In our efforts at Go. Serve. Love to help you look overseas with eyes wide open, we actually like posting your “wish someone had told me about missions” stories. They help the rest of us, y’know, adjust expectations and avoid our own train wrecks.
Today we’re posting from one of our partners, the all-new Mission App–which allows you to search and apply to 30 agencies with one app, and one application. read more
They’ve developed this free webinar to help you sort out the call…and whether you have it.
By way of introduction, they ask,
How does God extend the call to missionaries? What influences does He often use to speak to those He’s calling to the mission field?
Mobilizers, missionaries, pastors, youth leaders, and teachers are invited to join Dave Jacob, founder and director of the Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention, as he discusses the important factors that influence the missionary call.
As always, we love it when you join the dialogue, creating community with others in the Body of Christ around the world exploring some of the same life-altering, Kingdom-powered questions.
Tell us about the call in your comments below:
How have you begun to discern God’s will in your own life?
What can be confused with the call?
What’s clear about calling–and what isn’t?
What keeps people from discerning God’s will for their lives about missions?
What events, people, resources, questions, etc. have helped in your own examination of whether or not to go overseas?
Raising financial support can mess with your head.
Yes, it can feel a little…naked. Yes, it can be awkward and revealing and exhausting.
But would you believe us if we said it’s actually a tremendous gift–and not just to you?
When I was trained in raising financial support–which we’ve been on for sixteen years, in which time we’ve added four kids to our posse–there was a passage that stuck with me. Someone pointed out the story of a widow in 1 Kings 17.
You’ve probably heard it, about this woman in famine who’s going to go home and use her last flour, her last oil, to make some bread for her and her son. Then they’re going to go home, she says, and die.
Sometimes I wonder about Elijah’s manners–but he actually asks the widow, a stranger, to first make a cake for him, then make one for her and her son. He makes her an odd promise that ends up coming true: Keep making cakes for both of us. The bread and the oil won’t run out until the famine’s over.
Get this: God uses the widow’s support of Elijah to keep her alive in famine.
Is Money the Goal in Raising financial support?
To be clear, do not use Elijah’s technique word-for-word in raising financial support (if you know people dying of hunger, perhaps take some Chik-fil-A or a Hungry Man dinner rather than your support-raising binder?).
I don’t know that “bake me bread and you’ll never run out of flour as long as I’m overseas” is the exact takeaway. But don’t miss this: Your fundraising ain’t just about you.
Over and over in the Bible, we see this theme of givers being blessed. God wants to do something in both sides of things in the journey that takes you overseas. Weird questions and fears will bubble to the surface as this process stirs them up.
Because the goal of raising financial support? It’s far from just money.
Maybe you’re just dipping your big toe in this frigid support-raising water to see if the goosebumps involved in raising support could, as you suspect, drive you away, arms pinwheeling.
Or maybe your knuckles are grazing the ground after duking it out for this dream of going overseas–which you were pretty durn sure was from God, but now is feeling kind of hazy and hard.
Flipping Over the Rocks
Imagine yourself before a bed of river rock. Beneath it, someone’s placed red swipes of paint totaling the monthly amounts you’ll need to finally go overseas; to do this vital work so many people need (remember Paul’s vision [Acts 16:9] of the Macedonian crying out to come help them?).
All you have to do is to turn over the rocks to find the right paint strokes you need. Some of the big rocks you’ve counted on yield nothing. Other small rocks feature much larger marks than you could have ever anticipated. Some are clustered together. Some are spaced out, and you’re turning over 23 blank rocks in between those that spread a smile on your face.
Getting the drift? God knows exactly where your funding will come from. Um, assuming you’re not being socially awkward, your rejections aren’t really about you as much as they’re God getting the right people on your team.
Raising Financial support: The Articles
These articles may not make this path easy. But they may make it easier–and eliminate some of the pitfalls.
First, don’t miss Go. Serve. Love’s own posts on raising financial support:
So many factors, really, had sifted out what felt like the remaining solution: It was time to leave.
Among the factors: My husband’s job (he was moved to leadership, and had effectively mentored a national to take over his position). My kids’ education. Other family factors we batted back and forth, scouring for solutions until it seemed this was really the only way to love well.
And in many ways, the poor and this work God had been doing in our midst would be better served as my husband performed his leadership role from headquarters in Colorado.
Colorado! I should’ve been thrilled, right?!
I was heartbroken.
