10 reasons why I love/hate being a missionary

This week we landed in America, and as usual being here feels like a tsunami ripped through our family at full speed.

A lot of it is just the adjustment of being here in a place that was once so familiar but now feels so foreign, but there are other aspects that I feel warrant some discussion. Things that are not so fun about being a “missionary family”.

And so I give you, my top ten reasons why I love/hate being a missionary.

1. The adventure wore off a long time ago.

A few days ago we were visiting some friends who we have not seen in many years, a party was going on at their place the day after we landed and we knew that if we did not go to see them it would likely be many more years before we had a chance to see them again. And so we drug our four tired, jet-lagging kids out of bed and made an appearance at the party. I am still not sure if I remember much of what was said while we were there, much of the first day is always a fog after flying that far… But I do remember one question that was asked of me because I fiddled around trying to find an answer for such a long time.

“You are the kind of person who loves adventure right? So living in Ethiopia is right up your alley isn’t it?”

My answer kind of rambled around for a while because I was so caught off guard, it was not until I was in the car on the way out that I thought of what I should have said.

“You think we live like this because we like adventure!? The adventure wore off a long time ago, and now it is just life, and a whole lot of struggles that we are ill equipped to handle. It is not the adventure that keeps us going but the problem, and the orphans who God has placed on our hearts to help. Some days, when things are getting tough, I wish I could go in and rip this passion for orphans out of me! But I know this is where God has us, that is why we stay. Not adventure!”

2. Our get togethers with American friends looks more like “group therapy” than parties with friends.

I cherish our other missionary friends, many of them are the deepest most real friends that we have ever known. But…. The struggles of living in Ethiopia and trying to help orphans, trying to get through complicated government processes, trying to live in a culture that is not your own. Those are all we can talk about when we get together. When you run into another missionary out on the street and you ask “How are you” you better be ready for a rummage sale of “issues” to choose from, because no matter what day of the week it is, they are always going to be dealing with something.

That sucks. And although I know that we would never make it without the friends that we have in Ethiopia, often it feels more like we are living on a battlefield than somewhere you could call home. I miss small talk.

3. The kids are the best.

Really, I mean it, there is nothing more enjoyable to me than to see change in the life of an orphan because of the work that God is doing through us. This I love! And would not trade for the world.

4. Home?

This one has been hitting hard as we are now transitioning to this three-month stint in America. When we left three years ago Obama was just elected, the housing crash was all anyone was talking about, Lehman Brothers was going under, and iPhones were brand new. Today, three years later, we come back and hardly know how to hold a relevant conversation. I literally asked someone “Who was running for president” this year.  Mitt who?

Yeah it is that bad.

And although that might sound of funny to read, it makes one wonder where exactly it is they belong any more, when their own culture has marched on without them.

I literally know more about Ethiopian politics than American anything… And it feels weird.

5.We are too old for this.

We stood at the baggage carousel and watched it go round and round, thinning with each rotation, and yet providing none of our much desired baggage. After 45 minutes we finally, reluctantly, walked into the door marked “Lost Baggage Claims” and asked.

“Have you seen seven bags around here”

“No sir, but you are more than welcome to fill out a missing bags report and we will look for them”

Then, after emotional hellos, drove bag-less to our in-law’s place where we once again brought a hurricane of activity into their quiet, and predictable lives.

You see what I am saying here? We, a family with four children, a family who at one time lived in a Victorian house, with a pool, on five acres, with two cars, a dog, and a riding mower… Are now living out of bags (lost bags no less) and asking way to much of the in-laws, eating their food, watching their TV, sleeping in all available corners of their house.

Yes they are happy to see us, but really. Is this what they wanted when their daughter was married away? For their son-in-law to be bringing the family back all tired and hungry, desperate for cheeseburgers?

This part is tough. I feel like a grown up who has to act like a high schooler all the time. Comes with the territory, yes. But oh, how I wish there was another way.

6. How many children have been placed in your families?


Yep, little Setota is still the only child who has moved into our families. Two of our mothers have their own kids, so I guess in a way you could say three, but as far as orphans who have been given families. One.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is rumored to be a big day, the fiscal year, and the school year are officially over and from what we are told the orphans that we have been promised, and signed paperwork on will start moving into their new families. But every time we have this conversation with people back in America look at us a little cross eyed.

“You have been there how long?” They ask. Puzzled.

I always want to try to explain how things, good things, take time in Ethiopia, and that when we set out to do this project we decided from the start that we were going to do this all the right-way, no matter how long it took, and that short cuts are out of the question.

No bribes.

No misfiled paperwork.

No children who already have families.

Integrity all around.

Is this still a decision I am happy about? Yes! We feel absolute peace that what we are building is for the long haul, the kids we are taking in are permanent placements, and these families are forever. Doing it any other way would spell disaster down the road.

So, a little delay here and there is to be expected, but oh how I loath the conversation “Tell me again why it is taking so long”

7. What do you need as a family?

The question always comes from the right place. People who feel moved by what is happening through Bring Love In and who want to bless our family for our part in this work. And oh, how I am thankful for the love, and support that we have received.

