Guest blogger: Jason Carter

Jason Carter (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a missionary professor at Instituto Bíblico “Casa de la Palabra” (IBCP Seminary) in Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa where Spanish is the official language ( Jason is married with three children. He blogs occasionally at


My wife and I have been overseas since 2006. All our three children were born outside the U.S.. We have experienced unbelievable joys, life-long friendships, soul-transforming ministries and enjoyed worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in Central Africa who know the true meaning of sacrifice for the Gospel. And there have also been challenges.

We have missed our extended family – grandparents, aunt & uncles and cousins. We have experienced attempted break-ins to our house at night. Our car has been vandalized. Malaria has visited our family multiple times. While the joys abound, the challenges are manifold. Yet it has often been the unexpected challenges of the mission field that surprise me the most.

First, my kids are third-culture kids. This means, among other things, that my oldest child is really good at making new friendships. Everywhere, with everybody. Yet it also means that I can’t judge childhood success or failure by the American parameters which informed my own childhood. This is unexpectedly hard. I grew up an avid basketball fan, playing the game multiple times a week through high school and college. It bugs me, perhaps more than it should, that basketball leagues are non-existent where we live. That March isn’t full of Madness.

In many ways, I still want my kids to experience all the joys of an American childhood. I want to give them the same joys that I had as a child. This is feels natural, since my own childhood is the only childhood I know. Yet missionary parents must learn to distrust this feeling, however natural it might be to view your own kids through the lens of your own childhood experiences. It might seem obvious: “I shouldn’t shackle my kids with expectations of ‘the American childhood experience’ since, after all, they aren’t growing up in America.” But it’s surprisingly hard.

Second, furloughs are hard. I was ready for the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. New culture, new people, new food, new ways of being the church – all of this, more or less, I was prepared to find in our new adopted country. The unexpected challenge was finding our furlough experience a challenging time.

After setting up a small apartment from scratch (no small task!), our family recently embarked upon 3 months of traveling with three small children on a budget that doesn’t easily support such a lifestyle. Though some days are filled with rich times of fellowship, other days leave me feeling more like Clark Griswold than the Apostle Paul.

Third, downward mobility becomes more, not less, of a challenge. I left the States for the mission field in my late 20s – married but carefree with no kids. Our earthly belongings in the States mostly include my theological books and my wife’s pictures and memory boxes. For the most part, this doesn’t bother me. I’d gladly do it all over again.

Yet as children are added to the family, making ½ of the salary we earned 12 years ago becomes more of a challenge. As I get older, I wrestle with the fact that my wife never gets to “nest” in a home we’ve purchased. As one friend puts it, missionaries are “global nomads”. Like many things connected to the missionary movement, there is a tinge of romanticism in being labeled a “global nomad”. Yet living a nomadic existence with children, at times, is more like a dark comedy than a romantic fun-filled adventure. Especially on long plane rides.

I once thought, perhaps naively, that after selling our stuff and moving overseas, that I would view the challenge of downward mobility in my rear-view mirror. Maybe that’s the case for some missionaries. Yet for me, counting the cost of missionary service (Lk 14:28) has gone up, rather than down, over the years. I find that I daily need Christ’s radical call of discipleship (Lk 9:23) in my life — not only to go to the mission field but to stay on it.

Fourth, serving others is really about others. Sadly, the days of churches and denominations “planting their flag” in an exotic locale simply because “our brand isn’t there yet” is still a reality in the 21st century. I see it all the time in the country where I serve.

I’m involved in a ministry, however, where training and empowering indigenous leaders is at the core of what I do. My ministry is more about teaching others to fish, rather than bringing back my own prize-wining catch.

I have found this unexpectedly hard, especially as I grew up in a culture of performance. All my life, I was taught to compete. Life was about my accomplishments, my resume, my accolades – and later, sadly enough, this morphed into my effectiveness in ministry.

What I’m learning is that missionary service is…well, service. It’s others-centered. It’s not glamorous. It’s about finding joy in the trenches. Most of the time, I’m not called to direct (from up front) but support (from behind or alongside). I’m not called to plant the church but to equip biblically and theologically the church planter.
This is a kind of “vocational sacrifice” which I did not expect. I’m not called to be the “lead pastor” but serve, love and empower indigenous servant leaders.

