We are often asked how people can pray for missionaries. “God bless the missionary” is not an effective, informed prayer. However knowing specific needs or situations enables people to be both effective and knowledgeable. One specific prayer for cross-cultural missionaries is for their adjustment to the new and different culture in which they find themselves. This applies to both new missionaries as well as “long-termers”.
There are 4 stages of missionary life:
Fun – This is the “honeymoon” stage. When they first arrive on the field everything is new, bright, shiny, exciting, exhilarating…it’s FUN. The nationals can do no wrong, their job / ministry is perfect, they love the food, their neighbors, the sounds and the smells. Everything is wonderful.
Fight – After the honeymoon is over, reality starts to rear its ugly head. Things have lost their luster and the missionaries start to feel weighted down. The nationals do things differently and think differently than them, their job / ministry turns out to be very difficult and physically demanding, they get tired of the food and long for some “home cooking”, their neighbors are noisy and nosy, their dogs keep them up at night and if they smell one more charcoal fire they think they’ll throw up. Things are not so rosy anymore and it’s depressing, exhausting, and makes them want to FIGHT. They want to fight against everything, wishing things were not so hard, or different, or so far out of their comfort zone.
Flight – You can guess what this means. FLIGHT is the “just put me on the plane” stage. The missionaries feel defeated and deflated in every area of life. They feel like a failure and they’re crying “Uncle!” and just want to quit, get out of there and go home.
Fit – In this final stage they have come through Fun, Fight and Flight and have come to peace within themselves and find that they actually FIT. They realize that there are many things about the culture that they really like; they enjoy the differences and strengths in the nationals; they enjoy their job / ministry and feel like they are making headway; their neighbors have become friends; they find that earplugs work great against the noises and many of those cooking smells signal meals that they just love. They feel more relaxed, are easier to get along with and can sleep at night. They feel energized again – especially in the realization that they are fitting in.
The goal is to progress from one stage to another, eventually settling into stage 4: Fit. It may take some time to get there. And a missionary may bounce from one stage to another. It’s entirely possible to go through all 4 stages in one day! And there’s no shame in Fight or Flight. Missionaries are, after all, only human.
So your prayers for missionaries should be that God will be with them in each of these stages, that God would give them grace, strength and wisdom in each stage – that they’d respond appropriately and keep on moving towards fitting.
These stages are a continual process that last the whole time that the missionaries are on the field, so don’t be lax in praying for God’s help in their adjusting and dealing with the cross-culture situation to which He’s called them.