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?
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.
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?
When I first met the head-turning, nearly-too-good-to-be-true man who would be my husband, there was only one possibly fatal flaw.
He didn’t see himself going overseas.
At that point, I had participated in short-term missions in ten countries, give or take. I’d maxed out my university’s Spanish classes and minored in cross-cultural services. My college activities pointed to my love of cultures and helping the powerless.
Geez, Lord. Couldn’t you make this easier?
Serious questions crossed my mind about whether in marrying the man I respected most on Planet Earth, that I would also be…a sellout.
When “Living Life for God” = Disappointment
Spoiler: I married him. Nearly every day of our married life, I’ve thanked God for this man. (Without him, I may have been World’s Most Insecure Missionary).
But a decade later, “living my life for God” had slid from those mental images of handing rice to refugees, dust in my skirt. Instead, I was drowning in a sea of apple juice with some Goldfish floating on top. The commercial for my life would have looked less Peace Corps, more Bounty paper towels.
I felt confused. Angry. Exhausted.
And the sellout question loomed large, as if a rocking rubber stamp were about to declare me “Life Opportunities Missed.”
A Small Life?
Perhaps if you’ve followed my posts, you know the spoiler: My husband and I ended up spending half a decade in Africa. I felt a technicolor version of alive. (We’re still with the same org.)
But this was not before a tough couple of years when God and I wrestled with whether I’d chosen the best path. When God was growing contentment in me for what I called a “small life”. (Um, despite fierce love and happy sacrifice for my kids and husband. Which I wouldn’t have given up in a bajillion years. Turns out the Gospel matters to them, too).
My heart caught around Kathleen Kelly’s musings in You’ve Got Mail:
Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?
When Making a Difference Gets Out of Order
God has grown me exponentially in understanding the peculiar heroism the Church places on missionaries. He’s taught me no role in the Church is unimportant.
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?….
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 19, 21)
I also had to be taught that part of my own desire to life a “big life for God” was the emphasis on my own life being valuable. I’ve been guilty of, in a sense, using God for my own fulfillment more than I love him for himself.
With more than For
I’ve thought more about this recently for two reasons.
First, I returned from Africa. My sense of co-laboring fell to a much quieter, occasionally indiscernable hum. I lost most of my sexy job titles (Missionary to Africa! Teacher of Refugees!) all over again. (See “Do our Churches Prefer Certain Occupations? Does God?“)
At times, I grew angry that God hadn’t created a more tenable way for us to stay, for making a difference. My identity felt horribly jumbled as I struggled for worth apart from the field.
(This was recognizable, at times, as one who’d lost not just something precious, but perhaps lost an idol, too.)
I’ve also considered this in light of what I’ve read in Skye Jethani’s With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God.
Jethani explores five primary postures in which we relate to God: Life under, over, from, for, and finally with God. He cites God’s vision in both Genesis and Revelation (and throughout the Bible) to reign with humankind: to be loved as he is, rather than us seeking to manipulate or use him.
“In other words,” Jethani writes, “God would cease to be how we acquire our treasure, and he would become our treasure.”
Is “Impact” the Point?
I won’t explore all the postures here. But Jethani reminded me that many of us have been schooled in Life For God more than With God. Jethani quotes Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, following Vischer’s loss of his company.
“God would never call us from greater impact to lesser impact!” [I thought.]
The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail–a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream…The Savior I was following seemed, in hindsight, equal parts Jesus, Ben Franklin, and Henry Ford. My eternal value was rooted in what I could accomplish.
Unfortunately, taken to its fullness, this missionalism, this disordered priority for making a difference, brings us to a place the end justifies any means. Including the loss of our own vital connection to God. Our families. Our marriages.
A great deal of effort is expended in faith communities trying to transform people from younger sons [in the story of the prodigal son] into older sons. But this is a fool’s errand, because what mattered most to the father was neither the younger son’s disobedience nor the older son’s obedience, but having his sons with him.
In fact, Jesus foretells of some making a difference, achieving great things in God’s name.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me… (Matthew 7:22-23, emphasis added)
The Mission is not the End
If we land on the mission field feeling that in some sense we’ve arrived (or perhaps will, after Making a Difference), we will–like the biblical Jacob, always wake up with Leah.
Because the mission itself, or our ability to accomplish it, was never intended to form our sense of worth and fulfillment.
Don’t go overseas with “impact” as your greatest goal. Because missions is not, cannot be, the Great End.
(And by the way, Honey. I would marry you all. Over. Again.)
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families (Harvest House) releases in October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
Your life might be on lockdown in much of the U.S. due to coronavirus. Could this be the perfect time to press into God’s leading in your life? You can spend extra time digging into his Word and watching documentaries and biographies of global outreach workers that have gone before you.
Watching missionary biographies can be a tremendous source of encouragement—and a wealth of knowledge.
I personally find the testimonies of those who paved the way for modern missions both inspiring and challenging. It’s inspiring to consider the hours of prayer that they poured out, the sacrifice of life as they knew it, and their life long commitments to take the name of Jesus to those who had no knowledge of him.
