Change. Uncertainty. Loneliness. These words might resonate with you as you think about the past couple of years. Or they could also describe a day in the life of a missionary.
Since Brian McGeever joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1998, he has served in Papua New Guinea and in the U.S. in a variety of roles. In his current role he focuses on the overall well-being of Wycliffe missionaries. He shared five key practices that help missionaries thrive during hard times.
1. Always Keep Learning
When Brian first arrived in Papua New Guinea, there was so much to learn. Between learning a new language to navigating another culture, so many things were different than life in the U.S. “Things I had taken for granted were suddenly missing or looked different. I had to adapt to a new way of life and figure out how to do life in a different country,” he said.
Through that experience, Brian realized how important it was to have a learner’s mindset. Proverbs 1:5 says: “Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance” (NLT). A fit mind exercised by healthy habits of lifelong learning, problem solving and facing fears is critical to thriving through challenges.
2. Embrace Wholeness
“In the midst of cross-cultural stress, I sometimes found it difficult to understand what I was feeling and why,” Brian said. “Adapting to a new way of life challenged me and tested my ability to manage my reactions in the midst of stress.” But confronting these challenges can help us understand why we react to situations in certain ways: “Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40, NLT).
Brian’s experiences became an opportunity for him to engage more fully in life and respond to stressors with a healthier perspective. By embracing wholeness Brian found it possible to respond to challenges with steady emotional regulation and realistic optimism.
3. Connect With Others
Life in Papua New Guinea brought a unique and tangible sense of community for Brian. At one point, he and his wife were in a season of burnout but didn’t realize it. A colleague saw their struggle and told them that it seemed like it was time for them to go back home to the U.S. “The fact that they were willing to have a hard conversation in a kind and compassionate way showed us they truly cared,” Brian said.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (NLT). As we build and maintain relationships, we can care for each other by staying accountable to one another. Instead of relying simply on our own abilities to endure and stand strong, we develop a deeper communion with God and each other in our weaknesses.
4. Tend to Physical Health
Life on the field not only raised emotional and spiritual challenges, but physical ones as well. “It was a challenge on the field to maintain my physical health,” Brian mentioned. Even daily tasks can take more time and energy than a person might be used to in their home country. Brian recognized that tending to his health often took a back seat to everything else, but he found it critical to his overall wellbeing.
Caring for physical health doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym every morning or doing the same routine every day. However thriving does involve developing healthy habits like adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise. Rest and recreation are also vital parts of maintaining health.
As Scripture reminds us: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NLT).
5. Remember Purpose
During his time in Papua New Guinea, Brian experienced many challenges; some of these were even life-threatening. “Those tough experiences often left me feeling defeated, but it was during those times that I needed to remember my foundational purpose and meaning,” Brian said. “My identity in Christ is my foundation as I follow him. It’s the ‘why’ behind everything I do.”
It can be helpful to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are on the journey of becoming more like Christ: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).
Tying It All Together
Brian mentioned that Mark 9:24 has helped him in tough circumstances. In that passage, Jesus is talking to a man and the man says: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV) In that one simple statement, the man professed his faith, but in the very next moment he acknowledged that he was missing a whole lot.
“Just like this man, I need to remember to call on God to help me where I lack,” Brian said.
These five practices are critical to developing and maintaining the ability to thrive in every season of life. Brian said, “I don’t think of them as goals; instead, each practice plays a part in my lifelong journey of becoming more like Christ and serving where God has called me.”