When missionaries come home we love to hear the beautiful success stories filled with the spirit. We love to hear about the miracles. We romanticize a mission into being this two year one-on-one, arm-in-arm, from-your-mouth-to-God's-ear daily experience with God! Missionaries come home and you will hear them speak in a church service sharing 3-5 super stories about their missions. And they will be glorious, faith promoting stories. Those will be the stories that they will be able to fall back on and glean strength from during future trials and tribulations.
Missionaries don't come home with hundreds of miracle stories.....they come home with 3-5. Those are just 5 days out of 730 (or 545 for the sisters). Once the stories have been told and the dust begins to settle then, if you really want to know what your missionary is made of, you need to ask: Tell me what happened on the other 725 days.
MISSIONS ARE HARD! But make no mistake.... it is a labor of love! In their desires to be obedient they suffer through the heat and still wear a suit coat (this was before the new rule of "no suitcoats necessary" in Cambodia!).
Many of our missionaries have to deal with illnesses. One missionary after having been in Cambodia for several months was physically suffering only to find that he had developed Crohn's Disease. He had to go home, get his health stabilized, then he was reassigned to a California Khmer speaking mission, never to return to Cambodia. Some of our local, native Khmer missionaries have little-to-no emotional support during their two years. One such missionary in his two years never received an email, letter, or package of "love". In fact, on the night that he was released from his mission, President and Sister Christensen had to put him in a cab to go home to an empty home because his mother left 2 days earlier to begin a vacation and his father was working a night shift.
It's not the 5 days that makes the missionary what they are today, it's the 725 days! It is the day that we don't want to read any more but do anyway. It is the day that we don't think that we have any more prayers left in us but be find one more ounce of strength to plead to our Father in Heaven to make things better.... to make me better! It is that tiny spark of compassion that will surface that will change your heart at the right time. It is the days that they wonder, "where is God today?" because they are just not sure they can hear Him. It is feeling the Savior's embrace at the most unexpected and sometimes we feel the most undeserving times in our lives. (Really those turn out to be the most deserving and needed times.) It is in the daily sweet reminders that God knows who you are, where you are, and what you need that day.
Some missionaries deal with their situations more gracefully than others but nonetheless they accomplish what the Lord wants them to do. They are out there slugging away at each day. They are biking from house to house no matter what the weather is like that day, rain or shine (since that seems to be the only contrasts that Cambodia has!) They deal with health problems and they deal with emotional problems. (Sometimes those problems flow in and out of each other so readily that it is hard to tell which is the more dominant.)
The magnificent blessing of working in the mission office is that we get to see them everyday. We very rarely get to see or hear about the 5 days, but better yet we get to see them during a lot of those 725 days. These young missionaries are remarkable!
So, when your missionaries come home.... ask about the 725 days!