Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple one must first “count the cost,” and if the potential disciple is not willing to make a full commitment to the end, he shouldn’t even start (Luke 14:26-35 NKJV). I believe the same principle also applies to prospective missionaries. If you venture into the mission field unprepared and unaware of what you’re getting into (i.e. not having counted the cost), you’re in for quite a shock. And if you do not possess the necessary determination, adaptability, and fortitude to stick it out and persevere, you will have wasted a lot of time, money, self-esteem, peace of mind, and dignity. Better to not even go at all than to unnecessarily renege on a solemn commitment.
It is very important to have realistic expectations. Be sensibly aware that the missionary life is not always exciting, adventurous, satisfying, or even visibly productive. It seems glamorous to just about everybody except those on the mission field. It involves a lot of hard work, apprehension, frustration, and disappointment. Some will put the missionary up on a pedestal and laud his feeble efforts, making him feel uncomfortable and unworthy. Others, unaware of what it’s really like, will question his use of time and money and criticize his lack of results. Some will view him with disdain because he has forsaken loved ones to preach to foreigners when there are needs at home to be met. Certain ones will act uneasy around him because, in their view, he is not a “regular Christian” but a hard-to-relate-to peculiarity, and conversations will tend to be awkward and one-sided. Once you step into those missionary shoes, your life will never be the same.
For those who are accustomed to having a parent, teacher, or boss setting their schedule and standing over them with a list of chores, assignments or duties which are expected to be completed by a predetermined deadline, a rude awakening awaits on the mission field. The missionary is responsible for organizing and implementing his own schedule. If he is not a self-starter and a self-motivator, he runs the risk of becoming lazy, disorganized, and ineffective. But if he is being supported to do the Lord’s work, he has a solemn obligation, both to God and to his supporters, to exercise good stewardship of his time and resources (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). Most conscientious missionaries tend to go to the opposite (workaholic) extreme, but if you feel that inefficiency may be a problem for you, start working to overcome it right now!
While it is possible to be content in any situation in life (Philippians 4:11), this is not to say that a missionary will ever be fully satisfied. As long as he is on the mission field, there will be degrees of longing for family, friends, brethren, places, foods, events, and the cultural norms of home. And once he has adapted to his new environment and established new relationships, if he returns to his former homeland he will experience the same feelings in reverse. It is almost like a permanent state of homesickness, and few missionaries are ever completely satisfied on this side of eternity (cf. Philippians 1:8; 2:26; 2 Corinthians 11:28).
--Kevin L. Moore
*Adapted from my book, The Single Missionary  77-85.