Why I Can’t Talk About My Vacation

May 20, 2024 | 7 comments

This is part of a series of letters Elizabeth wrote to a fictional pastor. Have you read Taking Down the Ministry Pedestal or watched What We Wish Senders Knew (Senders version or the Goers version)? Once a month Elizabeth will write to Jerry and flesh out another area related to the pedestal or the survey results.


Dear Pastor Jerry,

I was hanging my laundry at the lovely beach lodge where we vacationed last week when the global worker who was staying upstairs came down with his trash. He hung out for a while, chatting. “You know,” he said, “Last week when we got here, I was so burned out I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just hid in our room and hung out on the porch. Yeah, I needed to be away from people.” 

I was beginning to think this guy knew how to talk about vacations when, in the next breath, he blew it. 

“We’re here for ten days, and then because of the way our frequent flyer miles worked, we have to stay a few more days so we’re going up to the top of the island to a hotel. We don’t usually do hotels, but one of our supporters sent a special gift and said we had to use it for vacation…” 

You see, if you are a global worker (or any ministry worker) it is not okay to spend support money on vacation. Classic ministry issue. Vacation is something ministry people don’t take very often, and when they do, they worry about what people will think. Vacationing in a place like this with a gorgeous beach is a dirty little secret that you can only indulge in if someone else is paying the bill. 

And even then, maybe it’s not okay. 

Did you ever wonder why global workers don’t write about their vacations? Well, there’s several reasons. 

One is that the perception of the church at home, those giving the support, seem to think global workers should be, well, working. After all, they sent them out to reach the unreached, and that’s a big job. There must be sermons to prepare, Bible classes to teach, people to witness to.

Actually, a lot of global workers don’t prepare sermons and many don’t even teach Bible classes – at least not big ones.  More often Bible study happens one-on-one and “witnessing” looks very different here than at home. Ministry is far more organic. And, with apologies to the pastors preparing weekly sermons, it’s more exhausting. 

Ministry happens in the midst of daily life. Life means markets, food, banking, transportation, fixing the broken plumbing, drinking endless tea or coffee or something with the neighbors, and a host of other things that are just life. In all those situations there are people who are far, far from the Lord. So as life happens, so does friendship, encouragement, questioning, counseling, building bridges that might possibly lead – down the road—to a discussion about Truth. Yes, some global workers have specific jobs—they teach, they doctor patients, they counsel, they fly planes, or they develop micro-businesses. But even then, they are in ministry 24/7 while they are doing the job that gives them a visa into their target country. 24/7/365. 

A second problem is that many global workers live in places where a vacation looks exotic. Like our beach! Palm trees, warm sand, blue water, mountains, and valleys. Absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. Looks like something out of a tourism brochure. What you don’t see is the piles of garbage in the streets, the electric wires hanging askew, and the vendors clamoring for our attention. But if I send pictures of where we “vacationed” it will raise questions of whether we should be spending support funds on this. The fact that it’s cheap doesn’t seem to translate. It looks expensive. 

If global workers don’t take vacations, though, it’s disastrous. The pressure of living cross-culturally, thinking and working in another language, living with constant ambiguity, often working in circumstances where they have to somewhat “hide” their Kingdom goals, is highly stressful. They not only have a world around them deeply needing the Lord, but they have co-workers and teammates that they probably didn’t choose. Often those teammates are from different home countries with different heart languages than the global worker from your church. The possibility for misunderstanding is high. Add to that the pressure of making sure children get a proper education, being extra careful with food and water to avoid illness, and in many places, just dealing with extra dirt on a daily basis. 

Why am I writing this to you, Pastor? Because my organization requires me to take vacations, but I need the home church to ask me regularly if I am doing that. What I am doing to renew and refresh my mind and soul and body? That might be more important than asking me for a list of the people I led to the Lord this year, or how many Bible classes I’m teaching. I need the affirmation from the church that a few weeks each year should be spent some place where I can rest, read, sleep, relax, recharge, and most of all do NO ministry. 

It’s a dilemma. Global workers feel guilty when they aren’t working. Global workers crash and burn if they don’t take significant breaks. Pine Creek church can help keep us here by encouraging us to take vacation, and then asking, genuinely, if we went to a nice beach or mountain cabin and enjoyed ourselves. We’d be happy to send pictures if we know won’t get judged. 

Sorry, I just have a big guilt complex. I bet I’m not the only global worker who does. 

With blessing,
Elizabeth

P.S. What would you add to my letter? Am I alone in feeling this way?

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Elizabeth Givens

SEND International

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7 Comments

  1. Lori

    Dear Elizabeth, me too! Yup, you are definitely not alone!! Thanks for writing about this to bring it out into the air. Self care, soul care, vacation time are all so needed for us to stay on the field and not burnout.

    Reply
  2. Heather Fowler

    You are not alone. My first term of service someone said, “It must be nice to be able to take vacations. ” I’ve not included it in my prayer letters since. 20 some years later. But, I didn’t stop taking them. Hence, the 20 years later.
    I wish I could politely send this to all of my supporters.

    Reply
    • Givens Elizabeth

      Go ahead an share it, politely, of course…

      Reply
  3. Ann heinrich

    A few real pictures would help, especially in 3rd world countries that “look so pretty.”

    Reply
    • Givens Elizabeth

      Good thought! I have some I took last week but don’t know how to upload them here 🙂

      Reply
  4. Michelle Clark

    Dear Elizabeth,
    During CoViD I got stuck in the states. It was by Gods design. Exhausted, burned out and desperately needing medical attention. It was the chiropractor who asked me if I took one day a week to rest. Convicted, I started one day a week resting. It’s made the world of a difference. I pay for it out of personal funds not from support. It’s very seldom that people ask about self care. I’ve learned in my senior years to pace myself and plan breaks of refreshment. But just shut up about it. M trippers have probably done more to damage the reality of the M life than anything. They are coddled,fed, toured and put back on the plane. They never see what it takes to live on the field of the pressure M’s live with. It’s like tourism of any kind. They have no idea what true M work in the country really is. A young girl once said she loved a country, she raved and raved about it, I finally said” how long were you there. ” Her response was priceless. ” a few hours, as we drove through on a bus”. Churches give these M teams more time than they will a M. And you wonder why they don’t ask about your self care?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Givens

      @Michelle Clark
      I recognize and understand your struggle, but I’m not sure “just shutting up about it” is the only answer. What global workers write in their updates is probably the best means of education the sending church and it’s people get. So one of our our jobs as global workers to keep helping our donors and prayer partners understand the reality of life in another part of the world. Will they understand it all? NO. But what they DO know needs to be intentionally planted in what we tell them, write them, ask them to pray about. No glory clouds or sugar plums. The younger generation, the new Gen Z’s, are sometimes more receptive to hearing the struggles of global life because they haven’t grown up on missionary stories and we might be the first “real” global workers they know personally.

      Reply

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