But… I do tire of being on the receiving end of things.

As a kid I grew up in a missionary family, we spent time in countries like Brazil, Taiwan, Philippines, and when I was finally old enough to move out of the house I made just about the strongest statement that an 18 year old can make.

“I will be the supporter for missionaries, but no way on earth am I going to go be a missionary”

Ha! I can almost feel the gentle laughter from above on this one.

Showed you!

And as much as I am thankful for His getting a hold of my heart in this area, I really wish I did not always have to be the guy on the receiving end.

Do you know what I mean? I guess I am trying to say that it just gets old sometimes always having to be the one who “needs”

I do understand that this, again, like many of the other items on this list, comes with the territory. Helping the needy, by definition, means that you too are becoming needy. There is never going to be a day when we can say that all the needs have been met and we can now move on and start thinking about ourselves instead. There will always be more need.

I do need to add here; thank you to everyone who has blessed us! don’t think for a second that we are anything but thankful! I just need to air the struggle that comes along with being a missionary. Accepting the needs of others, it makes you needy. And I am still not sure how I feel about that.


8. Your kids must love living in such an amazing country!

Well, yes. They do love living in Ethiopia, but if one more person runs his fingers through Luella’s sandy blonde hair I think she might just whip out a can, and go off on them.

There are some things about living in Ethiopia that is just plain difficult for kids. When we come back and talk to friends about the dance-karate-ballet-T ball-Soccer classes that their kids are taking we start to wonder if we are really doing our kids an injustice by living where we do.

Now I know there are a hundred reasons why they love it, and deep down I believe that ours are some of the most well-rounded, wonderfully-behaved, head-on-straight kids that you will ever meet (proud dad speaking here) but there is always that nag in the back of your head that says “your kids are missing out”.

I just pray that one day we don’t have the “Why did you make me live there” conversation.

9. This one is going to be really shallow.

I warned you, so after reading this one you can’t hold it against me. Okay?

I miss the choices.

I miss walking into Target and having 59 different kids of deodorant.

I miss all the books at Barnes and Noble.

I miss having 87 types of potato chips.

I miss the electricity that stays on 99.9% of the time.

I miss water that goes out once every 4 years instead twice every week.

There I said it. And I just need to leave it there.

10. I love this life!

Really, after all this gripe, I got it all out there and I need to tell you that I love Ethiopia! I love this passion that God has etched deep into our hearts, this fiery love for orphans, this forget-the-cost zeal to love those who God loves, and to care for the least of these. Yes it might be frustrating at times, and yes we might struggle in some areas but it is more than worth it!

I am thankful that God called us out, and blessed that he has given us, on most days, enough fire in our hearts to overcome the hurdles that stand in our way.

God does give us more than we can handle! He then stretches us, rips us apart, and puts us back together again, now able to take on what he has put before us. It is up to us if we are going to open up our lives and start loving those around us, willing, finally, to disregard what it may cost us, and ready to share a glimmer of the redemption that He has shown us, with others in need.

Sorry if it feels like I am getting fired up here, but I love sharing about this stuff! I love what it feels like to be poured out until it hurts, for Him.

11. I know I said ten, but this one is worth adding on here.

All of this, these struggles, these trials, they are what I love most about being a missionary, because these are the things that keep me on my knees where I should be.

I hate it when people say that being a missionary is somehow better than any other life that God calls you to. It is not! But the one part that I think deserves some credit is the fact that when we choose to help others, and go so far as to start giving up comfort to do so, we will always find that it is easier to rely on God.

Comfortable = Danger

Alright. I am going to stop now, I hope though that this might help all of us come a little closer to giving of our comfort to help others in need.

“I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. “

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

Mother Teresa


30 thoughts on “10 reasons why I love/hate being a missionary

  1. Praying for you guys often as you acclimate. Love your raw honesty. Thankful I know a bit more about what you all love so we don’t have to ask! ;)

  2. Everything you write is so relatable…similar to your book. I’m so glad you don’t sugar coat the realities of the frustrations you’ve encountered in yoru journey. I feel a major stirring in my heart and have told God I’m willing to move to Africa if he wants it. After reading your blog but especially your book, I feel I have the clearest picture so far of what I’ve read of the realities of the cost. So proud of the work you and your family are doing, the sacrifices you’ve made. May God grant you favor and success in this battle.

  3. Thinking about you and your family tonight. I love the way your write and even though I don’t always comment I always read. Your storytelling is amazingly compelling. Let us know if there is any way we can help while you are back in the states.

  4. Levi! What beautifully honest words. Love it. We met you briefly in the alley behind the Grand Guest House when we were picking up our kids and you were chaperoning Mark Sullivan and championing for him to bring his girls home. I love reading your story and, more importantly, feeling connected to it and inspired by it. Discomfort and all. God bless you…

  5. THIS IS GREAT! I’ve been living in Uganda for 3 years as a single lady, working here for 5. I think Im about to take a big long break but just to say you put into words so many things I feel! LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Beautifully said, as usual, Levi. Bless you guys. I appreciate so much how open and real you are. You are not afraid to say what needs to be said, what is on your heart, and what is true.

