In our more than sixty years of ministry, Eloise and I have experienced countless highs and lows, and encouragements and discouragements. We have seen great seasons of joyfully abounding in the work, and we have faced long periods of disappointment and defeat. We have had many wonderful times of flourishing and many difficult times of struggling.
Missionaries overseas constantly confront physical, emotional and spiritual stresses. In fact, we are often more prone to these strains and pressures because we are daily dealing with spiritual issues that can have eternal consequences. The weight of that responsibility, along with cultural changes and satanic opposition, can often be an extremely heavy load to carry.
Paul says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
One of my times of deepest emotional struggle happened many years ago when my dad and mum came from Tasmania to visit us. They had only been with us a few days when dad complained of chest pains. We took him to the doctor and he was hospitalized immediately. My dad never came out of the hospital, as he died a couple of weeks later. My mother had to fly back home without him.
Three days before my dad died, my best friend also suddenly died. He had been my encourager and helper in ministry for seven years. He was only thirty-six years old. I had the responsibility for two funerals, my dad’s and my best friend’s, on two successive days. It was overwhelming for me, and it took me a long time to find emotional stability. I was really struggling.
Some years later, when we had a missionary taken hostage, I felt deep pain and hurt as she disappeared and we couldn’t find her. It was a terrible time, balancing responsibilities to her family, to her local church and to the government of the country where she was being held. It was an agonizing struggle, day after day.
We have also often struggled when we didn’t have the money to keep moving forward with ministries we believed God had drawn us into. We had to learn through hard experience that God always knows best. It hasn’t been easy, but God in his infinite grace and mercy helped us through those difficult times.
There have also been many wonderful times of elation and joy. Seeing God powerfully at work transforming lives, opening firmly closed doors, and performing amazing miracles has given us great delight. “He has accomplished infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)
I will never forget the many times of great joy when our ministries flourished. One time was when we were in the city of Kolkata, India, where we sold 100,000 gospel portions in ninety days. We were filled with joy and gratitude as we saw thousands of people learning about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for the first time.
At another time, we had 1500 young people from Assemblies gathered for four days of missionary exposure. On the last night, more than 400 came forward to commit to serving the Lord. At other times, we have seen the provision of the Lord when he amazingly provided tens of thousands of dollars to help poor families in hard places. At those times we were flourishing.
Life in the service of Jesus is always a mixture of flourishing and struggling. There are times of overwhelming joy, and other times of deep, emotional trauma.
Part of my present ministry is to counsel and encourage missionaries who are serving in hard places or in difficult situations. I Skype regularly with servants of the Lord in all parts of the world. I can see the radiance of peace in their smiles, and I can see their sad cries for help written on their faces.
The following are three stories of people with whom I’m currently working. These are all true stories, but with the names and places changed to protect their identity.
John is in his mid-thirties, and he and his wife Lisa have two young girls who are in first and third grade at a local school. John was born on the mission field, as his parents were serving the Lord overseas at the time. He has lived all his life in the Latino culture. He is completely fluent in Spanish and identifies more with being Latino, than with the nationality of his home country.
Lisa struggles with the language and she is discouraged about her ministry opportunities. She also lives with a lot of fear. There have been many rapes in the area. Lisa is very fearful that someone will break into the house when John is gone or that she will be attacked when she is out in the community. She also worries about whether their girls attending the local school are safe and getting a good education.
Lisa regularly has nightmares and cries often. She is getting professional help. She is on medication, but it has not stabilized her yet. They have already moved three times to different areas with different ministries in order to help her find peace and contentment, but the problems persist. John wants desperately to see Lisa succeed because he does not want to leave the field early, as he is having a very fruitful ministry and feels greatly fulfilled. He prays and hopes that the Lord will help Lisa and enable her to have less fear and find emotional stability.
Steve and Margaret are in their late fifties. Their children are all grown, and they are free to spend their time together serving the Lord. They are flourishing in this season of life. They both are very creative, motivated people and feel they are at their peak effectiveness. They are in a very fruitful time using their talents to reach people with the gospel in their African community. Steve is helping five men and two women start their own businesses. He disciples these seven people who are growing in their faith, doing well financially, and building strong families.