Not Here, Not Now
Maybe you’re dealing with your own closed door; your own “not here, not now”.
That country making your heart beat a new way now won’t give you a visa. Or the political climate has become too dangerous. Or support-raising has dragged on for years, and your agency indicates it might be time to move on.
You could be asking, Did I even hear God right? If I was so willing to make sacrifices…weren’t they meaningful?
I’ve bled all over this for so long. (And why does so-and-so get to go?)
What do I do with a “no”?
Paul’s Closed Door
Did you know Paul got a “not here, not now”?
Check out Acts 16:6-10. As you read, note the five places Paul and Timothy went–and the two places they didn’t.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Y’know what’s also interesting? God would eventually send Paul to both places he’d forbidden.
This doesn’t mean “When God says no, he means later.” But sometimes a “no” is a “not now.”
Why Did I Get A No?
Earlier in Acts, in chapter 12, we see another cryptic act of God. We read that Herod
killed James the brother of John with the sword…he proceeded to arrest Peter also…and when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.
After this, you might remember God rescues Peter in dramatic fashion via a personal appearance by an angel.
Why Peter and not James? you might wonder.
Why does one of us get a painful no, and one a radiant, supernatural yes?
Why did God answer this prayer, but not that one for all those people to come to Christ? Could you explain why my evangelistic event was rained out? Why was that girl we wanted to help stopped by her alcoholic parents?
“No Graven Image”
I am still riveted by Keller’s account of an Elisabeth Elliot novel written in the 60’s, No Graven Image.
Elliot spins the tale of Margaret, a missionary translating the Bible for unreached South American tribes.
One day, she’s walking to the home of Pedro, her translator, the sole translation link between her and the unreached tribe.
She’s thanking God for the gift of Pedro; for the elaborate set of circumstances and support and training that have brought her to this point. She’s imagining bringing the Bible to a million people in this region.
But when she arrives at his home, Pedro is suffering from a severe leg infection. Having been trained in medicine, Margaret has penicillin with her, which Pedro requests.
Unfortunately, Pedro has an anaphylactic allergic reaction. His family gathers as he seizes. His wife is saying, “You killed him.”
Margaret cries out to God. But Pedro perishes. And her work is over.
Keller reports that Elliot, when he heard her speak, pointed to the last page:
“God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.” She went on to explain to us that the graven image, the idol of the title, was a God who always acted the way we thought he should…That is a God of our own creation, a counterfeit god. Such a god is really just a projection of our own wisdom, of our own self.
….Many readers wrote Elliot and protested vehemently that God would never allow such a thing to happen to a woman who has so prayerfully dedicated her life to his cause.
….However, Elisabeth told us, her own actual life experience had run almost exactly parallel to this novel–and actually had been even worse.
….She warned against trying to “find a silver lining” that would justify what happened.
….She wrote, “…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this…unless…”*
Elliot warns me–warns us–against spiritual entitlement. Against assuming that If I __, God commits to __.
Your Journey is Also Your Destination
When first raising support, a couple who’d been raising alongside us wasn’t able to complete their support. I wondered for days about how God would call them–or was it the impression of a call?–and not fulfill that.
Or was I reading it all wrong? Had God called them not to a destination, but a life-altering journey?
Did God’s call equal us being Teflon, where nothing bad sticks? I looked at John the Baptist–or any of the other disciples, like James above, whose “calling” ended in what the world might have considered failure.
But which heaven likely considered a resounding success.
What if his call is not to earthly success, but faithfulness?
God’s “no” is always a “yes” to the good works he prepares in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). He channels our hearts–and our support, visas, political climates–like a watercourse. A no to our plans is a yes to his. A yes to his honor.
So perhaps your “no” isn’t as personal as the love he extends–in directing you only to his best.
At Go. Serve. Love, we chat not only about the glimmering side of overseas missions–but also seek to help you toward honest conversations and expectations, hopefully toward the end of emotionally healthy missions. Check out
Ever heart of Global Trellis? They explain, “This doesn’t have to be you: More than 62% of cross-cultural workers report high tension between tending to their soul (being) and the work that they do (doing).” Global Trellis develops your soul and skills through articles, challenges, and workshops.
Check them out so that from the beginning, you’re wholehearted and pursuing integrity–a oneness of substance–in your work.
It’s a powerful thing to give someone the gift of reading–and even more powerful using Bible-based resources.
