“I’m going to be a missionary!” you excitedly tell family and friends. You may picture living in a remote village or serving the Lord in a bustling city filled with people from all over the world. Maybe you picture feeling purposeful for the first time as you are finally doing something that matters. But there are some hidden facets to being a missionary that you should consider before you dive in. As you consider entering the mission field, ask the Lord to show you areas of your life that need to be submitted to His control. Take some time to sit quietly with the Lord, asking Him to show you if this is truly the calling He has placed on your life or asking Him to change your heart to better reflect His. Check your heart to see if you find any of the following:
- Romanticizing the Adventure- Missions is still the greatest adventure I have personally been on. I loved my time overseas and would go back tomorrow. But in just the couple years since that time, I have realized that I view my time on the field with rose-colored glasses. Often, we enter into missions all excited about the sacrifices we may be called to make “for the Gospel.” We tell ourselves that even the hard things will be an adventure, and that we are completely ready to be flexible and to go with the flow. We get so excited to serve others and to build relationships. But when the day to day becomes drudgery, or when our expectations aren’t met, we can face disappointment and forget the true reason why we are there. Missions is definitely full of adventure, but maybe not the adventures you pictured. Are you still willing to go if it turns out to not be what you pictured?
- Savior Complex- Do you want to be a missionary just to change everything about the people you are going to serve? This is a tough one to discern, because in many ways, missionaries do go with a desire to see radical life change- we desire to see people come to know Jesus as Savior, which does completely transform their lives! But are you going with the idea that being a Christian somewhere else should look just like it does “back home”? Or do you subconsciously look down on the people you are ministering to for their dress, traditions, or culture? It can be an easy trap to fall into, but one of the most beautiful things about the body of Christ is its diversity. Missionaries need to be able to acknowledge and accept cultural differences, even in the body of Christ, instead of insisting that they know best.
- Zero Cross-cultural Experience- This is something that doesn’t prohibit you from going to the field (how can you get any experience if you never go?), but it is something to consider. Have you ever been around people of different cultures? How do you feel about trying new foods or being in a situation where you don’t know the typical response to something that is being done? How well do you deal with not fitting in? If you have a difficult time being in new places, away from what is familiar, you may find that adjusting to life on the mission field is more difficult or takes longer. The Lord is still completely able to use you, and can truly grow you through these experiences, but it’s important to consider how you would respond beforehand and to ask Him for extra grace in navigating the new or uncomfortable.
- Marriage Issues- If your marriage or family is already struggling, going overseas will not make those problems go away. In most cases, it will exacerbate the problems that exist and possibly introduce new ones. For example, if you and your spouse have difficulty making decisions because of differing priorities, how is that going to impact your ministry time? If your kids struggle with loneliness or fitting in, how will they handle being in a completely unfamiliar environment? These questions must be prayerfully considered before you head for the field.
- Financial Struggles- Since many missionaries raise their support, there are times when finding funding will be difficult. Support may ebb and flow at times. As in all professions, money must be handled carefully. Going to the field without financial support (or without a plan for earning money) is not a wise decision. Yes, you can absolutely trust God to supply your needs, but He also requires you to be a wise steward of what He gives. Think about the amount of debt you have and spend time gaining a realistic picture of what you will need to live on the field. This does not mean you have to be a pauper, but if you cannot control your spending, it can be an impediment to your ministry.
- Unyielded Personality Traits- Not all missionaries have cookie cutter personalities, which is a huge benefit! But there are some personalities that may have a harder time adjusting to life as a missionary. They require extra grace and need the Lord to work in their lives to shape and mold those parts of their personality into what He needs them to be. Two opposite examples come to mind when thinking about this (though there are plenty more!). The first is the people who think they know everything. These people want to do things their way instead of learning from those with more experience. They refuse to consider new ideas and assume that their way is always best. It can be a difficult personality to deal with anywhere, but can be extremely discouraging and frustrating on the mission field as teammates and locals are “run over” by this person’s unwillingness to learn. The second example is the person who cannot handle constant change or ambiguity. Life on the mission field is not always clearly defined. You may be sent to a location and told to start ministry afresh with only a few suggestions on how to begin. Depending on where you go, the language, food, traditions, and living conditions may be the polar opposite of what you know. If your personality struggles to adjust to change, it may take longer for you to be able to begin effectively ministering. In both cases, if you are not continually seeking the Lord and submitting those parts of your personality to His leading, you can hurt your team and the people you are serving.
Although it seems negative, the beautiful thing about this list is that we serve a God Who is continually molding and growing us to make us more like Himself. If you find these areas of struggle in your life, He is still able to use you for His glory; you just need to submit to Him. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV) reminds us, “But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God knows that we are imperfect, but He chooses to use us to make His name known to all nations. May the weaknesses of our hearts provide opportunity for Him to receive more glory as He works in and through us!
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