Margaret also has an incredible discipleship gift, and she has a class of fourteen women whom she teaches every Wednesday morning. The women are learning and growing in the Lord, becoming better mothers to their children, and better wives to their husbands.
Steve and Margaret both have elderly parents back home, and they often get emails from their siblings about their parents’ health needs. They are becoming increasingly frail and dependent on the
other family members, so several of their siblings are overwhelmed and wonder how long they can keep caring for their parents. Steve and Margaret feel very guilty that they are not home to help with their parents’ care. They often wonder if they should leave their ministry in Africa and return home to help.
David and Jennifer are in their late forties and work in Europe reaching out to university students. They have many times of great ministry outreach, befriending young people who are studying at the local university. Every Monday night they host a dinner in their home prior to having a Bible study, and they regularly have thirty to thirty-five students. However, it is a heavy load for Jennifer to carry as she has Multiple Sclerosis and often feels weak and depleted. She frequently struggles just to keep going. However, they have great joy as they have seen many of the students come to know the Lord Jesus as their Saviour.
They have three children of their own, two are in the university and a sixteen- year-old in high school. They also have two adopted children, aged ten and six. They brought these two children into their family because the state agency had taken them away from their abusive parents and put them up for adoption.
Their sixteen-year-old son is rebelling and causing a lot of friction in the family. He has been caught with drugs a couple of times, and communications with their son has almost completely broken down. He comes home from school, goes immediately to his room, and spends hours on the internet. Sometimes David and Jennifer feel completely frustrated, and they are struggling to know what to do. Often they feel God doesn’t hear their cries for help, and they are overwhelmed with sadness that they can’t communicate with
All three of these couples are godly, gifted servants of Jesus. They all are well trained, have had a variety of experiences, and are faithful men and women. They are each at different stages in their missionary experience, but they all are sometimes flourishing and sometimes struggling.
In my conversations, I always encourage them to:
1. Realize that Jesus understands and cares about their heartaches. I often remind them of the words of the old hymn, “No one understands like Jesus, when the days are dark and grim. No one is so near, so dear as Jesus, cast your every care on him.” Hebrews 4:15 says, “We have a high priest who sympathizes with
2. Look for the good things and thank the Lord for them. Even in times of difficulty, there are always things for which to be grateful. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
3. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. I encourage them to remember times when God showed his grace and care to them. “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21).
4. Pray in faith for a miraculous answer. I urge them to bring their heartaches to the Lord many times each day and not let go until they see the Lord answer. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16).
5. Focus their minds on Bible verses and songs. I encourage them to find a helpful verse and memorize it. I suggest they go over it in their minds constantly. I urge them to sing a song that lifts them up and draws them close to the Lord Jesus. Isaiah says, “Put on the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3 KJV).
6. Keep physically active. I suggest they take time to engage in exercise. Often, I find when people are struggling, they withdraw into themselves. I push them to get out and walk or participate in a sport they enjoy. I say, “Start slowly. Set a schedule. Set realistic goals. Hold yourself accountable.”
7. Find good books or articles on the issues that concern them. Often I share a book or article that I have recently read that will help them navigate the rough seas of life.
8. Find someone locally whom they can trust to share the burdens they carry. I have them think through some names of people who are close to them who might be able to help. Sometimes it is a professional Christian counsellor, a pastor or another sympathetic, wise missionary.
I never leave our times of sharing together without a significant time of praying for them. I will cry out to the Lord on their behalf and ask for His miraculous intervention. I claim His promises. I remember His attributes of kindness and compassion. I ask in faith, believing for a mighty deliverance.
Then my last words to them are encouraging words of affirmation and love. I tell them I love them, I am here for them, and I am willing to do all I can to help them. I want them to know there is great joy in their times of flourishing and great hope in the midst of their struggles.
I assure them that the Lord will never leave them. His word says, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). In the midst of their flourishing and struggling, the Lord is always right beside them, and that is their unshakable hope.
By Kevin G. Dyer