Literacy International says of their work, “Share the gift of reading and the gospel by teaching people how to read and write in their mother tongue using Bible-based materials in 260+ languages. Teacher-training classes are taught in English by live instructors using video calls and an online classroom.” Scholarships are available, too. (Source: Brigada.com)
MINDSET 1: I will listen to my body, my family, and my long-term capacity.
The heroism regularly bestowed on overseas missions may cause you to think building God’s Kingdom is worth the subtle destruction of one member of the Kingdom for the rest–i.e., you. Your marriage. Your kids.
This doesn’t mean missions doesn’t demand self-sacrifice. Or that we don’t follow Jesus in carrying his cross.
But is our compelling message that Jesus is most pleased with burnout, lack of rest, and internal denial?
MINDSET 2: I will seek out mutual relationships encouraging grace and vulnerability.
Constantly in “helper” mode, it’s critical you also seek out relationships that are mutual: that demonstrate to you, too, over and over, God’s care for you apart from what you do for him. That show God as a strong tower for you–a refuge, a place where you can be upheld and refreshed. A place where you can seek counsel and encouragement.
Paul speaks frequently about how he’s encouraged by other believers, like in Romans 12: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
If you don’t have this overseas, perhaps you look for it by video conferencing regularly with a counselor or trusted friend who will ask you good questions, pray for you, and tell you the truth.
MINDSET 3: I will seek out members of the Body of Christ to participate with me.
Remember: Jesus sent his disciples in twos. It’s ideal that people would glimpse not just one person made in God’s image, but interact with his Body: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
And check out 1 Corinthians 12:21: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”
Mindset 6: success may not look like i saw it going in my head.
I once spoke to a woman whose parents, for four generations, were missionaries in Japan and China. It took 20 years before they saw their first convert.
If I remember correctly–sadly, this occured during a time of famine and drought, when the missionaries helped build a well. (Most of us don’t think, “Oh, goody! A famine!”–nor should we.)
As you’ve probably discovered with a God whose great success plan, the Cross, looked like a total failure–his ways are simply different. And higher. And more mysterious.
Thomas Merton writes in his “Letter to a Young Activist”,
Do not depend on hope of results. When…doing…essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results opposite …
The big results are not in your hands or mine.…
All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.
Mindset 7: I will be all in.
What’s this look like? Learning the language. Making a home. Building relationships like you’re staying indefinitely. Finding ways to deal constructively with your very real cultural frustrations, rather than pressure building indefinitely, or just venting with other disgruntled missionaries.
After all: You’re no longer on a short-term trip. You’re here, like Jesus, to move into the neighborhood; to dwell among them (see John 1:14).
Get ready to stay there, and be truly present, as long as God has you there.ou’re burning a lot of fuel, so to speak, to get overseas. But what if that’s not the only hard part? What does mindset does it take to stay there?
Time to hear from you!
What mindset has been helpful as you prepare to go overseas–
Fun fact about Joe: He and his wife totally pull off the missionary thing amidst a family of 13. They’ve served in Bolivia since 2007.
First, the Disclaimers.
I’m going out on a limb here, so I’ll put some disclaimers up in advance.
1. I love being a missionary.
This post points out bad aspects you’ll not hear us normally say. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or unfulfilled.
2. I’m speaking of feelings and perceptions.
I know what the Bible says and can give a counterpoint to each of these. For example, when I share how we feel about shortchanging my children, I know that there are 100 positive things that people can point out to me.
I’m sharing my heart, how I feel. I don’t need anyone to send me a Bible lesson, in case you’re feeling the itch!
I’m going for what a missionary won’t tell you in their newsletter or at church missions conference. Here’s a little of the dark side of missions.
What A Missionary Won’t Tell You
1. You’re never one of them.
A missionary will talk about the joy of cross cultural missions and going into all the world.
What they won’t tell you: It isn’t fun most of the time.
I was first exposed to this while on a short term trip to Ghana. I was invited to a missionary going-away party. A nurse from Canada was returning to her home country after serving on the mission field for (get this) 40 years. She had come to Ghana as a 20 year old and was now going ‘home’.
During the conversation I asked her why she was saying she was going home. If you have lived for all of your adult life, slightly over 40 years, in Ghana and only visited Canada every four years…then isn’t Ghana your home?
She told me no matter how incorporated you are into the culture, no matter how good your ministry, no matter how accepted that you are by the people…you’re not one of ‘them’.
