Unshakable Truth as You Head Overseas (PRINTABLE)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We get it. The journey to overseas missions can feel like you’re trying to build a plane midair. With a root beer can, scotch tape, and a plastic flower. On the hard days, it’s possible you need some unshakable truth as you head overseas.

So today we’ve cobbled together a free printable infographic with some truths to hang your hat on, even if some days it feels like an overlarge sombrero. Post this in a cupboard, on a bathroom mirror, or tucked in all those books you’re reading for your training.

And chew on God’s promises for you in this journey.

TRUTH AS YOU HEAD OVERSEAS: PRINT IT HERE.

truth as you head overseas

Lord, all this–the endless to-do’s, the appointments, the support raising, the goodbyes, the questions, the applications, the wondering–every bit of the mundane and marvelous are for you.

Let my sacrifice be sweet to you. Sink my trust of you deeper into my soul, and prepare the way for you inside of me, around me, the place I’m headed, and everywhere in between.

My eyes are on you. My hope is in you. And my future is yours.

Be glorified.

TELL US: What truths have refreshed you in your path overseas?

Share the goodies with the rest of us in the comment section!

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When My Child’s Fluency = My Success

Reading Time: 4 minutes

fluency

One benefit of my kids growing up overseas is their rich experience of another culture.  My kids absorb elements of the adopted country in an organic way.  They often see the world with a different perspective from someone–even an adult–who hasn’t left their home country.

I love that my kids have adopted certain aspects from Egypt: They have favorite Egyptian foods. They wash their hands after eating, and believe tissues are reasonable as napkins at the table. My kids know how to say “thank you” to mean “no” if they don’t want something being offered.  I love that three of my kids write and speak some Arabic and understand even more.

But wait, you might say, why just “some Arabic?”  Haven’t your kids been growing up in Egypt?

Shouldn’t they be picking up the language smoothly and effortlessly like the sponges that children are?

Yes, they are sponges when they are immersed in the language or culture full-time.

FLUENCY: The Picture vs. The Reality

The reality for us? We speak mostly English at home.  We attend an English-speaking church.  They attend an English-speaking international school.

When my children were younger they attended a preschool where they were the only non-Egyptians.  We also attended a Sunday school program at a large Arabic church.  We all learned church songs in Arabic and followed the Bible story.

During that season, the kids enjoyed the interactions and even saw friends from soccer-training at church.  Through these interactions, they developed a foundation for Arabic and Egyptian culture.

But just as kids learn quickly, with skills only occasionally used, they also tend to forget quickly.

Now at my kids’ school, they take Arabic class four days per week.  They are reading and writing Arabic.  They are speaking and understanding more all the time.

And they are not at a place of fluency.  Neither am I.

Not Good Enough?

While I would like for my kids to be confident about communicating with locals, our experience so far has not provided for them to regularly be immersed in the language to the point of fluency.

And in that, sometimes I hear the message that maybe I’m not doing a good enough job at this cross-cultural thing.  

In fact, a friend was criticized by a new member of her team who arrived in the country one day…and criticized her the next day. He couldn’t believe her child hadn’t attained fluency.

Reader, let’s not judge our fellow workers.

Let’s offer grace and seek to understand the situation of those on the field before we share criticism or offer instruction.

My Kids = My Success?

We need to remember to see our children as people, not as a marker of how successful we are cross-culturally.

Maybe your situation does not require your children to learn another language. But it’s possible you had expectations (or others had expectations of you) that your children would be immersed in the culture, surrounded by local children, loving their third-culture-kid identity.

Maybe, due to their school options or where you live or what your family needs to do in order to be healthy, those relationships and that cultural identification hasn’t completely happened for your children.

Some children will love learning the language and love speaking with locals.  Some will not.

They may dive head-first into the culture and enjoy making that part of their identity.  They might not.

When it comes to our children, it’s important to give them the tools to thrive, the encouragement to keep trying, and the flexibility and grace to find their place. 

