Serving as a missionary is a noble and exciting calling in service to God’s people. However, it isn’t uncommon for missionaries to suffer from heightened doubts, fear, and other spiritual attacks in their vocation. In this post, Erica Tape reminds us that God can work through difficult circumstances in our lives to point us to His provision and care.
Becoming an International Missionary
The idea of being an international missionary had been a long time coming for my family. My husband, John, and I had both explored long-term service before we met, and we met on a short-term trip. In October 2020, John received an appointment to be the business manager for Latin America and the Caribbean. It was the job he had been waiting for and the part of the world I wanted to move to.
The catch was that we had a newborn daughter.
We prayed about it and asked people we trusted for insight. We liked the idea of our daughter growing up bilingual. Since we didn’t live near family in the United States and we’d be moving to a community with other missionaries, we figured we’d have more help on the mission field.
So we accepted the appointment. I told my employer I wasn’t returning from maternity leave. We sold our house. We packed everything into seven suitcases, two backpacks, and a diaper bag. And on January 8, 2021, we got on a plane to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
However, this was not always an easy transition. Within five months, I went from being employed, content, and very pregnant to being an unemployed new mother in a foreign country I felt very alone in.
Satan is sneaky. I didn’t nosedive right when we arrived. Instead, Satan pulled me down little by little.
Satan’s Sneak Attacks
As any international traveler knows, some cultural differences are obvious, while others take time to uncover. Some were fun to discover, like the driving (chaotic but thrilling). Some frustrated me, like when people told me I didn’t need to use a car seat for our daughter. Some comforted me, like how moms, children, and older people are considered off-limits for street robbers.
But some made me feel like an outsider. For instance, it’s common here for strangers to give you baby advice. Because of a lack of formal parenting education, many Dominicans welcome these interactions because they see them as the community helping them. But as an American, I perceived these comments as criticism: “Look at all the things you’re doing wrong.”
I already felt vulnerable, and I was angry that these people were addressing the part of my life that carried the biggest anxieties. Before moving, I had wanted to make Dominican friends outside the missionary community. Now I feared them.
Satan was chipping away at my confidence and my identity as a mother. He was isolating me. And he was turning me against the very people God had sent us to serve.
Spiritual Warfare on My Family
God gives us our families to support us, so I turned to my husband for affirmation. But he was being crushed under his own stress. One evening as he walked in from work, I told him dinner would be ready in a couple of minutes. He went upstairs to get some work done while he waited for me to get him. Meanwhile, I waited downstairs for him because didn’t he know a couple of minutes meant, like, now? So I ate alone, rage-washed the dishes, and went upstairs an hour later to confront him. He, rightfully so, was bewildered by my anger.
With the breakdown in our communication, Satan sowed confusion and hurt. My husband used to be my best friend. No longer having a warm relationship with him made me feel more alone than anything else. I had given up everything for his job—my career, my friends, my hobbies, my church community—and where was he to support me?
Suffering and God’s Plan
Now a year onto the mission field, I’m getting more comfortable as a mom, interacting better with locals, and working with my husband toward the relationship we once had. Most of all, I’m starting to see what I suspected all along this past year but was too angry to acknowledge: God might have allowed me to suffer to point me to His Son, Jesus Christ.
God has a history of allowing His people to go through suffering. Take Job, for instance. God allowed Job to suffer greatly to teach us about the power of child-like faith and trust in our God and Savior. Satan accused Job of serving God from purely selfish motives. He served God, and God made him wealthy and prosperous. Satan claimed Job would curse God if all these things were lost. God allowed Satan to take away Job’s property, wealth, children, and health. Job’s first response was to worship God and bless God’s name (Job 1:20–21).
But being a sinful human just like us, Job eventually faltered in his understanding of what God was doing:
Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity! (Job 31:6)
Translation: “Look, God, I haven’t done terrible things. It is unjust for You to punish me.”
God Himself finally appeared to Job to remind him that human creatures are in no place to question their God and Creator:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . . Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:2, 4)
Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it. . . . Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to Me. Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:2, 7–8)
Recognizing Satan’s Attacks
Job was not all-knowing. He could not have possibly understood the reasons God allowed him to suffer and face adversity. I wasn’t all-knowing either.
But God is not cruel. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). God Himself suffered in order to deliver His love to us:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
As I recognize Satan’s attacks for what they are, I can better see God’s call for repentance and faith. When I take out my pain on my husband, God calls me to recognize my sin. When I lament my loss of friendships, God reminds me that I am still His baptized child. When I grieve the things I gave up to become a missionary, God says He has grieved too. He gave up His Son to earn my forgiveness and eternal life.
As I turn back to God, I don’t immediately bounce back to feeling happy. Likewise, I imagine it took Job time to heal, though God restored his wealth and then some and gave him ten more children. But even if I can’t find the strength to shout it, even if I’m whimpering it, I can still join Job in saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). And as our Redeemer lives, we can rest easy knowing that He will continue to provide for us throughout our earthly lives, comforting us in our sorrows and encouraging us with His good gifts.
Have you been through a time of spiritual warfare? Learn more about how to recognize Satan’s attacks and rely on God’s strength in Equipped: The Armor of God for Everyday Struggles.