Close, but no cigar
At the time this post was first published, I’d been in Bolivia for 8 years. I am fluent in Spanish and have a great ministry here. I love what I do.
But I am not at home. I am not a Bolivian.
I do not share their cultural history or family ties. When I go to someone’s home to celebrate a birthday or wedding, I am the white guy. I am the stranger. I am the foreigner.
When they begin to laugh about family memories or tell stories about relatives, I just smile at the right time. I do not belong. When I go to ‘La Cancha’ our market place, children stare at me. I had a man visiting us from the States tell me when we were there, “This is weird, we are the only white people in sight.’
It gets old being a stranger, never being in the group. It isn’t fun to always be noticed.
2. It’s lonely. your friends and family from the States have in many ways forgotten you.
You won’t ever see this in a mission letter. We will tell stories of fun things and great times. We will be upbeat and happy and post photos of our family Christmas party.
You won’t have us posting videos of us crying or hear us complain about missing friends, but we do. And the harsh thing? They don’t actually miss us.
When we were planning on going to the mission field, we interviewed 10 different missionary families. We talked to people who were single, married, married with kids, and older missionaries. I asked them a question: “What is the hardest part of being a missionary?”
Their answers, all 10 at separately, replied, “Loneliness.
“After the first year people totally forget about you. Even your best friend now won’t continue communicating with you.”
Harder than we thought
We decided to fight against this.
Using Facebook and social media, along with monthly communications and blogs, we knew we would stay in touch with our friends.
What surprised us: How quickly they didn’t want to stay in touch with us.
Oh, we understand that their lives are busy and we’ve moved! But understanding why doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
This rides shotgun with point #1–not being part of the culture. We don’t feel like we have a home. But we do feel like those from our previous home have forgotten us.
3. We are normal Christians.
People think missionaries are super-Christians. We’re one step up from being a pastor.
And if you’re a missionary pastor?! Even the Apostle Paul envies your uber-spirituality.
You won’t be reading in a missionary letter, “This week I did not spend hardly any time in the Word, got mad at my wife, yelled at my kids, and got insanely jealous after seeing photos on Facebook.”
But it is the truth. We are normal people seeking to honor Christ even though we are weak and fragile vessels.
We sin, repent, repeat.
4. We never have enough money, but feel guilty asking for it.
Missionaries ask for money. We have to. We put it in terms like, “opportunity to support’, or ‘be part of the blessing’, or ‘looking for monthly partners’.
What we want to say is, “We are dying here! Please help us! We need money!!”
That’s a no-no. We have to appear above money. Money should seem like something we could probably use, but no big deal. We’re walking by faith and trusting God to provide… That’s what we’re expected to display.
You see, we don’t want it to seem like all we want from our supporters is money. It isn’t.
But in all honesty, we do need money. We need it for our family and for our ministry.
We just hate asking for it, and you hate hearing it. So, we keep quiet or couch our needs in spiritual terms (while meanwhile, we really struggle with being judgmental over money).
5. We feel like our children are getting shortchanged by our choiceS.
You will see cool pictures in my newsletters of my children helping do outreach, being in the jungle, washing orphans, or having a monkey on their shoulder. It all looks so cool.
But the truth is, we feel like our kids are suffering because of us.
This is compounded by Facebook. Just this week I have seen photos of kids playing football, music lessons, dance, debate, camps, concerts, movies, lock-ins, and taking classes at the community college while in high school.
My kids do nothing like that. I know I can post all the cool things that my kids do, but I simply cannot compete with the options that you have. I find myself fighting jealousy, envy, and covetousness.
6. I took a great vacation but I cannot tell anyone.
One of the neat things about social media is how we can share our lives with others. Pastors can go on cruises. Friends can go to some wonderful island. Family can travel Europe.
They can all brag about their time and post photos on Facebook and social media sharing their joy.
We can save up money. Live on a budget. Spend less than we make. The, after five years of frugality take a much needed vacation.
What do we hear? “I should be a missionary, then I could take cool vacations.” Or, “Is that where my donations go?”
7. We hate being judged by a standard our judges do not follow.
When we meet with mission committees, churches, sending groups and donors they always ask us very specific questions. I have no problem with that.
What drives me bonkers? When someone not doing what I am very much doing judges me because they don’t think that I am doing enough of what they are not doing.
Advice for the Big Game
It is honestly difficult to listen to armchair quarterbacks who have never suited up critique the game I’m participating in.
