After 30-plus years as a missionary, I have seen the wide and wonderful diversity in the people God calls to be missionaries! And everyone has different expectations about how they will go overseas and what kind of mission agency or “sending structure” they will use.
Some folks are so determined to do things their way, there’s no way they will survive working within a mission agency.
Others are totally committed to doing things as a team and won’t go without a sending agency and a team.
And there’s everything in between.
Determined to do it on your own and in your way? Consider these questions.
How will you receive donations and receipt them with an IRS-approved receipt? How will that money get to you in [insert vast and distant land, possibly without reliable wi-fi] and be exchanged for currency you can use?
What kind of visa will you apply for to stay long term?
Consider trauma-, evacuation-, disaster-, and oh-no-level situations in which a mission agency normally provides support and seasoned, educated protocols.
Who will find you and help your wife bail you out of jail when you disappear one day because you were involved in a traffic accident?
There are countries where, when there is an accident that results in someone being seriously injured, the driver involved is simply taken to jail until the person gets out of the hospital. And “no” you don’t get one free phone call. Sometimes those countries have a special “chauffers’ jail” where you can go instead (if you paid for that policy). These actually feed you and provide you with a blanket.
Are you aware that your passport nation taxes often change when you live overseas a certain number of days a year? Will you have to pay income taxes in the country you go to live in?
Are you planning to make every cultural blunder yourself or will you learn from others you’re connected with?
In light of this…
I need to ask–why re-invent the wheel? There are people who have been there and done it. And you will get much further down the road faster if you benefit from their experience.
Let me be clear: No mission agency will be a perfect match. There will always be things that you just have to live with. Be diligent to search beforehand for a match on the priorities most important to you.
Still not convinced? A number of groups help provide legal coverage and financial services to free you up for ministry.Find them here.
What questions should you ask in choosing a solid mission agency?
Grace Bible Church in Houston offers a thoughtful article (created originally by Christar) with 11 topics to explore regarding your agency–and notably, why they’re so valuable to ask about.
The former Arab World Ministries–which merged into Pioneers–produced this valuable pdf outlining the value of going with an agency and how to choose an agency.
Right questions = seeing beyond the answers
As with any decision involving mutual commitment and working together, asking the right questions will help you get the info you need to make a wise decision. But it also hopefully gives you a feel for the ethos and values of the sending organization you are considering.
Ask questions of the home office staff and also ask questions of the folks who are on the field actually doing the ministry. That will round out your picture. The folks on the field usually will give you more details and be a bit more candid because they live there and know the complete story.
Wishing you the best as you walk this path!
Global veteran David Armstrong. He’s set foot in 15 countries. David confesses Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants.
Each of the 130 new, 4-5 minute videos Prayercast will release is led by a former Muslim who now follows Jesus. These videos are designed to stimulate focused, strategic, passionate prayer in the Church. (Even the header video makes our editor a little teary.)
Female circumcision. Scorn and taboo of the disabled. Stoning. Culturally-accepted rape. Canadian blogger and former pastor Tim Challies speaks of the ways we experience horror in the cultures we serve…and then offers a critical perspective: “In Canada, we murder babies.”
True story. Maybe it feels like everyone you know has one.
If you don’t have one, maybe you wonder what the big deal is. Well, pressure cookers 101 will tell you that under high pressure, things cook a lot faster. Flavors within intensify.
Lest you wonder where I’m going with this: Consider this a bit of a metaphor for going overseas.
Welcome to the pressure cooker.
What Comes Out
Friends and I sat around a meal of stuffed peppers the other night, reminiscing on our time overseas–theirs in North Africa, ours in East Africa. “Being a missionary is just hard,” my friend remarked. “And it’s hard on your marriage.”
And someone else last week actually remarked to me that they thought they knew more unhealthy missionaries than healthy ones (ouch).
It’s good, see, if the flavors in the dish of your life are just the spices you want, in just the right amounts. But if there are unresolved issues in your past or your heart, the bitter or acidic flavors make themselves known, too. That abuse, that destructive relationship with a relative, that tendency to ignore, deny, and avoid? Any one of those can lead to replicating, corrosive patterns in the constant low-level thrum of stress overseas.
What we were once able to conceal or deal with, within the context of modern-day conveniences and cultures we understood and justice systems we trusted? They can tend to reveal themselves as they are when we’re dealing with the battles of daily life there.
A friend of mine and her husband once traveled to Africa to finalize the adoption of their little girl, and at last bring her home. It should last three months, tops, they thought.
It stretched out to nearly a year.
My friends felt convicted that paying bribes contributed to corruption, and corruption was taking Africa under, furthering poverty. (I have to agree with them on that one.) Plus, they decided to expose a corrupt children’s home–which had been funneling money from well-meaning patrons in the U.S. So the director phoned in a few favors in order to make their adoption process a living you-know-what.
I saw her in a craft market one Friday morning. As I sympathized with her, she shrugged. This was what the poor dealt with all the time–and they had no inimitable blue passport, shielding them from some of the more grim realities.
I tell you this because for those of you going to developed countries, the closer you are to the poor, the more you experience their hardship and heartache. Your probability of trauma skyrockets; a healthy percentage of the global workers I’d encountered had been broken into, and we soon joined their ranks.
Though we are undoubtedly safest in the center of God’s will (with a morphing definition of safety!)–we’re simply more likely to experience stressful events overseas. (Don’t miss Rachel Pieh Jones’ brilliant thoughts here in I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger),
Make no mistake: God will triumph through your darkest days overseas. But starting from a place of health, with a number of robust coping mechanisms in place, means you can stay longer and stronger overseas, without the wave of trauma capitulating you as easily.
What we Reproduce
But wait, there’s more!
Remember that when you’re sharing the gospel or even performing tasks of social justice, you’re reproducing your faith DNA. You’re saying in essence what Paul did: Follow me as I follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
It would be stellar if we were all “making disciples” only of the purest version of Jesus Christ. But–similar to the discipleship of parenting–we’re Xeroxing not only our spiritual strengths, but also our weaknesses. Our priorities (or lack thereof) become theirs. Our undetected but errant theology reproduces itself.
No, I’m not saying a church is only as strong as its pastor. The Holy Spirit is so much stronger than our weaknesses, where we know his power is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)! Remember: God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
If you’ve managed to hang in here through all the bad news–I want to extend you a happy reason to pursue healing (possibly with a counselor) before, during, and after you go overseas.
I can’t count those around me who’ve chosen to participate in counseling–some who I’d never thought would go for it. (And if you fear finding the right one, think of counseling a little like dating: It’s okay to shop around a bit so you can find a good “click”–the right fit.) Here’s the awesome benefit: All of their relationships benefit from their emotional health.
Emotional health is one way to conquer its death, this grave within us, and say that it stops here–from the most intimate parts of our soul outward. As Peter Scazzero relates in his (highly-recommended!) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
The great news? Pressure cookers make some of the most nuanced food with complex flavors. God uses stress–aka trials, suffering–to develop endurance, character, hope that never puts us to shame (Romans 5:1-5). So take the time now to invest in your emotional heath, so that any stress you encounter contributes to the beauty of Christ in you.
What new life could be waiting for you on the other side?
Editor’s Note: A few helpful posts for those interested:
A Life Overseas: Ask A Counselor: A Personal Emotional Development Library and Three Dysfunctional Missionary Marriage Patterns