I’ve also found God dealing with my own heart amidst these biographies, revealing and convicting me of things that need light shined on them. He changes me to be more like Jesus, making me a more available vessel for him to work through.
Considering most of your entertainment options are shut down in favor or social distancing, here’s my lineup of great missionary films I’ve watched recently. All of these are available FREE with an Amazon Prime subscription. (Every title is hyperlinked for you to begin as soon as you’re ready!)
The missionary: Hudson taylor, British missionary to China, & founder of China Inland Mission (Cool FAct: His name is also listed in pinyin chinese in wikipedia)
Time: 1 hr. 38 min.
This film offers reflections on the life and principles of Hudson Taylor’s ministry and the continuation of those ideas within missions to the least reached peoples of the earth.
Stories shared come from war-torn Syria, India, and Iraq, with special emphasis on using medicine as an inroad for ministry.
I loved the film’s challenge of viewing crises and chaos as its own unique mission field and the importance of counting the cost, being “all in” with what God asks of us.
Another reminder I love: Jesus is what matters most, abiding with him, worshiping him and spending time with him in prayer are things that will last for eternity. So it makes sense it’s from this place that we minister to others.
This film captures the struggle and the heart of women around the world who have sought out and followed God’s lead for their lives. These ladies are sacrificially loving and bringing hope to the war zone in Congo, the streets of urban America, the bush of Africa, and closed nations around the world.
If you’re looking to be challenged as you consider God’s journey for your own life, this is an inspiring watch!
The gray of February has descended on many of you, and maybe you’re wondering if death-by-fundraising-and-passport-application is a thing.
But in the middle of the grind, we’d love to help you not only follow God, but as the Psalms shout, for your soul to bless God.
For you: verses to fix your mind to.
So stick these babies on the inside of that closet you’re packing, or tuck them in your endless reading stack of books, or lay them beside the bed you’re about to sell. Meditate on and memorize these like the gold they are (see Psalm 19:9-10).
Tether yourself to truth–and remember the eternal, yes-yes-yes whys. Because your feet are beautiful for a reason.
There’s a lot of beautiful mystery in the story of the magi.
I picture camel hooves sponging a desert floor, heavy treasures banging in woven luggage, men wrapped from the sting of the sand.
We’re not told who these “wise men” are or the stories that compelled them to follow a celestial sign, an ancient prophecy.
But in their story, I see a bit of yours.
I wonder what their communities said. These men saddled up, following a star to a place unknown, or made costly (to the point of being weird) personal sacrifices for an unseen king.
Did one of them got sick? Did all of them get tired? Perhaps they wondered about their own sanity and dragging other people with them.
I wonder if there was loss along the way.
I speculate about whether they doubted their interpretation of what they’d read in Scripture, coupled with the alignment of other signs. Would they get there and wish they’d never come?
In hindsight, moments stood out where they were wrong; deceived (say, by an egomaniac king).
Maybe there were moments, when it was all said and done, when they heard of the devastation following their visit and wondered if they could have acted differently, more…wisely.
(Did word of the infanticide ever reach them? Did they realize the ways they’d done things without knowing, and wonder if they’d made the right choice to go?)
Though I’m certainly not justifying infanticide or any other outcomes: We see in the story of the wise men a courageous faith, a persevering journey, so Christ would be worshipped as much as they were able.
So they could bring the finest gifts they could, for honor he deserved.
“We Have Come to Worship Him”
Packing up to head home, none of them was asking, “Was that really worth it?”
Here’s what we do know. They represented the first worship of the Gentiles, with great sacrifice and adoration.
Their obedience and perseverance in a curious journey meant Christ was worshiped as he should be. (Remember John Piper? “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”)
That baby had a way of leaving an impression on people. I think of the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
Because the path to worship this baby changed people. They came away feeling like the lucky dogs.
As you perhaps say some goodbyes this Christmas and wonder about a path and even a possible desert before you, may you take heart. Your act of worship is sacred, beautiful, and endlessly worth what it asks of you.
“Business as Mission (BAM) Takes Away from Ministry.”
Today’s myth traipses after a typical train of thought. If a people group is unreached, then
There’s probably a good reason.
They’re probably hostile. (Let me address this one briefly. Would you believe Muslims displaced to Europe as refugees are coming to Jesus in droves…and reviving European churches in the process? Check out this podcast from Christianity Today.)
I get it–because I get this one all the time: If I go overseas and I’m hammering away at my job, ministry will be the one robbed.
The critical issue, of course, is defining the term “ministry.”
If you mean spending all your “working hours” sharing the gospel or running a church, then yes. Running a Business as Mission (BAM) venture or working a day job for pay cuts into that.
But if you mean spending time developing relationships that allow you to share the gospel? Relationships that demonstrate how God would have us to live our lives as regular peeps?
Then I strenuously disagree.
Ingredients for Sharing Jesus
There are a lot of ways to share Jesus, to display him. But most are more effective when done in the context of an authentic, trusting relationship.
People generally feel more comfortable giving and receiving deep, challenging truth in a solid relationship.
Many pastors I know constantly wrestle the difficulty of sharing the gospel with people who keep them at arm’s length upon learning the pastor is a “professional person of God.” Overcoming that series of traffic cones is a long, slow process.