FLUENCY: CHOOSING TO STRETCH THEM

Since I recognize that interactions with the language and locals will not just “magically” happen for my kids, I make certain choices when possible.

When given the opportunity to play tennis with an American coach or an Egyptian coach, I’ll choose the Egyptian Arabic-speaking coach for my kids.  If possible, I will find Arabic tutoring for my kids during summer break so they continue to develop their language skills.

What choices do you have available to get your kids into the local culture and language?  Can they

  • take group lessons–art, swimming, karate, science–with local kids they don’t meet at school?
  • attend a family retreat or camp?
  • participate in a church class for their age group?
  • play with a local adult who speaks the local language and teaches local songs?

This might require extra work from you, parents.  This might require a bit of pushing to get your kids on board.

I don’t think we should push our kids toward fluency beyond what they can reasonably handle. But I do think we make efforts to let our kids experience their host country in a non-touristy, daily-life kind of way.

Why Our Kids’ Adaptation Matters–Beyond Our Egos

The more natural and enjoyable experiences our children have with their host country, the more opportunity for them to identify with parts of the culture.

This creates ownership of the culture that helps to make them an ambassador for the local people of your host culture–becoming a voice about what is good and valuable about a foreign culture, strange and unknown, to their passport culture.

Your kids learn in a more natural way how to relate to different people. Maybe they’ll be able to move through different cultures and become like them in order to save some.

The bottom line: We give our children the opportunity and encouragement (and sometimes a little push) to be involved in the culture and language, learning more about their host country. 

And we don’t use our children’s language or cultural fluency as the marker for our own success.  That’s a part of their story. Not our merit badge.

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here.

 

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Am I “Called”?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

am i called

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Rebecca Hopkins’ blog, “Borneo Wife,” when she and her husband served in Indonesia. She now blogs from her new American home at rebeccahopkins.org .

It’s almost like the deep, dark secret of overseas work. That confession, usually made by a woman, sometimes with reasons, other times with self-chastisement hanging onto the words.

“I wasn’t ‘called’ to be here.”

She’s just along for the ride, supporting her husband, her kids, she says. And I cringe if I hear the next words. “I don’t matter here. I don’t make a difference.”

But I sit amazed at her dedication and sacrifice, despite what she believes is a lack of a Word from Above to come here.  She came anyway, even though she wasn’t so sure if her role matters, if she is special, if she was “called.”

I call that faith.

 

“am I called? not YET”

I read recently on a blog about a woman waiting to hear her call to this work, asking God to give it to her. She wants to do it. Her boyfriend wants to go. But she waits anyway.

I have some honest questions about this.

Are we supposed to be waiting for specific directions from God Himself? Does God want to use our desires, our dreams, our gifts? Does He instead call us into things we would never choose on our own? What freedoms does He give us in how to engage our world?

Of course, when asking “Am I Called?”, there are important things for which to wait.

Even when an opportunity presents itself, we still need training, funding, logistics and a plan that will honor local voices. We need to learn what it means to help as part of a community, but not become outsider “white saviors” who may actually harm. We need to make sure we’ve thoughts through risks for our family, gathered some resources for our kids.

But should we also be waiting for an audible answer to our desire to go, serve, and love?

MY OWN “CALLING”

My own experience is somewhere in the middle on this. For years, I’d wanted to do this overseas thing, with or without a husband.

But I received no big magic words, no moment of heavenly insight, no signs, no deep voice in the night calling my name. Just a gradual awakening in my heart to the beauty of entering other communities in an intentional way.

My husband Brad’s story, on the other hand, includes moments of divine clarification, wisdom from above, even, I suppose you could term it, “a calling” to be in Indonesia.

He wanted to be there, too—his own desires part of the equation, too. But once upon a time, he wanted other things, things he had to give up to follow this dream.

CALLING, VERSION 2.0

And when we arrived, living the challenges of this life, we both struggled with other versions of “Am I called?”

