God tells us to.
Of all of the verses that I found that relate to loving, this one was a whopper:

“Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14.

God calls us to do all things in love. For me, that means that when I am sitting in my room studying Kwakum, I ought to be doing it out of love. And when I work up the courage to go out to speak to my neighbors, I ought to do it in love. When I remind the neighbor kids (for the 10,000th time) that the reason that I built a fence in the front yard is so that the grass can have the time to grow without them stepping on it, I ought to do it in love. Should I be faced again with the decision to leave (or not leave) a church, the decision should be made in love. When I confront others in sin, it ought to be in love. I love when it is hard, because God says to love always.
I will conclude considering one of what I consider the most striking verses in all of Scripture:

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” 1 John 4:20.

I realized that I view life quite the opposite from this verse. I consider it easy to love God, but hard to love people. But John throws my natural view on its head. He says that if we do not love our brother, whom we can see, we CANNOT love God. I believe that John is referring to Christians when he says “brother” here, but I can see my non-Christian neighbors as well, so I think the principle applies. When I see my neighbors sinning, I am tempted not to love them. When they hurt me, I want to run away. And if I do, I am lost. Because I cannot love God, or even claim to love him, if I hate my brother. If you are leaving a church, or even just holding a grudge, because you cannot love a church member, you cannot love God. Love is not an option.As I mentioned, God has blessed me recently such that I find myself loving my neighbors easily. I have taken delight in the neighbor kids playing in my yard. I spent the evening talking to Stacey about the graces that we see in the culture here. There is no need for S4U in Cameroon, as the people know that abortion is wrong (not to mention illegal). Our language partner Simon has been a delight and is selfless in his service to us. I am so thankful to be here, so glad to be working among the Kwakum, and I cannot wait to watch the Word of God transform this culture. I write this blog to remind me of the truths I will need to hear on harder days. And hopefully to help you get through them as well.


Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.