Traditional missionaries almost always face the same barrier in the least reached communities.
If you are an American with no visible means of support (no job or successful business), there are some good possibilities about your seemingly innocuous presence. You’re probably a government agent, or a missionary there to convert them to your heretical religion.
Unreached people aren’t stupid. They catch on pretty quickly. If you’re not truly working in the marketplace, chances are decent you’re not up to anything good.
And you can’t be trusted.
Someone with a job or viable, successful business doesn’t face this barrier. In fact, that person will usually have multiple opportunities to connect with co-workers, employees, suppliers, customers and neighbors in very natural ways.
M was working with a Muslim community in Asia to help abandoned, “graduated” orphans integrate into society.
Those efforts were effective. So neighbors were curious, but supportive of her endeavors to help the community. They asked her why she worked so hard. She was able to tell them of the compelling love of Jesus.
I’m not bashing full-time traditional church planting by any means. But marketplace missions is effective.
Both M and Don from last week’s post would tell you their opportunities to do “ministry” did not diminish, but rather skyrocketed when they switched over to working in the marketplace of their adopted communities.
We’ve created a FREE self-assessment to help you consider whether marketplace missions (also known as BAM: Business as Mission) could be a good fit for you–and what you could do next.
In light of the 4.13 billion unreached–and the need for the solution of an equal size–MDE is looking for Christians who truly want to be in the workplace, either as employees or entrepreneurs, and who truly want to be intentional about developing authentic relationships.
They’re looking for a few good men (and women) to take both the presence and the message of Jesus to co-workers and neighbors.
Is Business is a back door to missions?
What if we told you it’s a front door?
If you want to share Christ with people overseas or anywhere, where do you start?
You’re hoping to meet people by inviting them for dinner, or getting to know their kids, or hoping your dog licks them in a friendly way on your walk around the neighborhood.
Even as a pastor, you have to create a connection…but then you’ve got the classic pastor problem of a job label. You wonder if people are buttoning up around you (“Oh, shoot! I just swore!”). Or wondering if you’ve got an agenda in creating a relationship with them.
Marketplace missions provides you an automatic connecting point.
CEO of MDEMark Canada recalls from his tenure in Kazakhstan, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not with a school, we’re skeptical of you. Maybe you work for the government. Maybe you’re a spy.”
But if you’re bringing jobs and a service needed by your community?
People’s arms aren’t up blocking you. They’re welcoming you.
Welcome to the front door: Don’s Story
Don moved to Eastern Europe for “missionary”/”church planting” work with the Roma community. But he wasn’t anticipating the 7 or 8 years of not connecting and watching people struggling to feed their families.
So Don decided to go through the “back door”: marketplace missions. He worked with MDE to create a small manufacturing company to provide jobs, to demonstrate how to use biblical principles in the workplace, and to create authentic, natural relationships with Roma.
Through God’s kindness, Don did all that and more. The Roma community leaders welcomed and applauded him for truly helping “their people.” (They weren’t overly excited about his religion, but respected him for the value he was bringing to them.)
His workers earned a more than decent wage, were enrolled in the country’s health and pension system, and learned job skills they could take to other employers.
In addition to seeing God provide materially, they experienced the love and head the message of Jesus through Don. The back door was the only way into this particular house.
Don’t I need to be called to missions?
This myth is pervasive. In fact–despite the 4.3 billion unreached–this myth stops countless believers in everyday jobs from considering a life of intentional disciple-making in the least reached communities of the world.
People often have a fuzzy idea of what “missions” means.
What they know? Missions (insert scary music) is is completed in remote places by “missionaries”. “Missionaries” are full-time pastor types who spend all day evangelizing and doing very church-type things, like Bible study.
So this myth follows naturally that if believers haven’t heard or felt God call them to be missionaries, they should not go to the unreached.
But MDE, for example, believes every believer is called, commanded even, to make disciples, whether they’re in Toledo or Tokyo.
We believe Jesus still weeps when he looks out over lost communities. He desires for them to come to know and follow him.
We need more disciples going to those communities.
So let’s back away from defining “missions” or “missionary” for a bit. Let’s simply ask, Where would God have you make the disciples he has commanded you to make?
There is a desperate need for Christians to go make disciples in thousands of places around the world. So here’s our second ask. (Spoiler alert: It’s a biggie.)
Would you consider going there?
You have to live and work somewhere. Why not in a city where the need for a Christian to do so is overwhelming?
Bonus: You might not need to raise financial support. And you might have a natural route to a visa.
Could you work for Google from Indonesia? Open a coffee shop in Kyrgistan? Teach scuba diving in southern Spain (that one, we’ve already got one person doing). Model and sing in Japan? (That one, too.)
You don’t need to be a missionary.
You simply need to be missional. To offer yourself as an act of worship to our Lord – living your life fully and completely for him.
You should be doing this already.
What if you tried do it somewhere else?
We’ve created a FREE self-assessment to help you consider whether marketplace missions (also known as BAM: Business as Mission) could be a good fit for you–and what you could do next.