Specifically, “why?”

Why do we feel so inadequate for this? Why is it so hard to do something good? Where is God in all the mess of serving? Why don’t we just go home?

I’ve heard, too, people (back in our passport nation) say they could never do this. This overseas thing. This work. This killing-of-shrews, power-outages, pregnancies-in-tropical-heat, far-away-from-family thing.

Amen to that. I don’t think I can do it either.

I’ve seen, too, the passions—you could even call them “callings”–without the “going overseas.”  I cyber-met a woman this week who lives in the States, but started a nonprofit to help fund care for vulnerable children Indonesia.

She’s never been here. She’s a busy mom. But she’s doing what she can to answer that tug in her heart to do more. And her dedication to a people she’s never met…amazes me.

Though she isn’t “going anywhere,” she is definitely going places.

Am I “Called”?

So, what about you? Do you feel “called?”

Do you wish you were “called,” and feel like you aren’t? Maybe you feel like you missed it, maybe weren’t listening close enough. Do you think someone else more capable should have been “called” to your life?

Or maybe you think the answer to “Am I called?” came years ago. You’re sure you fulfilled your calling, to motherhood, to overseas work, to your job, years ago. And now you feel like you have nothing.

Wherever you are in the world or in your journey or with your questions, may you know there’s room in God’s invitation for us all.

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Living in a Muslim country: How it changes me as a woman

Reading Time: 6 minutes

blend in anonymous sunglasses

I didn’t know exactly how living in a Muslim country would change me.

I thought it would change how I see the world.  It would impact how I understood people, I guessed.  I hoped it would give me greater understanding for others, their perspectives.

What I didn’t know, or even imagine, is that living in a Muslim country (well, majority-Muslim) would affect how I look at men and myself, literally and metaphorically. 

Bye-bye, Handshake

In many Muslim cultures, there is a larger separation between the genders than in typical Western societies.  This means men and women generally do not interact as freely or casually.

Some men and women do not even shake hands with the opposite gender.  This means that what is seen as socially acceptable, socially respectable, tends to be quite different from what I’m used to.  I hail from Texas, a friendly country where everyone smiles and greets each other and hardly anyone is a stranger.  Handshakes were a given and hugs were commonplace.

I didn’t know how challenging it would be to welcome people into my home, cook food for them, talk about life and faith, and then send them off with a nod of the head.  No handshake, no light punch on the shoulder.

And I certainly didn’t know that it would change how I interact with American men as well.  We all want to conduct our interactions in culturally-appropriate ways, so we drop the side-hug and simply wave hello. It feels strange to me.

I didn’t know living in a muslim country would affect how I look at men. literally.

In our Western cultures, eye contact is usually a way we show respect and interest in someone or in what that person is saying.  We make eye contact to greet people, eye contact to talk about life, eye contact to show that we see them.

Eye contact is not used so freely and casually in my current context.  When I am out walking around, I do not make eye contact with men on the street.  In fact, I usually wear big sunglasses to avoid it. 

Even if I stop to buy vegetables from a man I don’t know, I will barely look at him and focus my attention, very business-like, on the vegetables.  I don’t look down at my feet, but I don’t look in his eyes.

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

If my husband knows the man and the man knows us all as a family, I might be a little more relaxed in looking at him when we talk, but I will still use a very businesslike tone.

See, respectable women do not chat it up with men on the streets. 

Same goes for taxi or uber drivers.  They should not be asking my name (more on that later) or asking personal questions.  There is no need to carry on a conversation beyond directions to the exact location, if needed.

Back to eye contact.  I didn’t realize how I would internalize the rules.  How I would struggle when back in Texas to make eye contact with men again.

The Spin Class Story

I can distinctly remember a time when we were back in Texas and I decided to take a spinning class (an indoor bicycle fitness class).  Since it was my first time, the instructor, who was a man about 10 years my senior, helped to adjust my bike while I stood nearby.