Sometimes, for example, people who are doing nothing to help the poor criticize us for how we help the poor. They tell us what we should do, what we should not do, how and when and to whom we should do it. Supporters tell us of the latest book that they have read and/or the latest sermon that they heard.
They do nothing themselves, but they know exactly what we should do and if we don’t do it their way, then the threat of cutting support is dangling over our head.
If someone who is actually doing the ministry has advice, input or corrections then it is infinitely easier to accept.
It’s when we are told what to do by someone not doing anything that we have to constantly check our hearts and put a guard on our lips.
8. Saying good-bye stinks…and it is not the same in the States.
Our lives become one of a constant good-bye. We are saying good-bye to fellow missionaries leaving for the States. We have to say good-bye to our children.
Denise and I have four kids living in the USA while we remain in Bolivia. When we visit for furlough and see grandpa and grandma, we have to say good-bye again to go back to the field.
I was invited to speak at a mission conference in the States. The church was a little over an hour from where my 24-year-old son lives, so he drove down to see me.
After I preached, I went to my mission table in the hall and was chatting with people, passing out prayer cards, shaking hands, etc. My son and his girlfriend came to say hi, and after a few minutes my son hugged me. “Love you, Dad. See you in….what…two years or three?”
I started crying and people graciously walked away from my table. We both knew I was not going to see him again for at least two years.
“I hate this!”
My wife recently took my 19-year-old to start college in the States. She called me from her hotel room weeping and said, “It doesn’t get easier. I hate this! I hate this!”
Friends will say with totally good intentions, “I understand. My son left for college this week, too!”
Their son or daughter may be able to snag a $100 ticket and bop in for a three day weekend, break, or holiday. At the most, they’re a quick flight or short drive away.
We live on another continent. When we say goodbye, it isn’t “See you on break”. It is “See you for a few days in three years.”
My son Jacob called after moving to the States. After talking I let him know that he needed to go to the hospital because I thought that he had appendicitis. It was, and he called to let us know they would perform emergency surgery.
It took my wife three days to get there.
She could not hop on a plane and be there any more than when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I knew that when the phone call came telling his children to come say their good-byes, I wouldn’t be able to be there. I knew I would miss his last words, not be able to minister to my family, and probably not be able to attend the funeral.
It isn’t the same thing as living in the States. It isn’t.
I would say that out of all the negatives to living on the mission field, this is the worst: Saying good-bye.
9. Going to the States is hard.
You would think that returning home on furlough is wonderful. Every missionary looks forward to it. It’s the focus of the year.
That is partly true. However, there are two things a missionary will not tell you.
Logistically it is difficult. Most missionaries don’t have a place to live, a car to drive or a plate to eat off of. All those things we need in everyday life, from pillow cases to car seats, we do not have. We have to find short term solutions and we hate borrowing stuff.
We also don’t really want to live in a basement. My family enjoys our own privacy and family time.
And…the money thing
We also want to visit and spend time with our donors and churches, but making that happen is so hard when we have donors in 12 different states.
It isn’t feasible to spend $1,200 to visit a church that gives you $25/month. But you want to and think that you should.
The second thing that you probably don’t know? It’s hard emotionally.
Why? Because we discover that we’ve changed.
The Land of Blue
I tell the story like this: A man from the land of Blue became a missionary to the people of Yellow. He struggled because he was a Blue man among Yellow people. However, after a while he began to truly understand their culture and become partly assimilated.
One day he looked in the mirror and saw that he was no longer Blue, he was now Green. It made being in the land of Yellow easier. Then, after many years, he returns to the land of Blue. To his dismay, no one there in his homeland of Blue wants to be with him. He was a Green person in the land of Blue.
After being on the mission field you are a different person. People perceive you differently.
Even people who were friends are no longer friends. They have grown without you. They have had different experiences without you. You are no longer ‘one of them’.
When you return, people want to shake your hand and say that they missed you, but they don’t want to be with you. They are also worried that you are going to ask them for money.
We actually asked a person out for dinner, a person who had been a friend before going to the mission field. Their response was, ‘We don’t have any money to give you.” (Yes. They really said that.)
10. I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to supporters.
Like it or not, I now feel like I have to justify that giving us money is good. I have to prove myself and my ministry over and over again.
My newsletters are not to let people know what we are doing; they are far more. They are items that I am entering into evidence as proof they’re are making a good investment.