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  8. Levi that was so beautifully said! I’m so thankful for you sharing this and pray it blesses others who are on the mission field as well. I also pray it opens the eyes of those who are here in America on how they can best meet the needs of those who have been called to go! Prayers being lifted up for your family. I truly hope you can sense the love being poured over your family today!

  9. Loved reading this. It’s good to know how those questions make you feel. Praying that each stop on your tour shows you more and more how much you guys are loved and appreciated for all you are doing in Ethiopia.

  10. Thank you for your honesty! So many of us think those same things, but never say them out loud. Being a missionary really is a love/hate relationship. After serving in Liberia for 4 years, and just arrived back in the States five weeks ago, I can totally relate! Adjustment is hard…but enjoy the time on this side–with loved ones, comforts and all of those choices at Target!! Blessings to your family!

  11. Love what you said. I can feel the pain of it all. How do you explain it to people? You have captured the essence of what it means to be a missionary. Would love to hear more about your story.

  12. Hi. I clicked over here because someone recommended this post. I can so relate! Do you like going to church and not knowing ANY of the songs? And I know you miss choices, but isn’t it overwhelming at first? I remember coming back from Morocco and thinking, “Morocco has huge stores, not like Mauritania, so stores won’t be a problem,” and then still having a minor breakdown in Target because there was just so much stuff!
    Love/hate is right. But ultimately, it’s all worth it. Re-entries are some of the toughest times though, in my experience, because our expectations are so high–even when we sort of know what to expect.

  13. God bless you guys as you minister to orphans. As adoptive parents to two Ethiopian girls we are permanently linked to that country and it’s people. My family’s prayers are with your family and your ministry.

  14. Thank you. Thank you for being open & honest here. This means more than you know. I haven’t even met you guys and I love you guys! I’m a friend of Naomi’s. I’m an artist who travels doing art ministry-missions overseas (partnering with missionaries and those serving communites in other countries). I could really relate to a lot of what you shared. Thank you. I hope I can meet you sometime. I’m praying for you guys. Thank you for loving as you do.

  15. Levi, this is good! We are going for an extended break to the US after 7 years in Rwanda/Burundi with our 5 kids (2 adopted along the way). Trying to prep our kids on escelators, elevators and “money out the wall”! No, we do not stare at people, and no we do not call people “fat” that is not a compliment in the USA…. sigh…
    We will be constipated and have sugar highs along the way.
    And this too will pass…

    Blessings of joy and abundance on your family!

  16. Thanks for sharing feelings I’m not always able to put into words. One of the things I miss most overseas is anonymity, something we enjoy freely in the States, where I can go to the grocery store or the post office and just be another face – my kids can go to the mall and not be pointed out, yelled at, pinched or photographed.

    Another ‘favorite’ question of mine is, “So, what’s it like living in _____?” It’s like having to describe the color blue… LOL!

  17. Thankyou for your honesty! Our family of 8 has been back from Bangkok almost 5 years and I so remember everything you shared! Raising kids on the field was the best. But MKs are an original breed(I also married one!) I remember the same questions, same feelings. And now that we are back, starting from scratch, similar feelings of being a teenager. No $ to buy a house, no real “career”, not a lot of “status”! It’s a humbling life, and that is good. Just wanted you to know ” I get you”!

  18. As we have moved into second year on the field in Asia Pacific, I can totally begin to understand some of these. already. As you stated it is not that being a missionary makes you super spiritual, rather stepping out of your comfort zone (even in the states) will force you to a closer walk with Him. (willingly or unwillingly) I have hit some lows in our first (Lord willing) of many years here, but see that this is where I am supposed to be, with my family, following the Savior. And this is where we must all be: where God wants us. Thanks for sharing. And I laughed outloud about running into other ex-pats and turning into a support group. (whatever happened to bathroom habits being personal? “Last week, had giardia….again….”)

  19. Being the mother of a missionary family, I liked your article. I really liked your forthrightness. I could tell this was written by a man, because a woman would likely have sugar coated it, but you seemed refreshingly open. Thanks.

  20. Although we have only been local missionaries per say for many years, I can still relate to many of your points. I also appreciate your raw honesty. Thank you for the post, God Bless your family and ministry :)
    Patty Benedict
    Wife of Pastor Jeff Benedict, volunteer chaplain to WVNorthern Regional Jail..Foster/Adoptive mom to many.

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  22. You do not know me, but a friend sent me this link! It did me the world of good to see someone who thinks like I do!!
    I am a British missionary who has been serving in Mali, West Africa for almost 16 years now. You sum up so exactly how I feel! The point about the kids enjoying living in Ethiopia hit home most for me! We have 3 children and are considering a move back to the UK in 2 years time (when my eldest reaches high school age). Already I am feeling a strange mixture of excitement and dread about that!!! I am praying we don’t ever end up having THAT conversation about our choices having affected them in a negative way!
    THANK YOU for your honesty. It is SO refreshing!

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  24. I just moved to the Philippines last year and man do you have it down pat. I left a well paying job to answer this call and being forced to be on the receiving end of things is so humbling and against my manhood and the driven need to provide for my family.
    God bless you in your work

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