This series of articles have been adapted from the Missions On Point podcast episodes addressing the same issues. You can find them starting with episode 73 here.
We're in the last of a five part series on, Help, My Family Member is a Missionary. We're speaking to those who have been left behind by loved ones going to the field, but it does have application for those on the field and for those who are assisting, helping, caring for people on both sides of this equation. Today's topic is expectations for time together. Expectations for time together.
This particular subject is often where the wheels fall off of the relationship between those left behind and the missionaries when they get together. Whether it's the people on this side of the water visiting the missionaries on the other side of the water or the missionaries coming home, and what are the expectations that you have? I've had both the good fortune and bad fortune to both experience and to witness improper expectations and proper expectations. It makes a world of difference whether it be in your work or your ministry or your goals for the future, proper expectations can have a great result. Improper expectations can have a horrible result.
Let me walk you through that because it's an important lesson in life and in your spiritual life, particularly. Wrong or ill-informed or misguided or selfish expectations will always lead to disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, failure, emotional hurt, and ultimately if you let it go, bitterness which is sinful. I'm just reminded of this principle from Proverbs 13:12 where it says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." The first part of that verse speaks about expectations, realistic expectations, or perhaps unrealistic expectations, which are not met and it makes the heart sick.
The other side of that coin is right and well-informed, godly guided, unselfish expectations which biblically and practically lead to character, building, stamina, faithfulness, ultimately reward, and fruitfulness and joy. It's the opposite of wrong expectations. Listen to these verses from Romans 5:1-5. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
You see this process, this difference? When we have a confident, steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, it works out practically in building our character even through suffering so that it produces endurance and character and hope, and hope does not put us to shame. Proper expectations in God's love poured out to us by the Holy Spirit produces great joy in the Christian's life. And expectations even about our time together with our distant loved ones should produce that kind of joy if they are proper expectations.
Let's build some proper expectations today about your family members visiting or you visiting your family members that are overseas. First, let's talk about your missionary friend, loved one, your missionary family coming to visit United States, coming home for their home stay or their furlough or their home assignment. You must remember that they are independent adult agents and they have a lot of responsibilities to themselves and their own health and their family besides you. Even if you are a close family member, their mission agency or mission sending agent is going to want to make sure that they have health checkups, that they have dental checkups, they have to do with a lot of paperwork in bureaucracy.
When we first return home from the field, our driver's license had expired, which meant that we had to go through the whole process as if we were getting a driver's license, including all the driver's tests, the written and the road tests in order to reestablish a driver's license in the United States. There is no doubt some legal and visa paperwork that has to be done, which sometimes entails trips to offices that may not even be close to your city. There may be mission requirements that they get upgraded in training or pursue at least further work on another degree. All of these things take time and if you thought that perhaps your loved one was going to come and spend six months with you in your house, you may be mistaken. They have other supporters and other churches and other friends to see. They have life that continues on.
They may have friends that are getting married and have actually scheduled events and social things for them apart from you and your concerns, creating demands on time of their beloved friends, completely separate from what your plans are, and if your family member is married and their spouse has family in a completely other part of the country, you can be sure that their family has similar kinds of concerns and expectations about spending time with them and they've got to balance those things out. It is not always a 50/50 proposition even with whatever available time they might have.
So we've just talked a little bit about time expectations, but there's also housing expectations. If your family member or loved one that's overseas is single, maybe housing is a very simple solution in your own home. If they're married, that kind of doubles the complications with regard to just internal relationships within the house. If they have children, then you're just adding an exponential factor of care and service and feeding and time schedules that may completely be different than what you thought they might be when they first left for the field.
Your beloved field missionaries returning have a lot of factors they have to balance with regard to time and space and expense that may not be solved with your particular solution. In some respects, if your loved one's family is nearby and their spouses loved ones family is far away. That's one thing. If they happen to be closer together, that might make it even more challenging and difficult because of the expectations of both parties being so close together, they expect them to participate in everything. You do not want to wear out your missionary by having them spend time with you and all the expectations of others involved so that they end up going back to the field frustrated and completely worn out.