As he made polite and very reasonable conversation, I found myself looking down at the bike and giving very short answers.  I wouldn’t look at him.  I was feeling uncomfortable.  Then it dawned on me: No one in that room was going to think I was disrespecting my husband by talking with the instructor in this situation.

This interaction was very normal in this setting and even if I had become chatty about all things bicycles, I still would have appeared normal.  I had to make myself relax.

I noticed these same tendencies many more times during that stay in Texas.  Over the years since that time I have been able to adjust a little better.  This often takes a little bit of conscious effort to recognize where I am and to let myself be a little bit Texan.

How Living in a Muslim Country Affects How I Feel about…Myself

I didn’t know how living in a Muslim country–in a culture that is very conservative–would impact how I felt in my own skin.

I tend to stand out among the crowd on the street.  My looks aren’t Middle Eastern.  I look like a foreign woman and foreign women have a reputation for having loose morals.

This means that I’m often working against the question of “Is she like what we see in movies?  Is she a desperate housewife, too?” 

Even as the clothing styles are changing here–going back to knee-length skirts in some areas, sport leggings, sleeveless tops–I’m careful about how and where I participate in fashion trends.  I already stand out and I don’t desire more attention.

I didn’t know how observant I would become about what other women wear…and about how the West looks from here. 

I’m very uncomfortable when I see tourist women wearing clothing that is not conservative.  I am uncomfortable for them, recognizing they don’t know the message they are sending.

Watching American movies and TV shows, I think, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want my daughter to grow up in the West if this is really a completely accurate picture.”

I see the casual sex, the friends with benefits, the revealing clothing, and I know that for people who don’t know America, they don’t know that some of that is just Hollywood.  Not all college students are crazy drunks who party and sleep around.  Not all housewives are looking for a fling on the side.

It’s worth noting here that just as not all Americans hold loose morals, not all Arabs are terrorists and not all Arabs are Muslim and not all people living in the Middle East are Arabs.  Let us not fall into the trap of stereotyping, either.

What’s in a Name

I didn’t know that I would sometimes struggle with my own name. In this culture, a woman does not give out her first name. 

I have a Middle Eastern friend who has lived in the same building all her life and the doorman there does not know her first name.  He simply calls her “Engineer” now that she is an engineer.  The produce man calls me by my husband’s name.  Yes, that’s correct, he calls me by a man’s first name.

It’s a little awkward at first.

Taxi drivers should not ask for my name, shopkeepers should not ask for my name.  But they do sometimes, because they try to push the boundaries of propriety and respect with me because I’m foreign and might be ok with it.  I always reply, “My husband’s name is…”.

And then there’s Starbucks (or any other chain coffeeshop) and I get confused at what name I should have on my cup.  My name?  My husband’s name?  When did this become the difficult part about ordering?!

(In actuality, it’s fine for me to use my first name at these venues that are very Western.  It has been interesting, however, to see how I stop for a moment and wonder what to say for my name.)

LIVING IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY: Why Following Their Cultural Rules Matters to Me

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

I didn’t know about these aspects of change and adjustment that I would experience living in a Muslim country.  As I live this life out, as I live my life in a way that loves my neighbors and loves the God who loves them enough to send His own Son as a sacrifice, I am willing to adjust and adapt, to be mindful and to change.

Sometimes those adjustments are difficult. They cause me to look inside at how I see myself and how I see others. 

All of these cause me to look to God and ask Him to show me what is good and right, what is important and valuable.  And being reminded to lean on His ways? That’s always a good thing.

 

About the author: Sarah has served overseas for nine years.

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Does Christianity destroy culture?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

christianity destroy culture

Photo credit: IMB.org

Editor’s note: We’re pulling this post from the archives to answer a key recurring question: Does Christianity destroy culture? Are you importing Western culture when you bring the Gospel? We weigh in. 

If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

Gotta admit. At a refugee-center staff retreat, I started as a mild observer. I marveled at the literal full-bodied movement and vocalization: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes.

Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

After a rousing snippet of this kind of worship in staff devotions the week before, I’d told the teachers, this is just a sliver of what the African church offers the world. Every culture has its own strengths, its own vibrant display of the image of God.

And when Jesus comes, I will have watched so many cultures become the truest version of themselves.

Do You Really Need Training to be a Missionary?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

training to be a missionary

Maybe you’ve wondered about the level of importance you should place on training to be a missionary. Is “training” more of a modern or even Western invention? Isn’t the Great Commission something to do whether you’re formally trained or not?

Yes and no. Yes, you can share Jesus without taking a class first. But remember–even Jesus’ disciples had spent three years being disciples. The concept of equipping and being trained isn’t foreign to the Bible. 

Unfortunately, a lack of comprehensive training to be a missionary can result in the lack of skills empowering that global worker to stay. It could also mean that in a lack of cross-cultural knowledge, the missionary actually does damage to the Church’s work overseas–driving people away from the Gospel rather than toward it.

(Yes, it’s possible to bungle missions.)

Today, we let Global Frontier Missions take the mic to make their case for intentional preparation for the mission field. 

Did you know most missionaries only last about two years on the field?

Statistics show that proper cross-cultural training to be a missionary greatly increases your chances of being more effective–and staying on the mission field longer.

We are passionate about equipping healthy, long-term disciple-makers–and not just in theology. We feel acutely the need for head knowledge, character qualities, and hands-on skills. It’s critical our missionaries have a sustainable and impactful ministry among the least-reached peoples.

So take a minute to check out the following videos. And catch the vision for why training can prepare you for the mission field to which God’s calling you!

TRAINING TO BE A MISSIONARY: THE PRACTICAL ANGLE

Almost every profession requires classroom and on-the-job training. Why not cross-cultural ministry?

 

Mission Prep: Holistic

Yes, here in the West, we often emphasize head knowledge as the all-important piece in education. But how effective is that actually in preparing someone to be a missionary?

 

MISSIONS PREp: THE BIBLICAL ANGLE

If we take a look at the Bible, we see many examples of God’s people going through seasons of preparation and waiting. It’s not an optional appendix in the story of God’s people. Preparation and waiting are a necessary chapter we all walk through.

 

training to be a missionary: the Strategic side of things

We may be quick to applaud the individuals full of passion and energy that head to the mission field, but what’s really needed are faithful, steady, consistent laborers that are in it for the long haul.

 

Wondering where to go from here?

Editor’s note: So maybe we’ve sold you on the need for thoughtful, strategic training before you head overseas. Wondering what to do with that conviction?

As you search for missions agencies, evaluate your potential agency’s priority and methods for training. How holistic does that training appear? (See Choosing an Emotionally Healthy Missions Organization.) Some agencies use outside organizations, like Mission Training International or Studio. Some conduct their own training (or a hybrid of both) to address the onfield needs they anticipate.

Or you might consider experiences that offer fully interactive training to be a missionary while helping you discern God’s direction. We’ve got a healthy handful on our Hands-On Training tab here on Go. Serve. Love.

The field awaits. Are you ready?

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A Missionary Budget: What Costs Does it Include?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

missionary budget

Wondering what goes into a missionary budget (which, when you’re raising support, can feel overwhelming)? We let you peek behind the curtain with some opinions of other global workers.

“A missionary Budget may cover all the costs of sending the missionary, not just what YOU need to live.”

A missionary budget may include all the expenses of fielding the missionary. Besides a salary, budget categories might include

  • taxes
  • health and life insurance
  • retirement
  • travel expenses (including cost of home assignments)
  • administrative expenses (including the costs of communicating with supporters, and often a certain percentage that supports the mission agency’s home office)
  • training costs (e.g. language school)
  • purchase or rental of property
  • purchase and maintenance of a vehicle.