It’s unsettling that the ministry ambitions which initially drove me to the mission field have to be tamed and completely re-worked. In my context, to put the work of the Gospel first essentially means that I must learn to prize and place the ministry of others above my own ministry. If I really believe that these indigenous leaders, rather than missionaries, are at the heart of the advance of the Gospel in my adopted country (which I do), then I must put their ministries ahead of my own. To paraphrase John the Baptist: “Their ministries must increase, my ministry must decrease.”

I pray it may be so for me. And I pray it may be so for many of my fellow missionaries who have the absolute joy and privilege of serving Christ overseas.

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24 thoughts on “The Unexpected Sacrifices of the Mission Field”

  1. Jason says:

    Great word. Press on. Thanks for the encouragement you gave in enabling me to keep going for another day in the ministry.

  2. Jewell R says:

    Great article! I am a MK and have been serving now as a missionary since 1999 and am now raising two MK’s. I can relate to much of what you write! Keep on keeping on and let me tell you March madness has nothing on being able to grow up on the mission field. As a missionary who is also an MK, there is nothing in America that I would trade for the ability to live the the gospel overseas or for the way my parents raised me, absolutely nothing. I want to teach my kids to prize God’s plan for the nations over and against any cultural comforts, like my parents unwittingly taught me. You may not be giving your kids March madness but rest in the wonderful knowledge that you are giving them so much more! A real picture of God’s kingdom growing in this world and their place in it- absolutely the best legacy.

  3. Bravo! This is a champion post! As an MK who lives, works & married in Brazil, these challenges ring true. It also illustrates the conflicts my Dad had to juggle since moving to Brazil in the 70’s and raising 5 kids in a foreign country.

  4. Judy Ford says:

    This is excellent for those of us who are not “MK’S”. We need to pray specifics when we pray for our missionaries, and clearly need to assist in ways that we don’t bother to think about. However, He ultimately gives you all the Spirit, the talent, the strength and the courage to do all that you do.

  5. Rev.Spike says:

    These things are good for us back in the States as well. We often grumble about selfish congregants, but sometimes they are led by equally selfish shepherds. We have to purge ourselves of selfishness if we’re going to selflesly serve Jesus. Thanks for your post.

  6. Abram de Graaf says:

    I´m not a MK, but I work since 1999 as a missionary in Brazil. married with a Brazilian and all my children were born in Brazil. I´m originally dutch and recognize the desire to show your children the other side of the world. The same about the furloughs. The bigger the family the more complicated the furloughs; I want to enfatize what you say about serving. I think that that is richest experience on the field: following Christ and become humble. Serve the others so they will grow in such a way that the result will be o local product and not a foreign product; I enjoy it to see Brazilian students become brazilian ministers that will serve brazilian churches. And no copies of the foreign culture of the missionary!! May God continue to bless wherever we are in this world!

  7. Bambi Moore says:

    MK here too, but not until I became an adult. So thankful for your wise perspective as I pray for my parents, laboring as missionaries in their 60’s. Great article :)

  8. LB says:

    As my family prays thru a current chance in front of us to return overseas, and now with 3 kids & one parent in poor health, the bottom line that hit me in the gut from ur post is “unexpected”. Tho I can anticipate with broad strokes what may be to come, & tho I don’t know yet how this will all end up with the current opp, I can’t say He’s worth their (nationals) knowing unless He’s worth my embrace, however difficult or sour in the mouth, any sacrifice obedience requires.
    I need to keep praying, thx for your honesty that helps me do that more effectively.

  9. Krista Taylor says:

    Thank you for your post. I left for the field when I was single… now married with 3 kids under 4 and thinking ahead to furlough and the daily reality of my new role as missionary mommy was weighing on me today for many reasons… thanks for the reminder that the sacrifice increases and that there’s more sacrifice to stay than there was to “leave” in the beginning. So many of the things you shared rang true to my heart and echo my life. I needed to read this tonight. Thank you.

  10. Mary Robertson says:

    Jason, you manage to strike the right, uncomfortable truths here for us all – wherever we find ourselves serving Jesus. How to serve others and not ourselves is a daily lesson we can only learn as we sit at Christ’s feet. May God equip and strengthen many people through your servant hearted ministry. Blessings on your lovely family.

  11. Brother Jason, thank you for your labors and sacrifices to bring the glory of God to all nations. Jesus is worth it, and I pray that He will give you an ever-richer joy and satisfaction in Him that will empower your work.