The whole idea of a home assignment or furlough is to actually rest, touch base with loved ones, accomplish what you need to do at home that can only be accomplished at home, and then go back to the field feeling refreshed and invigorated and with renewed vision to do the work there, not to recover from the time at home. It's a good thing to focus on time together, together and shared experiences more than stuff. You may be tempted to overload them with new stuff, new things, new gadgets, new clothes, a whole bunch of things that you feel like because they're somehow deprived of a lot of access to those things on the field that you need to load them up to go back to the field with. Really that's not the case. They don't want to be all loaded up with a whole bunch of new things per se. There may be some things that they need to replace, but not just add more and more stuff as affluent, overindulged American consumers returning to the field.
Let's take a look at what the expectations are of the missionaries visiting home. Of course, they want to touch base with their loved ones. They want to spend time with their family, their parents, their siblings, other key relatives and their lives. But they also need times of rest and recreation. They need enough time to think and process things. They need some space to be on their own and reestablish their own marriage and family relationship to be stronger for when they return to the field. It seems obvious that the direction ought to be in serving them and asking them and finding out from them what are their ideals and what are their expectations, and how those things can be met and for us to be fulfilled in accomplishing that. Not be frustrated when our own goals and expectations are not met precisely the way we wish.
Now, what about expectations of when we might visit them on the field? You have to realize that they're on the field for a specific purpose and it's not simply to be a tour guide for visitors. We already talked about the significant opportunity to bring things in your luggage for them that they need or want and can't find easily accessible where they live. But also notice that the place they live, the type of environment they live in, the housing they have, the transportation available is likely to be very different than whatever you experience day-to-day at home. So be prepared to walk a lot, to take public transportation, to live in much smaller quarters, to not have a private bathroom available to you. I don't know how many times I've shared a small bedroom probably with a mattress on the floor with one or two young children of a missionary family when I was visiting them.
Obviously, the foods are going to be different, the noise level is going to be different. The sights and sounds and smells are going to be different. You also need to realize that having guests cost the missionary something and they live on a lower means of income than normal to you. I highly recommend that whoever is visiting takes stock of or do a little research to find out how much it costs to get around in a vehicle. How much does it cost for even public transportation? How much does it cost for food? I tend to leave cash money for the missionaries I'm staying with to help offset their costs of taking care of me. I want it to be a joy when they see me visit, not a burden and a wish that he'll leave as soon as possible.
You also have to take into account how much time you're going to be there and is expended on your behalf. If you're not going to fit into their schedule and just shadow them in their work or ministry, then you need to not take too much time with them. Even though you might have extra time off, it's not fair to them to have to take a week to 10 days just to take care of you exclusively and neglect whatever work responsibilities they might have.
You should have the mindset that you're not really there for you, you are there for them and fit into whatever it takes for them to enjoy showing you the best of what they're able to with the time and resources that they have available. The kinds of questions going on in your mind should not be, how can they serve me and help me have fun, but how can I find out about their life and their new country and the things that they love and the new people that they love for Jesus' sake here in this place. What are the things that can best enhance my understanding of and vision of their ministry and life and work there?
This whole subject of expectations for time together both on the home side and the abroad side are very important. Those expectations change over changes in the family dynamic in children and ages of children, and what can be expected for a family together, being at home visiting other family members, including yourself, all the responsibilities that they have during that short home assignment. Let's keep our expectations right, well-informed, Godly guided, unselfish, leading to great joy for all involved.
One last word of caution. Don't think that whatever time you have with your missionary loved ones is going to fix all of the heart pain that you may have felt in separation. That's not their responsibility. It's between you and the Lord to fix your heart. Keep your expectations positive, godly, unselfish, you will not be disappointed.