I grew up in another culture, and yet it’s still hard to step out of my comfort zone.
I have moved a lot of times, and yet it’s still hard to hold things loosely.
I have been ‘brave’ enough to come to another country to live, and yet I still battle fear.
I love Cambodia, and yet I still get frustrated with things here.
I know that God is directing my paths and wants me here, and yet I still compare myself to others and question whether I’m up to the task. It’s the negative ‘and yets’ that wear me down! And it’s the one who tries to get me to focus on these ‘and yets’ who tries to steal my joy.
I like to think of myself as a pretty ‘even-tempered’ person, and a pretty thankful one — but there’s something about living cross-culturally that really highlights just how up-and-down I can be, and just how unthankful I can be! Take right now, for instance. It’s the hot season (I’ve acclimatised a lot, but still I complain — and this has been a mild hot season!) and I find myself getting cranky about things that normally don’t bother me, wanting to hole-up in my house rather than interact with my neighbours. I procrastinate in getting paperwork done because I don’t understand what the rules and regulations really are. I worry about how I’m going to share about the changes in my ministry when I get to Australia in a month, and whether people will understand. And I wish I could blame it ALL on the hot season.
But — and here’s the good part — there’s also something about living cross-culturally that really highlights my weak points AND highlights that God chooses to use me anyway! I often think that God brought me to Cambodia, not just to work through me, but so that He could do a work IN me (that I think would have taken far longer in Australia). It’s GOOD for me to feel weak. It’s GOOD for me to struggle. It’s GOOD for me to recognise my own shortcomings. Not pleasant — but good. As long as those things direct my eyes and my heart to my Heavenly Father — the One Who is strong, powerful, all-conquering, loving, patient, merciful, and willing to use me anyway. See? More ‘and yets’. I fail Him daily, and yet He loves me. I am weak, and yet He is strong and is at work anyway. I get frustrated, and yet He reminds me of the things I love here. I worry, and yet He calms my fears and gives me a peace that I don’t always understand.
The problem is that my eyes are not always directed to my Heavenly Father. And it’s not just me.
The ministry which God has been leading me into more and more is one of supporting missionaries. The perception people have of missionaries is usually one that isn’t based in reality, and missionaries are all-too-aware of that. We often feel we’re letting our supporters down, our families down, and letting God down. Missionaries are just normal people, struggling with normal issues, but with the added pressures of cross-cultural living and being ‘representatives’ of our home churches.
I think I speak for a lot of missionaries here when I say that we, at least some of the time, all try to ‘fix’ our feelings with other things. For many, they just throw themselves more and more into ministry, making them too busy to deal with other things, using work to try to fix problems. (Hmmm…in a secular setting the word ‘workaholic’ would be bandied about…) Health, families and ministry can all be affected in the long run. Alternatively, we may expect too much of people around us, whether it’s a support network in our home countries, or whether it’s friendships here. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome (and important!) to have those things, but when we rely on those relationships above and beyond relying on God, we are doomed to be disappointed! There are so many false ‘fixes’ I could write about here, but these are two big ones.
I’m not sure whether Siem Reap has a higher turn-over of missionaries than other places, but it sure seems like it. After a while, the constant comings and goings tend to make people hold back from investing too deeply in new people. It’s hard to let yourself get close when you know you’ll just have to say goodbye again. This results in a lot of lonely people. (And then, even if you haven’t let yourself get too close, all the goodbyes hurt anyway.)
The more I get to know other missionary women living here in Siem Reap, the more I realise how many lonely people there are. For us who are single, it is easier — there are a lot of us, and we tend to band together pretty well — but those who are married, with or without children, they’re doing it tough a lot of the time. These are just some of the things I’ve heard from women here in the past few months:
“How did you make friends here? I just feel so disconnected from everyone, and I don’t have any friends here that I can really talk to. I have friends in [home country], but I can’t be completely honest with them when I’m struggling.”
“My husband is so passionate about this ministry and would love to stay here, but I hate it. What am I meant to do all day while he’s doing his thing? I’ve done my time. I want to go home.”
“We don’t know what to do. What’s the best thing for our kids? Do we stay here, or do we move to Phnom Penh, or do we go home? And if we move, what does that mean for the ministry that we’ve put all this effort into and are now seeing bear fruit?”
“I never knew that other people struggled with these things too. I thought I was just being soft.”
“I know a lot of people here, but I don’t really have anyone I can just be myself with.”
“I need to spend time with my husband and I need female friends who speak English. The trouble is I just don’t fit anywhere. I don’t fit with the mums and I don’t fit with the singles.”
I don’t share these quotes lightly. Please read them in a non-judgmental way. These women are beautiful women of God, who desperately want to please God and serve Him. But they are also human. Just like all of us, they have their ups and downs — their times of feeling like they ‘fit’ here and their times of questioning. On these particular days, they were down.
And yet God is good. He provides what we need, physically, spiritually AND emotionally. He lifts us up when we are down. He provides snippets of conversation, a seminar, a Bible verse, a podcast, SOMETHING, at just the right time. And let’s not forget that we have His Spirit living within us! We are never really alone, although we may feel like we are at times.
He works in us and through us – even in our despair. Sometimes, his work is MOST evident during these times. I like the image of being like a clay pot. I certainly feel like one. When the cracks appear, His light shines through more — at least that’s what I pray for! My prayer is that God would help me to focus on the right ‘and yets’. Despite the ups and downs, I will then know His joy and His peace, and He will be the constant. And my prayer is the same for the missionaries I work with here, all of whom are dealing with their own ups and downs. May the Cambodians around us see HIM, no matter what!
If I can change the wording slightly, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 would read like this:
Our bodies are made of clay, AND YET we have the treasure of the Good News in them. This shows that the superior power of this treasure belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. In every way we’re troubled, AND YET we aren’t crushed by our troubles. We’re frustrated, AND YET we don’t give up. We're persecuted, AND YET we’re not abandoned. We’re captured, AND YET we’re not killed. We always carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus is also shown in our bodies.
by Fiona Thomas