  12. Mikee says:

    Everyone who desires to live a God-centered life will have their presuppositions and idols challenged in ways custom designed by God for our own heart level issues. Moving to a foreign field has challenges. Living for Jesus in a neighborhood where people scrutinize your every move, working in an office building where the only time you see a Christian is in the mirror or trying to convince your kids that Jesus really is better than their friend’s PS4 are no less difficult than the challenges of foreign missionary service. There is no temptation (pressure filled circumstance) that is unique to foreign missionaries.

  13. Josh says:

    Thanks so much for this. I live in the states as a staff member with a large missions organization, and one thing I’m constantly in awe of is how hard it is not to live in the same mindset of performance in a place where performance really has no business being. It’s good to know I’m not alone and a very helpful reminder even in the land of plenty of these experiences that you are missing, that sacrifices made in the Lord’s service are worth it.

  14. Chad says:

    Thank you brother Jason for your personal experience working overseas as a missionary. I especially like how you said: “My ministry is more about teaching others to fish, rather than bringing back my own prize-wining catch.” I believe one of the most important tasks is for an individual to disciple someone so that person can disciple another. Delegating the task of the great commission by teaching others how to fish is much more efficient than trying to do it all alone. Thanks again.

  15. Kristen says:

    Thank you for your honesty. We have only been overseas for just over a year and I was just thinking today that I miss watching the world series- even though I’m not a huge baseball fan! We also struggle with our children loving and longing for the life and the people they left while working on reminding them of how many amazing things they get to experience here. When we skyped someone a few months ago they said “your life has changed drastically, while ours is pretty much the same as it always has been.” A good reminder for when we go back and visit.

  16. sara russ says:

    thank you so so much for sharing this. such a blessing, i identify so much with these struggles you mentioned. thank you again and God Bless

  17. Kevin Pettit says:

    Amen brother. I have been in Asia now since 2006 and can resonate with the battle. Aspiring to live contentedly in obscurity for His glory is not as easy as once thought. I find that I don’t like being obscure, yet that is right where I need to be! And reworking life from the inside out so that we are better fit to bless our local brothers is where we truly find our greatest joy. No doubt it will be a constant battle to die to ‘eyeing my name in all I do’, but so grateful His grace is super abounding, sufficient for all things! Thanks for the post. I needed to hear that.

  18. Scott W says:

    I’m a little late posting a comment, but only because this entry resonated with me on a deeper level than most such “here’s what your missionary experiences” blog posts. The word “unexpected” in the title really captures it. And though (or maybe because?) I’m a missionary in a fully developed European country, I have felt EVERY SINGLE ONE of these things–and been surprised by most of them, too. I just pray for God to continue his sanctifying and maturing work in me and to use me somehow in spite of the confusion and even “fears” arising from these surprises. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  19. Sandra R. says:

    This is a great perspective for missionaries. I like that you are “in the trenches” and equipping local leaders, which is a long term investment, rather than these “feel good” short term mission trips, which I have come to believe are basically to make the short term foreign missionaries feel good about themselves. (I used to be one of them). I am not a missionary, but am an American living overseas with four kids, and so many of your reflections apply to my life as well.

  20. Bill F. says:

    It is so amazing and encouraging to hear your thoughts and experiences, which mirror my own. Furloughs are crazy busy, often a logistical mess and unfortunately, somewhat disappointing. My wife and I also feel as is we must daily remind ourselves of the radical sacrifice, as you stated. The local government makes physically reaching our people very difficult, so often we feel lonely and inconsequential, but when calls we all must obey. Again, I was so encouraged to hear of a fellow M’s life. Blessings to you.

  21. Kay Bruner says:

    So true–the unexpected sacrifices, AND the toll those things take, AND the lack recognition and support for recovery. After 15 years overseas and a successful new testament translation project, my husband was medicating the stress with a porn habit and I had a nervous breakdown. As we share our story, it becomes clearer all the time that our experience is pretty common, and that nobody really knows what to do about it. Kudos to everybody who’s willing to say, THIS LIFE IS HARD! My book is at Amazon, with not a lot in the answer department, but maybe some companionship for those who are going through it.

  22. Liz E. says:

    Thank you so much for saying so concisely and so well almost exactly what our family of four has been feeling while on furlough!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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