And if a period of time goes by where we don’t really have anything big to report? We feel like a failure and live in the fear of supporters giving money to someone who deserves it.
Often we don’t feel like we are on the same team as our supporters. We feel like they’re our boss and it is time for the annual performance evaluation.
And this year someone has to be let go.
We are tempted to pad our resume and make it look better than it is. Instead of saying that we go to church, we say, “We are actively engaged in a local congregation”.
We don’t say that we buy our fruit from the same seller every week. Instead, “We are building intentional relationships with those in the marketplace.”
We may lead a Bible study but call it “engaging in a mentoring relationship with young married couples.”
So we say things that make us sound better, holier, busier than we are. We can’t say that we are living in the culture and doing what we can to promote Christ but it is difficult and we really don’t have much fruit to show this year.
In the last post, we encouraged you to take trips that help prepare you for future cross-cultural ministry. Today, we’ve got more tips for trips that matter.
Connections for the Future: Serve with a ministry that could also send you long-term.
If you want to go long-term, you might want to look for a ministry that does both short-term and long-term work. A mission trip can be a great way to “test drive” the agency before pursuing long-term service. Your agency may even run short-term programs for that very reason.
What can you learn about agencies that do the kind of work you believe God may be equipping you to do? That go to the places you think God may be leading you to go?
Planning to go with your denominational mission board long-term? Go on a short-term with them first.
Wanna minister among Hindus? Find an org that works with Hindus.
Feel drawn to serve in a major city? Serve in an urban setting, not a rural one.
(You get the picture.)
This is your chance to get the inside scoop. It’s also much less painful than spending years preparing for a certain kind of ministry only to find it’s not a good fit.
Even if your first choice of an agency doesn’t work out, the experience will give you a better sense of what to look for.
Going with an agency you might serve with in the future helps them get to know you. It also gives you a good opportunity to pick up on their passions, way of thinking, philosophy of ministry, and overall organizational culture.
Many mission agencies describe themselves with similar words, but if you spend time around their missionaries, you’ll start to get what really makes them tick.
Ask questions about what you hear and see.
Find out what kind of people the agency attracts and learn about typical ministry approaches and ways of life.
Learn how decisions are made and how money is handled.
See how missionaries and missionary families support each other or whether they seem to live more independent lives.
The nugget: Serving with an agency for a few months will reveal its inner workings, expose your own needs and preferences, and give you some clues as to whether it’s a good match.
Practical Ministry Experience: try out what you’d like to do.
A mission trip can confirm and add to your growing skills. It can also help you discover what additional prep you’ll need.
Some mission trips give you the chance to taste many kinds of ministry, while others go deep with just one. Either approach has value.
Want to be a church planter? Probalby can’t plant a church during a two-month mission trip. But you can come alongside a church-planting team in doing evangelism and discipleship.
Longing to be a missionary doctor? You may not be doing surgery. But how ’bout serving a mobile health clinic?
Chances are your best contributions, long-term, will be in your areas of passion. Is what gets you out of bed in the morning social justice? Evangelism? Caring for people’s physical needs? Look for opportunities to serve in that area.
Ministry skills and interpersonal relationship skills go hand in hand. Your mission trip may provide an opportunity to test and develop your ability to work with and serve people, in a cross-cultural setting, and probably with a language barrier too.
Things may not work out as you planned. Real ministry (Jesus’ included) is punctuated by surprises. What you think you signed up to do may not be what you find is needed when you get there.
Hold onto your sense of humor, be flexible, and focus on the fact that God got there before you did and he knew what was coming. Trust him to reveal what you need to know and do and equip you for the future he sees.
The nugget: If all goes well, you will confirm pieces of your calling and gained valuable experience in missions and serving overseas. And even if it doesn’t go so well, you will be closer to discovering how you fit.
Making the Most of Any TripS
What if the suggestions in these posts are beyond your control? What if you only have two weeks to give, and won’t be able to work directly with a missionary, go the place you most want to go, or do the thing you want to do down the road?
You can still maximize any mission trips as a training ground for long-term ministry by adjusting your approach. Look for mission trips that will allow or encourage these three elements, or try to pursue them on your own.
Preparation: learn all you can about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
Most of us put herculean effort into team building, fundraising, and figuring out what to pack. But make sure you also learn about where you are going and what life is like for the people who live there.
Even if you end up going someplace else in the long run, learning about the people in your host culture this time around will be valuable in understanding another culture in the future. Here’s your chance to learn to be a learner.
