Ok lets get real. Social media is tricky for us missionaries. There is a weird balance between sharing our ministry, our family, our needs, our prayer request, personal trials, our highs & lows. . . . and quiet frankly our vacations.
When we went through missionary training, we were told social media could be a double edged sword. One veteran missionary friend had someone google-earth her home (where you can put in an address and zoom in on the property), and thought it was too big for a missionary and dropped his support. Ok, number one, can we say STALKER, and number 2, He took this internet discovery out of context without knowing the situation or details. The missionary actually lived in a violent country and her home was in a compound surrounded by walls and barbed wire fence. Was the house big? maybe, I don’t know. Did she have a butler, a spa, a helipad and a private driver? Certainly not. But the person who dropped his support did not ask why or consider their basic need of safety, just made judgement from space (literally) with no context.
Another missionary friend lost support from a donor because they posted pictures of them at Starbucks.
I am sure there are other stories out there, those were just two of my personal friends who shared their experience with me.
We have to be careful not to post political statements, even if I am strongly opposed to something I see happening in government here or back in the States, I need to refrain from putting all of those opinions out there.
We also should not post our complaints about our host country, it could really hurt the people we are here to serve and it can come off as offensive and condescending. Sometimes I can’t help it, I get weary of constant power outages, the unending ash on my floors that make my feet black if I don’t sweep every day, the number of insects and reptiles that live in my hourse without paying rent, the pot holes as big as bath tubs, the way drivers come to a complete stop at a speed bump, a complete stop, but then speed up for a pedistrian crossing (OK, I am exaggerating a little again), or how the traffic here can make the modern day Mother Teresa walk into a bar and ask for a shot of the strongest thing they have.
We are supported by our friends and family on social media who genuinely care about our family and our ministry, and they love the updates, pictures, and progress of our ministry projects. However if they knew that sometimes we (and by we, I really mean me) are sometimes up late at night checking prices for a one way ticket back home, they may question their investment in our family, and call our headquarters and ask for a refund (you can’t get one of course, I checked before hitting publish just incase you got any bright ideas).
We are coming up on our 6th year of living in Costa Rica. Our first term here, was a fresh level of pain I had never experiencd. How could I go on social media and share that after quitting our great paying jobs, selling the bulk of what we owned, uprooting our young family, and the loss of both of my parents would send me into a deep depression. I had just spent almost 2 years telling people how excited I was to be coming here, how this was my mission, my divine call, to believe in us rookie missionaries. How could I tweet “ummmm its been real, but my old life called and wants me back, so peace out?” Things were dark and the hurt was deep. I didn’t even recognize that I was clinically depressed. I think I am ready to share about that, the raw unedited version, but in another blog post. The point was, I had never heard a missionary say they struggled with depression. The extreme full-on assault the enemy places on families put our family in crisis mode our first term, but I had never met a missionary couple say that they had experienced a divide between one spouse wanting to stay and one wanting to leave. Never once in all my 38 years in church did I hear one missionary stand on stage and tell the congregation how lonely and isolating it was, how watching your kids struggle caused you anquish and led you to beg God to send you back home, how everything weak in your life would be tested and brought to the surface, or how fractured and broken you might become, or how they felt torn between two worlds but no longer fitting in either of them.
You can see how things can get tricky right? I think that happens in all of our lives. We project our perfect life on social media. We post pictures of our kids getting awards but not of them rolling their eyes or their messy rooms. We post pictures of our spouses on date night, but not after a heated discussion where you were close to poking each other’s eyes out or puting rotten mangos in his (umm I mean a) car on his (ugh I mean the) way to the indigenous territory. We post pictures of breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day but not the pancake batter dripping all over the counter, and the 32 bowls and 75 dirty kitchen gadgets and an overflowing trash can with egg shells spilling on to the floor waiting in the kitchen to be cleaned when we come down.
We were given a guideline of things to post and share on social media when we went through missionary training. One rule of thumb, is to stay away from posting to many personal posts, and certainly don’t post your vacation pictures. Your supporters will think all you do is vacation.
Well folks, here is the thing. On Monday our family is going to take an amazing vacation, as long as the creeks don’t rise and the volcano doesn’t erupt that is. There is a good chance, a very good chance, someone’s first thought might be, “are they using my donor money to go on vacation.” Then the next, “I wish I could just go to amazing places like them, must be nice” (ok ok ok I am going to CONFESS and say sometimes I am guilty of thinking the same thing about my friends who are missionaries in Europe because they are so close to so many beautiful places there.) I suppose it is just as easy with us living in a vacation destination country like Costa Rica though, so I get it and have said the same thing before as well.
But let me assure you friends, our sending agency requires very detailed accounting. We report on every single dime, except our small personal allowance (which for this family – mostly goes toward imported food when we can find it & extracurricular activities for the girls). The Assemblies of God are very good stewards of your money and we cannot spend your money on vacations even if we wanted to. Our family aslo gives to missionaries, so I know how important it is that the money you sacrfice and send goes for kingdom work.
So how then can we afford this amazing vacation we are going on?
I have no idea really.
Seriously, God is amazing.
His economy is not like ours.
I would estimate that 3/4 of the cost of the trip has been covered by credit card points (thank you Capital one), hotel points, and LOVE offerings from churches that we (and by we I mean Dave) has been disciplined enough to tuck a portion away over the last (cue the drum roll) SEVEN years. Thats right, we wanted to do this for our 20th anniversary, but needed to save a little longer. Yesterday was our 22nd anniversary. (I am always a day late and a dollar short). One of our home churches (they have never officially been our home church, but the relationship that has formed with them has been incredible and they treat us like family) knew we were saving and wanted to put a large blessing in the fund, not once but twice. The missions pastor believes that missionaries need balance and personal time (Once on their first trip here, and again on their second trip) they left money on the table (and then money with hotel key card envelope) for our vacation piggy bank. We did financial peace early on in our marriage, we believe in dept free living and practice it. (the credit card we use here is used for a couple of different reasons and we don’t carry a balance, so don’t go get all Dave Ramsey on me)
It is interesting, from my own little social media experience, that I have found that you guys are far more interested in our family, than what we do in ministry. I think it is becaue ya’ll know we are working hard, that doesn’t really change, and honestly we try not to post too much. We work with an indigenous tribe that is small, and sometimes I think we can actually unintentionally expolit people if we are not careful.
So now you want to know where we are going on our amazing vacation, right?
So for our vacation we are actually going to 5 countries, England, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. All four of us are going. We are meeting up with missionary friends in 2 countries. In Germany we get to visit a church started by an amazing missionary couple who planted the church, and then picked us up for support. Do you know how cool that is? How humbling? We are just as excited to see our missionary friends as we are to see the Eiffel tower and Big Ben & more than the anticipation of macarons, gelato, and pizza. I am serious.
This really has been a dream for 7 years. We have been saving for 7 years. We don’t go home for the holidays, we don’t have all the latest technology, so travel and making family memories is what we invest in. Our entire missionary career, we have only been to the states for a family vacation once, half way into our first time, which happened to be the last time I would be face to face with my dad before he was placed on life support. God again was gracious and gave me a gift that had a profound affect.
So if you have any travel advice for us, hit me up. And yes, I had a t-shirt made. (isn’t it the cutest thing ever?) And yes I am going to laminate my color coded itinerary for all of my family members. for each day. I am “extra” Emma and Maggi say. And yes I am going to post pictures of my vacation, so stay tuned.