This is the fourth and final installment in the miniseries called “Missions Organizations Have Cracks.” For more context please see part 1 where I share a truncated version of a letter I wrote to my former missions organization detailing what I feel were structural breakdowns that led to my chronic health issues. In part 2 I share my response to their response to my letter. In part 3 I pose some difficult questions to mission’s organizations and missions in general.
And finally, do I regret going?
From when I was 16 living and working in overseas ministry was my dream, my goal. It was the best way I could think to serve God with my life and that was, desperately, all I wanted to do – serve God in the best way I could think of. I was told missionaries were the people who had really sold out for God. The ones who took the Great Commission as a personal call and cared nothing for the trappings of this world. It wasn’t always said so overtly – but Christian literature and culture made it pretty clear that missionaries were really serious about following God and I wanted to be very serious about following God.
Plus, it seemed amazing. Unique experiences, friendships with people very different than myself. Exotic foods, other languages, an unconventional life. The whole package appealed to me and I ached for it for many years before I went.
As I’ve said before, I expected hardship. And I met it. What I did not expect was the breaking of my body, and the wrecking of my health and capacity, and for it to all be over so soon.
The loss of health hurts. My God – it hurts. It was less than a year into our marriage that I got violently sick and I’ve been sick for 85% of our marriage. It makes me so angry if I think on it too long, how unfair it is and has been to my husband. Those years I was sick and we didn’t know what was happening, didn’t know if it was life-threatening, he’d go to sleep every night rehearsing how he’d go down to the street and get a taxi, how to ask for the good hospital in his broken Arabic. Some nights he was afraid to go to sleep, he’d stay up listening to my breathing.
We didn’t know if I was going to be ok. We’d be married 9 months and didn’t know if I was dying. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But the loss of my vocation hurts too. I’d really like to know that I’ll get fulfilling, relevant work again someday. I’d like to know those 6 years weren’t just incidental and that they’ll be relevant to whatever is next for me work-wise. I’d like to know I’ll have a friend to speak Arabic with again. I’d like some purpose in my vocation again soon.
I’d like the years that feel like they’ve been lost to be restored. Working with and being friends with people very different than me gave me life. I’d like to get some of that life back. I’d like if there was a connective thread between what was in whatever is to come.
While I do believe I’m getting better, slowly, and with many backwards steps along the way, there are no guarantees. I don’t know if there’s an upper limit to how much better I can get. I’m in the scary place of having some evidence that wellness might be possible but scared to hope too much – understanding that many doctors consider my condition to be incurable. Also understanding that my condition commonly causes infertility. Even if my capacity does improve again, even if I stop experiencing debilitating pain on a regular basis, the damage might already be done. I might be unable to have children.
I can’t think on this possibility too much because my heart catches in my throat when I do. This is extremely difficult to write about openly, and I don’t do so lightly. It’s not something I wish to talk about (and please don’t try to sell me anything that you think might help – thank you,) but it’s important to note if I’m to answer the question honestly.
I didn’t know this when I went out. I still don’t know how it will all add up. No one talked to me about this. No one warned me. I didn’t know. There was just so much I didn’t know.
All of that – do I regret it?
Ultimately, for now, my answer is no. I don’t regret it.
For one, I’m not sure regret is a worthwhile use of my emotional energy. It can’t change anything and won’t help me along to anywhere meaningful.
For two, I’m grateful for what I learned. The person that it made me. More than regret I feel sadness. Grief. Disappointment. With my organization, with my body. Disappointment and lingering confusion about why it had to break down the way that it did. Why things had to go down the way they did. Why there are ongoing cracks and injustices in missions. I’m confused. And I’m sad. Sometimes I’m angry.
But I am grateful for those years. I am.
My eyes were opened to not only a lot of injustice around me, but how it plays out around the globe. It had me asking lots of hard questions about myself and the place I come from. I met Jesus in kids who live on the streets, in my refugee friends, in the kindness of Muslim strangers who helped me make it home safely, who fed me, who treated me as a treasured guest in their country instead of a despised and threatening, or stupid and annoying, foreigner.
I learned it’s a lot harder to judge people once you love them, once they’re your friends. It’s a lot harder to think you’re better than someone when you’re dependent on them, too. It’s a lot harder to think of anyone as your enemy once they’re your neighbor. And once they’re your neighbor – it’s a lot harder to pretend you have no responsibility to them. It’s a lot harder to blame people for their own poverty once you see how much is stacked against them.
Once you begin to see the gospel as Good News for the literal, actual poor it’s really hard to go back to the shallow end of the pool. Once you see war up close, lives lost for preventable diseases, and the daily dismay of a person who was forced to leave their home country, and just wants a place to work honestly and live in safety, it’s much more difficult to live as though our faith doesn’t have social and political implications. It becomes nearly impossible to deny the reality of privilege and its immense power in our lives.
As I accept the invitation to the table of God, as I acknowledge the depth and breadth of all the others who are invited to the table, the more I find I cannot accept the excuses or the reasons that some should be starving at the table of God while others are feasting. I cannot accept a world where the plates of some overflow with excess while others are empty.
Once I started seeing the world as my neighbor I couldn’t stop. I can’t stop.
To that end I am grateful.
I’m thankful for the ways I have grown. But I also don’t want to see what happened to me happen to anyone else. So, while I’m still not 100% sure what I’d do differently knowing what I do now before I went out, I do know I’d like to see things change.
What this means, what this looks like, what I think the way forward should be for missions (including an honest discussion about the real damage that has been caused in the name of missions, and the possibility of reparations) are questions I will probably spend many more years and perhaps the rest of my life trying to answer.
I don’t regret going. But I do wish I’d known then what I know now.
Through all of it – I remain sure of now what I was sure of in December 2010, when I got on a plane to live sight unseen in a place very different from the one I come from. And that is this: (As my friend Gena Thomas has put it so beautifully) Loving God looks a lot like loving my neighbor, and the Good News is that those two are inseparable.
Even better – we can live this out in full wherever we find ourselves. This is the beauty and complexity of the kingdom of God. We’re not all called to the same kind of life. We’re different instruments singing the same tune. An orchestra, a chorus, from all walks, tribes, tongues and colors.