Editor’s note: Glen and Geraldine are what you might call old-school missionaries. They arrived in Ukraine in 1994, back when big bangs were cool and the Iron Curtain had recently fallen hard across Europe–and the dust was still settling. (Would you believe these two briefly tangled with the Ukrainian mafia?)
We asked Geraldine what she’d tell a young missionary over coffee–because though a lot has changed since perms were hot, we can gain so much wisdom through ministry vets. Here’s what Geraldine had to say.
Be 100% CONFIDENT OF your “why”.
First of all, for the prospective missionary, I would definitely recommend that he or she is completely confident in God’s power and Great Commission. There are many adversaries or even those who are against foreign missions.
For example, we had friends who were missionaries to the Jewish people who actually tried to dissuade us from coming to Ukraine. We should consider, they said, the language barrier, the difficult cultural differences, and the anti-American sentiment.
As a missionary, you’ll be challenged with these issues regardless of where you serve.
Be confident of what God’s called you to–because you’ll inevitably withstand times of significant obstacles, fear, pain–and yes, questioning if you’re in the right place: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20).
Keep your lifestyle/housing simple or consistent with the people you serve.
We rented a Ukrainian house and didn’t furnish it with anything American. We wanted Ukrainians to feel comfortable around us.
Of course, there were a few things that I personally brought for myself: books, devotionals, recipes for our favorite foods.
Here’s the advice for a young missionary which someone gave me: Bring essential items for your kids–certain games, movies, and toys so that they would feel more at home. For children, the cultural transition is much more difficult, especially if the son or daughter is a pre-teen or teenager.
It’s also important to engage in special occasions for them–such as birthdays, academic accomplishments, sleepovers, sporting events (we had basketball and volleyball games).
Plan for pain.
One event that really impacted our family: Church problems we experienced in 1996. After two years, we had certain people that were opposed to my husband’s leadership. Some people walked away and others complained about us.
We had to spend much time in prayer and examine our lives and ministry before the Lord. We never wanted to hurt anyone, but the enemy was working. This is very common. Before making any major decisions, consider the fallout, although things do happen that are out of our control.
We basically had to start over again in the church until the Lord provided a godly Ukrainian leader/pastor, This was hard for us, yet we never thought about quitting or returning home–there was too much at stake.
ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: Be prepared and have the courage to trust God for difficult, painful circumstances.
In 2003, we moved out to the village to evangelize and hopefully start a church.
Life was so hard. People weren’t friendly. We had to walk to the village well to draw our drinking water. We’d burn our own trash because they refused to collect ours.
We had Ukrainians working in our home for remodeling purposes, and their work wasn’t good. After we paid them lots of money, they demanded more. When we refused, they took us to court. They paid the judge a bribe so we would lose our case and our home.
It was so difficult. We prayed a lot. My husband hired a Ukrainian lawyer and she took pictures of the work. She actually won our case, but then we were forced to sell our home. Some of these men were associated with the mafia and we didn’t want to take any chances.
My husband sent our son and me out of the country back to the States. We prayed and ask others to pray as well.
Glen sold our house within one month–which was a miracle! After this, we left Ukraine for about one year.
don’t let marriage and family fall prey to ministry.
The demands, trauma, and pull of the mission field have torn apart too many marriages.
My advice for a young missionary: Always pour unconditional love, support, and sacrifice into each other’s lives for God’s honor and glory–no matter the needs “out there.”
Glen and I always prayed together as a couple and as a family.
(Editor’s note: Don’t miss Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together.)
Missionaries we met while raising support encouraged us to never allow ministry to become more important than our families. We remembered that and took one day a week to spend time together at the park, the shopping malls, or watching a movie at home. No interferences.
We spent time together talking about life with our kids and any issues they were encountering.
Stay aware of and responsive to your kids’ holistic experience.
One of the biggest mistakes we personally made was to send our son to a Ukrainian school while we were attending the Kyiv University for language. During that time in Ukraine, the prejudice was real. Ben was about nine years old.
We eventually brought him home. I wish we could have afforded private school, but the prices were too expensive. So we had to homeschool–another challenge.
Your kids’ educational and cultural experiences are so important, so research your options thoroughly, visit schools, talk to other parents, and plan wisely for the education that will make up their days and much of their cultural experience.
FINAL ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: When It’s Time…
Some missionaries have left the field due to health, marital issues, problems with their children. Regardless of where we live and serve, God can use you. You don’t have to feel like your life is over!
We follow him wherever he leads us–to the mission field or elsewhere. Our ministry doesn’t define us. It’s our relationship with God that’s so important.