It’s also wise to include some kind of surplus account, or perhaps a 5% buffer built right into the budget in anticipation of

  • lost support, cost of living increases
  • changing exchange rates
  • inflation
  • an emergency fund and/or insurance that covers medical evacuation

All this can add up to a daunting amount.

But trust me: Cutting corners is not worth the savings.

Being well prepared will help you and your family avoid some of the stress of arriving on the field and not having what you need. 

Most mission agencies include some kind of “admin fee.” What these fees cover varies considerably. A high admin fee may include some of the expenses listed above. A low one may suggest these items are listed elsewhere in your budget.

Editor’s note: If you’re considering going without a sending agency (and budgeting is one of your reasons), be sure to check out our series on the pros and cons.

It’s tempting to cut out things like contingency and retirement funds, but if missions is your career, you may regret neglecting such things.

Online resources you may find helpful: sample missionary budgets, basic budgeting forms, and How Much Is Enough?

Answer from Marti, who’s served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.

“If married, both should get a salary.”

A missionary candidate recently asked me if I thought it was better for a married couple to both be counted as legal employees. Should just the serving member of the couple be paid, to simplify payroll even if both are working as missionaries?

Our organization issues W-2’s to my wife and I with half of our total income per year. I think it’s more respectful of our partnership to do it that way and honor my spouse’s major contributions to the work. That was our original reason.

We’ve discovered strong financial reasons along the way too.

When you are negotiating your budget with your agency and others, it’s to your advantage to present the full force of your contribution i.e. two full-time workers. Although people might remember there are two of us, it is to your financial advantage to remind them of the income you both are earning together.

Many missionaries, even if they start under the traditional model of only one marriage partner as the breadwinner, evolve eventually to give both spouses a significant responsibility in the work. There can be a tendency for some to forget that you are working not just 40 hours but 80+ hours as two workers.

Employing both partners accrues Social Security credits for that partner, too. I’m not sure, but I believe this means she’d have higher income in retirement than if she wasn’t an official employee.

Consider, too, that liability insurance and taxation “safe harbor laws” (allowing return to your home state for a number of days without being taxed) likely don’t extend to a non-employee legally.

Answer from Sam in Taiwan, who has served with Beyond and Joni and Friends for well over a decade.

“your MISSIONARY budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.”

Raising an amount so much higher than a salary may surprise you. Why’s this necessary? You may be raising the actual costs it takes a business to employ a person (which can be an additional 100-180% of a salary)–plus costs intrinsic to being a successful global worker. 

These expenses may include costs like

  • overhead for project costs for your ministry. For example, if you hope to run a supply distribution for at-risk children, you may be raising costs to maintain that programming. The more independent your project is from your sending organization, the more likely you may need to raise those project costs.
  • travel expenses.
  • your computer, software, internet, desk, chair, phone, office space, etc. Some agencies don’t already provide these.
  • member care. These costs cover critical mental and emotional support for the challenges of living cross-culturally and more challenging circumstances. There are a vital component to your longevity, and should be factored into your budget (or your organization’s).

Editor’s note: When considering what to relate to potential financial supporters about your own budget, see this post, “RAISING SUPPORT: 2 COMMANDMENTS OF SHARING BUDGET NEEDS”. Sometimes missionary budgets are difficult for non-missionaries to understand without passing undue judgment.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR A MISSIONARY BUDGET

Obviously, lower administrative fees in a missionary budget help reduce your overall budget. But typically, more moderate to high admin fees include more benefits and services that help keep you going on the mission field.

Other thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Different sending organizations have very different philosophies of budget-setting (ranging from frugal to robust, job-based or needs-based). They also have varying levels of control over budget-setting.
  • Ask your organization about categories or aspects of a budget you don’t understand.
  • Keep in mind that the amount may seem overwhelming when you’re raising a high support goal. But your budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.
  • It’s also far easier to raise support before your first departure–and much harder to raise from the field and even during travel back to your passport culture. So go well-funded from the start!

