Long-term missionary work is like long-distance hiking

Long-term, Jesus-representing, pioneer missionary work is a lot like taking a long hike. If we look at some snippets from this article on “Long-Distance Hiking 101” we can see just how real the similarities are.

“You don’t need to be an Olympic triathlete to do a long-distance hike. Just about anyone in good health with moderate fitness can hike a few hundred miles. One of the keys to a successful long-distance hike is being open and flexible enough to deal with whatever nature, or your own body, throws at you.”

Long term, pioneer missionaries are often not very ‘exceptional’ people. They’re not super disciplined, super tough, or super talented. But they are flexible. They don’t put their hopes and dreams in the circumstances they face, or in an earthly life they’re trying to set up, and so they keep a flexible attitude as life throws curves and challenges at them. They realize that the end goal is to get the message of Christ to people who haven’t hear yet, (ie. Romans 15:20) and they hold everything else in life with a very open hand.

“You will get hot; you will get cold; you will get tired; you will get wet; you will get dirty; you will get lonely; you will get bitten by bugs; you may get sunburned; you may get rained on; you may get blisters; you may get hurt; you may get scared; you may cry. While that sounds like a lot of detractions, it is nothing to be ashamed of when it happens—and it will happen. Even the most ardent hikers get discouraged or break down from time to time.”

Long term workers do face massive difficulties, setbacks, frustrations, obstacles, and annoyances. They may also face extremely trying emotional times. There’s no way around this. It’s all part of the journey.

“Often, the hardest part of an extended journey is the first week or two. That’s when your legs are fresh (despite how many conditioning hikes you’ve taken), your pack is the heaviest and your end goal is a million miles away. But the only way you’re going to see that far-off wilderness is to put one foot in front of the other and do it.”

The hardest part of long-term missionary work is often the first year or two. That’s when you’re facing culture shock, you haven’t learned how to relate to people in a world so confusing and strange, and it seems like the end goal is million years away, or downright impossible.

But the only way you’re going to get to that ‘sweet spot’ of sharing the gospel with people who have never heard it and making disciples among the unreached, in their language, is by doing the hard work of surviving and learning one day after the next. You can only get there by learning a little bit more langauge, by spending a little more time in prayer or searching the word for encouragment, and by spending another awkward hour in the culture.

“You will quickly find that the panoramic views suddenly make your aches go away, that refreshing drinks from icy streams reenergize you when you’re tired and that freeze-dried stroganoff tastes really good when noshing in a high lake basin with sunset alpenglow lighting up the peaks around you.”

There are all kinds of wonderful surprises along the way, whether it’s seeing someone hear the gospel and believe it, seeing God do miracles, or just enjoying some good food with friends in some crazy restaurant you discovered on the road. But the most refreshing of all is the time you get to spend with Jesus, in prayer, as he encourages, strengthens, and loves you along the way.

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)

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