Even for shorter trips, your prep should include training in how to relate and communicate cross-culturally.
This is absolutely essential for those of us who grow up in settings that lack cultural diversity: if everyone you rub shoulders with speaks the same language, values the same things, and sees the world in similar ways, you will struggle to understand how anyone could think differently.
Choose mission trips that include a good orientation or has a strong focus of learning while you’re on the field. Take the initiative to research some of the following:
1. The cultural differences and values
How do their customs and manners differ from your own? Travel blogs and travel guides will help you with this. Where are they on the various cultural value continuums?
Learning about a few different cultural models will help you know what questions to ask and start to understand why things are they way they are.
A lot of times when you’re upset, overwhelmed, or stressed overseas, it is because of cultural norms or values. Being able to articulate the norms or values which are clashing will help you to process your emotions. Ask your host or team leaders for tips, or get some general training in cultural models (see sidebar).
2. The country and people
What do they grow or manufacture there? Where do people travel for sightseeing? Are you familiar with their major cities and states? Read up on the country’s stats on the CIA Factbook.
Mastering some basics like these will keep you from feeling so lost in conversation. You will know where you are and have a framework for learning more. Get to know the country and the specific areas you will visit, the people and their history, the climate, geography, food, and way of life.
Ask missionaries and mission organizations who work there to help you understand the history of evangelism and the church in the region. How much exposure has this nation had to Christianity? How have they responded to the gospel?
4. The language.
How do they greet and say goodbye? You could learn words for common objects as well as place names and key phrases.
It’s well worth any time to learn a hundred words in another language. It will help you feel more at home when you get there. You’ll be in a better position to understand daily activities and take part in conversations.
The nugget: You will not master the language and unlock the mysteries of the culture in your brief time.
But these ideas will give you a head start. You’ll have a way to show love and respect to people in your host culture. Your choice to come prepared will enrich the time you have together.
Relationships: Find trips that focus on people as much as activities.
Most Westerners are fairly task-oriented. Mission trips can really accentuate this tendency to achieve and do and accomplish.
The amount of money and energy that goes into getting to the field–and the short amount of time available to work–may tempt us to cram in as much activity as we can on short-term trips.
But ministry, as you can tell by looking at Jesus, is far more about people and relationships than it is about activities.
Find mission trips that will allow or even push you to focus on people, not activities. And when you are there, even if it’s not written into the trip description, take the initiative to reach out to the people you meet.
Do things together, ask questions, and look for opportunities to hear their stories. Say no to the temptation to only spend time with the people you came with.
Experiences like staying with a local family and working alongside local Christians can add such depth and richness to your experience. Some short-terms are designed to include those elements.
If you are naturally more comfortable talking and leading, try to switch into “listening, observing, and asking” mode and see what you can learn about how things are done here.
Putting relationships ahead of accomplishments also means investing the time and taking the emotional risk of working through any misunderstandings and strained friendships. Ask others to help you understand their point of view. If someone else seems frustrated with you, find out why. Look for what you need to do differently. Commit to learning from the misunderstandings.
The nugget: Relationships are the key to learning about the people you are visiting. Relationships are also the key to communicating with them. And learning and communicating are probably why you are there! You can’t introduce people to Jesus or influence them to follow him if you can’t relate to them.
Reflection: learn as much about yourself as you can by processing what you feel, think, and experience during and after the trip.
See your trip as a pilgrimage: a journey of personal growth.
To do that will require listening to God and looking for what he is showing you about yourself and your life and his future leading for you.
Is he revealing something about his purposes in you and in the world?
Is God allowing you to witness heartbreaking things in the mirror or in your cross-cultural context?
Could He be giving you a perspective on your home culture that you haven’t had before?
If you don’t stop and process things, you will miss (or misinterpret) the lessons God has for you. Ideas to make the most of this:
The most effective strategies for learning lessons and locking them in are simply talking things through and writing them down.
Some mission trip experiences come with a mentoring or interactive aspect built in to encourage this processing. A team pastor or leader is available for one-on-one sessions, or daily times to talk and pray about what’s going on may be on the schedule.
Many mission trips include a thorough debriefing and follow-up process as well. Evaluate! Celebrate! Learn from your experience!
If they aren’t planned, you can also accomplish these purposes informally. You may have a teammate or friend at your side. Is there someone back home who tracked with you while you prepared to go and can’t wait to hear how things worked out when you return? A good mentoring relationship is especially helpful in processing and redeeming your disappointments and mistakes.
