Six Things a Stateside Missionary might not Tell You

GlobeMissionaries keep some things quiet from people back home. When I was assigned a position in the U.S., I didn’t say some things very often. Now that I have a more “glamorous” assignment overseas as a linguist/Bible translator, I think maybe I should.

Stateside missionaries sometimes feel they are second-class missionaries

The evangelists, church planters, mercy givers, and Bible translators get most of the attention. Stateside missionaries don’t have such high-profile jobs. They’re office helpers, secretaries, and maintenance personnel. They’re accountants. They’re managers and administrators. They keep the missions organization running so their colleagues can do their jobs on the field. Their contribution is often not understood at home and often not acknowledged by those on the field.

Stateside missionaries often are not viewed as real missionaries

A LASIK surgeon was doing surgeries for free for missionaries. I took him up on the offer. When I met him in person, and he found out that my assignment was located here in the States, he told me he wouldn’t offer them for free anymore. His offer was intended for “real missionaries.” I was insulted for awhile, but then I remembered I had the same attitude as a teen when I first started giving to missionaries.

Stateside missionaries don’t normally sign up to work in the States.

I always wanted to go back overseas, but when I joined my missions organization, the only two assignments that could use my skills were located here in the U. S. Many of my colleagues originally served overseas, but had to come back to the U. S. for some reason out of their control, like contacting a serious disease overseas, being forced out by war, or the need to come home to take care of aging parents. They wanted to continue working in missions, though, and taking a Stateside assignment is how they did it.

Stateside missionaries serve at home…but they don’t

They have left behind family and friends just like everyone else to do this job of missionary. Most work in a different part of the country than the one they were raised in, where the culture is subtly different.

The cost of living is typically higher in the States than it is in more exotic locations

In one Pacific country, I could get a pineapple for a dime, a fraction of the cost in the States. And that’s after the vendor saw my white skin and jacked up the price. When I returned to the States, I usually didn’t buy fresh pineapples, because I couldn’t afford them.

Stateside missionaries struggle to get financial support

They don’t have pictures of the destitute of the deserts or the troubled in the tropics. Nor do they have stories of traveling on foot to the village or running out of fuel in a boat. They mostly work in offices. There are just so many ways to tell people back home captivating tales of interacting all day with a computer. The job just doesn’t make for good fundraising activities.

A request

If my colleagues who take Stateside assignments go away, the money my financial supporters give will never reach me. I won’t get paid. They also do other critical jobs that will probably always go unsung. Please support them anyway. They may not have the exotic adventures that I might have soon, but they are vital to the work.

Photo courtesy of Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo.

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those held by Wycliffe, SIL, or GIAL.

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4 Responses

  1. Dennis Conroy says:

    Thanks for saying this Steve. There is still the less than glamorous overseas “support” assignments that still don’t have all the really great stories to tell. Your ‘six things’ could also be said for missionaries on furlough. “Oh you are home now. So you don’t need support now.”

    • Steve says:

      I’m glad you found this worthwhile, Dennis. With only one year of overseas experience, I hadn’t realized this happens on furlough, too.

  2. Barbara Knutson says:

    WoW, thanks Steve, you really got this right! We do our work diligently as unto our Lord who called us. But so many people just don’t understand, and we do suffer. I sometimes wonder if more of the people in glamorous jobs and those who are able to gain good support would have helped us in our early years to gain supporters, if our story might have been happier. Still rejoicing in our Sovereign and good Lord, even as He has allowed us to suffer. His work is worth the sacrifice.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, Barbara for your comments.

      I don’t know that anyone has quite answered the question of how support workers should raise financial support. I once read a book that was endorsed by someone in our mission. It was completely geared for the evangelist type of missionary. About 2/3s of the way through, the author made the comment that the secretary never could get support and some positions like that might need some other way, but he didn’t say what. It made the book completely worthless to me.

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