Answer from John, the Human Resources director for Engineering Ministries’ International’s offices around the world.

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This Mission is His: Timothy’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

this mission is his

photo credit: IMB.org

Go. Serve. Love is happy to welcome Timothy, a student with Fusion, the dynamic missions program at Spurgeon College in Kansas City, Missouri. 

The sun beat down on the back of my neck as I struggled to will each step forward.

I looked up to see our guide Mamoudou (Mah-mu-doo) just ahead of me. Our group had been walking for what seemed like miles down a long, dusty road, greeted only by the occasional motorcyclist. It was already well over a hundred degrees, even though it had not yet reached midday–and I was low on water and motivation.

A Muslim shepherd had asked us to teach in a nearby settlement of nomadic Fulani shepherds. We excitedly accepted the invitation, but I secretly doubted anything would come of it.

Finally, Mamoudou pointed across the fields to a cluster of huts.

As we approached, two children emerged, wearing traditional braids, coins, and vibrant garb. Seeing our strange group, they quickly disappeared shouting.

Moments later, two women approached us, hesitatingly greeting us and asking questions. Mamoudou explained that we had been invited by the old Fulani shepherd.

But our joy quickly faded as we learned that the shepherd was not home; we had just missed him. Discouraged and exhausted, we asked if we could briefly rest in the shade before heading back to our village. It felt like a wasted day, and we didn’t have very many left in Africa.

As we rested, several curious children stood at a distance to watch us. Soon they were joined by herdsmen who had come in from the fields. Before long, a crowd of nearly thirty Fulani were standing around us, awkwardly observing.

“Trust and Obey” Looks Like This

Seeing an opportunity, Mamoudou pulled out the picture book that we used to tell the story from creation to Christ. As we started to teach, more gathered to listen.

We told about the Creator and his perfect design for the world, we told them about our sin which separates us from him, we told them about the Savior who died and rose again, and we told them about the imminent return of the Lord to judge all the earth according to his righteousness.

When we finished, the shepherds eagerly invited us to come back. We joyfully set out, exulting in the goodness of God!

After all, this mission is His.

Mamoudou told us this was the first time these shepherds had ever heard about Jesus. We rejoiced even more knowing that we were fulfilling the command to preach the gospel to all creation (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).

Two years have passed since that visit, but I still think back on it often. I learned two lessons that I won’t easily forget.

1. THIS MISSION IS HIS. Followers are called to obey, regardless of the outcome.

The Fusion creed, a concise statement about the life of a believer, declares,

As a follower of Christ, I am called not to comfort or success but to obedience.

When I woke up that morning, walking out to the Fulani settlement was the last thing I wanted to do. And after learning that we had missed the old shepherd, I was quick to label our morning a failure.

But I am called not to comfort or success, but to obedience. And this mission is His.

And Christ commands us as followers, with no exemptions, to

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Obeying this command is rarely comfortable or successful by the world’s standards, but we who proclaim Christ as Lord are called to obey nonetheless.

2. THIS MISSION IS HIS. Followers are called to trust, regardless of the circumstances.

Jesus bookends the Great Commission with two statements in Matthew 28.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]

… Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Despite difficult circumstances, followers of Christ trust in him, knowing that the mission belongs to him.

My teammates and I never imagined so many would hear the gospel for the first time. In my discouragement, I failed to understand that our day was not wasted.

I did not consider that the One who created all things, who knows the name of every Fulani shepherd, and who cares for them far more than I ever could, had a much better plan in store.

The aim of missions is to glorify God. But it’s easy to lose this vision when we make things about us.

We experience the true joy of being gospel witnesses when we trust and obey Him, regardless of the outcome or expense. May our hearts be humbled to understand our smallness, may our minds confidently trust in our Father, and may our feet be quick to obey him.

This mission is his–and he is Lord.

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“What keeps you going?” The successes we remember

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what keeps you going

Photo: IMB.org

One morning in Guatemala, I walked into our office and found sitting around the table the regional leadership of a group of churches we were working with. They were visiting politely with Melvin, a national pastor we worked with.

