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. read more
Years ago, my husband and I talked about how to help missionary friends on the field in struggles they were working through in a marriage. The couple was fairly new on the field.
It was tough, we acknowledged: A missionary marriage was like a pressure cooker, intensifying whatever flavors were first lobbed in the pot. If basil, you tasted its nuance in the entire dish. If a sweaty gym sock? Well.read more
In my time as a support coach, I have yet to see a ministry worker not make it to the field because they were unable to raise their budget as fully funded missionaries. I’ve seen people not go to the field because they got engaged, accepted a different job, or had medical issues—but it has yet to be money that has kept someone from going to the ministry they felt called to.read more
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
Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”
Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.
I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.
Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.
You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.
(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)
Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.
But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.
I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)
I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.
(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)
I can only tell you what I know.
own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called
This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.
But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.
When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.
During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)
I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.
He said something like,
Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.
And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.
I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.
There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.
It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.
But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.
What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?
Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.
Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.
Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?
Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.
But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)
Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.
This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.
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 to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
I cram more things into the suitcase, carefully wrapping breakable items in shirts and sweaters. Piles of our life slowly disappear into the large box that will zip closed and be wheeled through the airport. The items of our life pushed and squeezed into 10 pieces of luggage: We are leaving tomorrow.
I have trouble carrying the weight of this.
We’ve known the date for 12 weeks and yet it still seemed to surprise us in the end. The rush to buy the last-minute items, to see if we had all that we needed. Did you buy a gift for that person? Do you think we need an extra one of these? The careful planning and eleventh-hour buys all jumble together, pushed and prodded to make space.
Then the backpacks for the plane ride. A change of clothes in each one, in case motion sickness gets the better of us and we end up wearing our lunch. A book to read, a stuffed animal to snuggle, a small snack. Find all the containers of liquid (hand-sanitizer, lotion…) and put them in a ziplock baggie. Yes, you can pack your journal and yes, please pack your headphones.
Leaving: Ready or Not
We are leaving tomorrow and I am ready and I am not. The time has been so sweet, the visit so right.
Yet my life, our life, is somewhere else right now and we long to return there. This would all be much easier if we didn’t have to say goodbye.
A fitful sleep, an incessant alarm, and now we leave today. Find all the small details, the hair bands and playing cards. Make sure to clean up and straighten and organize. Eat a good meal, probably should be vegetables. Pack the toothbrushes in a carry-on. Did you pack the charger?
WHEN LEAVING IS HARD
We’re leaving today. And as long as I only think about leaving, I will be sad. When I think about the going-to, what we are returning to in the place where our life really exists, then I have something to look forward to.
One last photo all together. Then a quick photo of the suitcases, just in case. We ride to the airport and we say again what a great time this was.
Next the suitcases, with all our things and our best-laid plans, are checked away. We are left with our backpacks, literally the packs on our backs, and our toothbrushes, and the hope that it will all turn out alright.
We say a last goodbye. It’s okay to cry, liquid emotion as evidence that this is hard.
The leaving doesn’t get easier. We always miss those we love.
We are going now and now it’s only forward. We wind through the maze and chaos of the security check and empty our pockets, everything x-rayed. Then we find our gate and wait to board, remembering to stretch and use a normal bathroom one last time before the next 10 hours.
When we are in our seats, seatbelts buckled and safety instructions playing, we really know we are leaving.
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.