Keeping a journal about your experiences, thoughts, reactions, and questions is another good way to process and retain what you’re learning. Chances are good you will gain as much insight from thinking and writing about what you see and experience as you do from just being there. Journaling may also help you slow down on any hasty judgments, separating what you felt or observed from what you think it meant.
You’ll stretch and grow in your understanding of yourself and learn to trust God in new ways and at new levels. You will also grow in your understanding and appreciation for all God is and has done on your behalf. And sometimes God will do or allow something that you will puzzle over for months to come, providing the raw material for ongoing learning.
Remember, you can learn as much after the trip as you learned during it … If you’ll do the work to process it.
The purpose of the reflecting and processing afterwards is to make more observations, connect more dots and another level of dots, and improve your conclusions due to now having more experience and interaction.
The nugget: Ask yourself what you learned about yourself, about those you were with, and about God.–quickly said, but worthy of much slow thought.
When you’re thinking about a short-term, feeling-this-out trip, why not select a trip designed to help prepare you for future cross-cultural ministry?
You can increase the value of nearly any mission trip by intentionally doing a few things on your own that will maximize the trip and make it a better training ground.
Mission trips that move you forward usually include these four things:
You go overseas for two months or more.
You spend significant time with someone already on the field.
Connections for the Future
You serve with a ministry that could also send you long-term.
Practical Ministry Experience
You try out what you’d like to do later.
You can gain even more from any mission trip by putting these three thingson your priority list as well:
You learn all you can about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
You focus on people as much as activities.
You learn as much about yourself as you can by processing what you feel, think, and experience during and after the trip.
When you’ve got these in place, the more your trip will likely move you forward as you consider long-term service.
Trip Length: You go overseas for two months or more.
A ten-day or two-week trip is great for giving you a taster of how things are different over there–like an appetizer. But two weeks doesn’t give you time to go deep into the cultural values, to sort through what you’re seeing and discover what it means. You may never get past your initial fascination with the place or your false conclusions about how things work.
A trip that’s two months or longer gives you more time for that. In fact, you’ll be forced to deal with cultural differences, especially if you stay with a national family.
Stay long enough, and you’ll start to understand not just the language, but the values behind the words and behaviors. You’ll have more of those “aha, I get it now!” moments.
Photo credit: IMB.org Photo Library.
After a month or two, you may find yourself starting to see the world through different eyes – a more “local” point of view. The more you learn to observe and understand the culture, they more you can appreciate and adapt to its ways.
Staying two months motors you past your initial intrigue with the culture–beyond that “first date” phase.
It tests your perseverance and increases your patience.
It will expose your weaker areas and force you to lean on God for the strength and wisdom you need.
Staying longer will give you the chance to experience ongoing ministry and relationships, rather than a series of short encounters. Developing and maintaining ongoing relationships is of course more difficult, but well worth it.
The nugget: A two-to-twelve-month trip will give you the practical confidence that living in another culture is something you could really do and enjoy.
Job Shadowing: You spend significant time with someone already on the field.
What is missionary life really like? Often what you see a missionary doing on a ten-day trip isn’t even clost what they do every day: it’s a project or a program that they set up for you.
But what if you could spend extended time with someone who’s already on the field and doing what you’d like to do? Look for an opportunity to serve as an apprentice, intern, or helper.
Find someone willing to be your mentor. It will give a closer look at what day-to-day missionary life is really like, with its ups and downs, pleasures and pains. Listen, observe, and ask questions.
You may find life on the field less romantic than you thought. It may be slower and more frustrating. On the other hand, you may discover challenges and rewards inherent in the missionary life that can inspire, motivate, and keep you going both now and in years to come.
To shadow or be mentored by a missionary may require greater vulnerability on your part than another kind of mission trip.
It usually means going alone or with one or two others rather than traveling and serving with a large team.
It will probably include living with the missionary’s family or someone else you do not know well rather than staying together with a group of people a lot like you.
Living and working closely with just a few other people can be more difficult; irritations may loom larger. Others may not see and do ministry the way you would. But experiencing things together, up close, gives you a more complete picture of life on the field.
If you think God is calling you to go long-term, these are the kind of learning opportunities that will give you realistic expectations and help you grow the most.
The nugget: Mission agencies that primarily send long-term missionaries are more likely to have experienced missionaries you can shadow.