I greeted them and visited a moment and then excused myself and made my way to my office.

Of course I was curious what was happening. Still, I said nothing until they had left.

Why were they there? Why were they meeting with Melvin? What were they discussing? (That was only my beginning list.)

When Nothing’s Making Sense

Allow me to pause and ask: What keeps you going when nothing else is making sense?

When you live and work in a country and a culture you didn’t grow up in, but have adopted? When everything is hard to understand? When you aren’t sure you are communicating? When the cost/benefit ratio of missions feels fuzzy or downright disappointing?

Missionaries wrestle with that question somewhat regularly. I wrestle with that regularly.

The Background Story

I found out more of the story after the regional leaders left. But you need the background to the story to understand his answer–and understand what keeps me going.

Our small team had been working with these rural pastors and lay leaders for a couple of years, attempting to bring them resources and training that would help them serve their people and teach their congregations to walk as Jesus would want them to walk.

Periodically in this ministry, we welcomed groups of youth and adults who came down from supporting churches in the U.S. to spend a week. It took a lot of thinking and planning to create a situation which we felt would be a blessing to the churches we worked with and to the group coming down.

so here’s the plan

The groups completed work projects for four hours each morning, then showed the JESUS film each evening in a meadow in a location where our churches were trying to plant a Bible study or home church.

The churches were moderately interested: Maybe it would be worth doing. The JESUS film project offered the use of one of their staffers, along with a projector and screen. We took care of him and covered his costs; he showed the JESUS film in the crowds’ Mayan language and preached a short message and gave an invitation in that same local language. And it multiplied the churches’ reach at no cost to them!

Our group of American gringos, frankly, were the bait to draw a crowd.

Each night we had a good turnout. Some people walked three miles to attend. They seemed interested and somewhat responsive. The church elders stood around watching the crowd and conversing with those who came.

We completed the same routine for four nights in different locations. Then, the group headed home.

The idea: Church leaders would try to follow up with the people they saw at the film-showing over the next 10 days, visiting them in their fields or homes.

Two weeks later we repeated the process with a second national church group and four more locations, showing the JESUS film in a language none of us knew.

“Was it worth it?”

And then we all went home and I asked “Was it worth it?”

I wanted it to be worth the month we had spent with those two groups helping them see what we did there in the mountains. I wanted it to be worth it for both the wide-eyed group from Texas and the collection of churches we had tried to serve.

And then about a month later I walked into the office and some of those same church leaders were there.

I’d had no idea they were coming. But they seemed to have a good meeting.

It turns out they had indeed followed up with the people who they had seen at the showings of the Jesus film. And at each location they’d added 3 or 4 families to the Bible studies or home churches they were trying to start!

They had come to visit with my national teammate, Melvin, to find out how they could arrange to do the same thing all year long on their own.

What Keeps YOU Going

Yes, that made my day. That’s what keeps me going; it’s why I came. So what if they hadn’t talked to me about it?

Their question verified that the new untried evangelism event we had put together actually helped them. It apparently had turned out to be more productive than any “outreach program” they had tried.

We’d ensured all costs of the group would be covered–and the churches had experienced a new tool for growing their churches. And now they wanted to make it their own!

God had obviously showed up. Now, decades later, it’s an event I hang my hat on after all the mysteries of missions: Is what I’m doing working? Are there results to show from all I’m giving up?

(Wondering about what measuring stick to use for success–and what should be the kind of thing that keeps you going? A Life Overseas’ blog offers three criteria.)

When you get to see results that clearly, it keeps you going for a good long while. It did for me!

And even today when I think back over that and other events, unique though each one was, it is a constant encouragement. God calls us to serve him and others, and he is the one who creatively weaves the threads of ministry to produce what he calls success.

It’s well worth remembering those times when you got to see his fingers weaving success into what he’s called you to do.

Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.

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