The Missionary Scapegoat

I had an exceptionally frustrating morning recently. We’ve had MOUNDS of snow piled high for months and the parking lot at our apartment is an absolute nightmare. After spending 30 minutes trying to find a place to park without getting totally stuck in the slippery slush, I managed a place on the busy road, right up against a 3+ foot wall of filthy snow. With no way to the sidewalk other than to climb up and over the mound, I began climbing only to fall past my knees into the filth. I was literally stuck and not sure that I could get out on my own, totally humiliated as people watched me from the sidewalk, and of course proceeded to burst into tears against my own will and better judgment.

There is a point to this story, I promise. I knew quite well that the country of Russia has no control over the weather, and also that it has been dealt a difficult hand to deal with having more snow than it has seen in 130 year, so we’ve heard, and thus understandably not being fully equipped to handle something this out of the ordinary, but despite reason, my sinful heart was looking for a scapegoat to carry the weight of my frustration. So, what did I start to think in my heart? “AH!!!! Russia!” (Mind you, my home town of Seattle was paralyzed last year by far less snow and had I been there I doubt I would have responded the same). Now in reality, I LOVE Russia. I love the people and the culture and feel more contented here most of the time than I would imagine feeling elsewhere (simply because God has enabled it to be that way by His grace), but I so badly wanted something in that moment to blame for my misfortune, and Russia was the easiest thing that came to mind.

If you are a missionary, you know that pretty much the first thing we are tempted to blame all of our troubles on is the country and culture in which we live. Of course it can be the source of many struggles as it is not what we are used to, but I think we often use it as an excuse. You know, in reality I’m probably often just experiencing PMS or wild pregnancy hormones, but sometimes it just feels better to blame my hormones on the entire country in which I live. Cross-cultural living is certainly the source of plenty of stress, why not give it credit for the PMS too?

As often is the case, I offer this post hopefully as an encouragement to you from a realization of my own sinful tendency. There are so many things that can go on in our hearts unnoticed that would love to gradually injure us and cause us to grow more and more weary in doing God’s will for our lives. One of those things I think is blaming too many of our hardships unnecessarily on the country in which we serve. I realized through this experience that I need to be  much more careful about the struggles that I blame on the fact that I live in a foreign place, because in reality many of these things could happen anywhere, and making Russia my own personal scapegoat is only going to hinder my heart to love this place and serve God’s dearly loved people here.

Have you experienced this tendency as well? Do you often recognize when you are wrongfully blaming your troubles on your host culture/country, or do you find yourself growing gradually more unreasonably resentful of the country in which you serve? Have you set up any personal ways to guard against such tendencies?

(Post by: Ashley)


10 Responses to “The Missionary Scapegoat”

  1. 2 Erin March 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Oh how I can relate! I live in Honduras – the country of lines, lines, and more lines! Lines to pay your bills, lines to use the bathroom, lines at the bank you can’t even believe! Most of the time I just sit patiently and wait – but days like yours – I just get so mad and frustrated at the fact it takes me an entire day just to pay my bills and my husband looks at me like – what the heck is wrong with you? It was the same last month, and every month in the 2 years we’ve lived here – why did it get to you today?! Well – again – I think we all can relate – sometimes it’s just “one of those days”.

  2. 3 Laura March 15, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I can totally relate! I wrote a blog post riskily entitled “Sometimes I Hate This Place” and talked about how frustrated I got when things didn’t go my way one day. It was embarrassing to admit, even to myself, that I was “hating” the country not because of poverty or injustice but because the ATM didn’t work! People here often say TIM (this is Mozambique) but I’m actually trying not to say it, I don’t want to lump the whole country together. Great post, I always enjoy what is shared on here!

  3. 4 Gina March 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I had a bit of a day like that yesterday. When I do, I make myself think of all the reasons why I love where I live. That helps! (usually) 🙂

  4. 5 Shilo March 15, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Ashley, you are wise beyond your years and experience…and I know that is the Spirit of God in you! I praise God for you and your ability to use common experiences to grow personally and encourage others as well! You bless me, friend!

  5. 6 Jami Gustafson March 16, 2010 at 5:42 am

    I definitely have been having that kind of a week! From our washing machine breaking to our entire plumbing in the bathroom breaking (and flooding the neighbors) to customs agents coming to our door and documents-documents-documents and LINES and weather that’s still -15F and lower and having a bad cold. Argh. But you’re right. I pray that I can be filled with God’s Spirit and take advantage of these times to grow in faith and in maturity.

  6. 7 Richelle March 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    oh yes… we all have those days, don’t we… especially when our country of service has frustrations so different from the ones we’ve been accustomed to.

    it has been funny, because this year, on furlough, i’ve been terribly frustrated by a single power outage (15 or more a day or entire days without electricity wasn’t unusual in niger… why did i make a big deal out of one, lasting a few hours, while in the US?). the water main down the street broke last week; the water people actually stopped to inform us that water would be turned off for a few hours while they repaired the break… well, there went my plans for tackling that mountain of laundry and I was furious inside. poor hubby was totally bewildered, ’cause this was nothing like 4 days of no water living on the side of the desert.

    in my life, the root problem is that i want things to go my way all the time. it is this “unalienable right” i want to assume i have…one that i’ve claimed as mine so i can pitch an “appropriate” adult fit for changes to my agenda that i don’t want to make or for anything that makes my task harder than i want it to be. when things don’t go my way, it is easier to make something the scapegoat (country, husband, kids, circumstances) than to admit that i was making everything out to be all about me. truth, however: that is only a blip in His story and i’ve lost that perspective. and i tend to lose that perspective when i start feeling “entitled” instead of grateful.

  7. 8 Sarah March 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Great post that I can relate with all too well. 🙂

  8. 9 Andrea Pavkov March 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Fantastic post! It came just at the right time as we are faced with enormous frustrations lately with government offices, corrupt, dishonest people, etc. I found myself even telling my dog that he is so ________________(enter my country of service here). Yikes….Your post told me, “Wow, snap out of it.God has called you to these people and this country. Frustrations do not give you the “right” to judge or harshly condemn them even when “they” have done something to you. Thank you! I plan to share it with our whole international missionary fellowship.

  9. 10 kara April 5, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Yes, I so identify! My wake up call was the year we spent in the States, and learning that while many aspects of American life are more comfortable, there are still many frustrations! I think a lie in American culture (that I’d believed) is that life is supposed to be easy and we are supposed to be happy! So many Americans really struggle emotionally because those two things daily prove to be false. I am grateful that we live in a society where my children (and myself) can be reminded everyday that the world is fallen, and that we can learn to be content in every circumstance.

    One thought that kept me going through the initial years of culture stress was that the ‘modern American life’ is actually a huge exception to normal life. In the perspective of history, how many people have ever had a washing machine, dishwasher, car, etc? Jesus, the disciples, all the people in the Bible lived far differently than we do. And by living overseas, we get a chance to participate in a more common human experience, and maybe understand our Savior better.

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