When I was in missions training, everyone wanted to go to the “hardest and darkest” nations—myself included. With a cocktail of zeal and naiveté coursing through our veins, we believed we could turn these countries around and bring them to freedom in Jesus.
It only took a few months in Kosovo, a nation still in the aftershock of genocide and war, for me to realize how “hard and dark” it could get. Though I had plenty of modern comforts, I was often miserable. I believed Jesus was stronger, but the darkness I was combating still wriggled deep under my skin. Because I believed Jesus was stronger, I ignored depression and burnout far longer than I should have.
Two years of hard lessons and adjustments later, I have a few suggestions for how to cope—and even thrive—in the darkness:
1. Fight Isolation
Satan’s number one tactic is to get you alone and, more importantly, make you feel alone. It’s easy to pass this off as situational—new place, new culture—but don’t take it lightly. Community is essential to your survival: go find it. Ask the deep questions that forge deep friendships. Ask for help when you need it.
2. Make Beauty
Creativity does wonders for a stressed-out soul. Even if you have a million things to do, take a few minutes to slow down, align with God’s heart, and make something beautiful. I painted my way through the hardest months, and it turned out to be the best strategy God gave me, releasing me from productivity and returning me to simple joy.
3. Get Out
The great privilege of being a foreigner in a tough place is that you can leave. You have the freedom and resources to take a vacation somewhere less spiritually or physically oppressive. Don’t feel guilty about this; use it to refuel and get back to helping the people who can’t. Self-care is just as important as the rest of your work.
4. Keep Perspective
While I was in Kosovo, I read that a typical missionary has six times the stress level of the average American. Daunting as that may sound, I found this information incredibly encouraging, because it legitimized my fatigue. When you’re on the field, you have to remember that it’s not an easy job and you’re not a superhero. Though you may have come to bring Jesus’ freedom to your nation, sometimes the one who needs it most is you.