How We Endure Trials on the Mission Field

Mountain view behind a wire fence
Life as a missionary means facing trials that only other missionaries can fully understand. TEAM missionary Irene shares how she found peace and joy during hardship.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 (NIV)

My husband, Jeff, and I had prepared to be missionaries since we were teenagers. It was then that we felt God’s call on our lives so completely to serve Him overseas. We went to Bible school to prepare, read books on missions and cross-cultural service, spent time with missionaries, took classes, went on short-term trips, worked cross-culturally in the U.S., went through a missionary prep program, and more.

But even with all that prep, you can never really know what sorts of trials you are going to face on the mission field.

You know it will be hard. But how it’s going to be hard and what aspects will be hard are impossible to know until you face it. Sometimes, when people ask me what God has taught me as a missionary, I get a bit of a knot in my stomach. I don’t have grand stories of multiple Thai people coming to Christ, or miracles that have happened, or even many spiritual epiphanies. Hopefully one day I will, but not yet.

Really, what God has taught me so far is to persevere.

What Can I Show for My Trials?

We’ve been in Thailand for three years now. What have I done most of those three years, aside from being sick and helping my kids navigate this new life? Language, language, language.

Thai is a tonal language, so I knew learning it would be hard. But language learning has been brutal, slow and mentally excruciating.

Central Thai has five distinct tones. The meaning of a word depends not only on forming the correct sounds, but also on using the correct tone on each syllable. And the more I learn, the more I realize how much more I have to learn.

I still cannot communicate at a heart level, and I can’t yet communicate the Gospel clearly. I often feel discouraged or like a failure.

Picture of a beach

Progress on the mission field can feel slow in the early years. But God calls us to persevere and watch how He works through the trials.

Friendships with the average Thai person, who isn’t one of my Thai teachers, have been slow. Throughout these last three years, sometimes I’ve been so lonely it physically makes my heart ache. I have grieved as I see my kids struggle with transition after transition and when they beg to see their grandparents and cousins but they can’t.

Sometimes I have felt so totally lost as I try to navigate this foreign culture that I feel debilitated. There have been times I’ve felt so stressed that I thought I might lose my mind.

And yet, amidst it all, there is this odd, unexplainable peace and underlying joy because despite my many weaknesses and shortcomings and struggles, I know that we are exactly where God wants us. And he has asked me to persevere and not give up.

Your Trials Don’t Surprise God

I’ve learned that trials on the mission field are not things to be avoided. And they are not signs that you are not where God wants you. In fact, quite often they are the necessary means to produce the kind of fruit in us that God desires.

Trials on the mission field — or anywhere else — are not surprises to God. In fact, He tells us to consider them pure joy.

Joy because of what they can produce. Joy because we set our minds on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Joy because at the end of the day, I am not loved by God because of how well I can speak Thai or how many people I shared the Gospel with or what I do or don’t do for Him, but sheerly because I am His.

And so, we press on, trusting the One who can do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.

Perhaps you are like me, reading this today — maybe a little discouraged, maybe a lot exhausted, maybe struggling in some way, maybe grieving a loss.

Let’s remember that we have an amazing Father who sees us as we are, and loves us. And we have a Father who also sees the grand picture. He speaks to us in our trials and says, “I’m not done with you yet. Trust Me, and persevere.”


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About the author

Irene Mellema
Irene Mellema

Irene Mellema serves in Thailand with her husband and two children. She spent her first three-year term studying the Thai language and linguistics. Her long-term goal is to translate the Bible for an unreached minority people group who do not yet have the Bible in their language.

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  • Thank you so much for your vulnerability in sharing this Irene! I resonated with much of what you shared and have experienced similar feelings during our first 3 years on the field too. Thank you for reminding us to keep our focus on our Father during whatever trials we face!

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