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  • “Six early steps from my journey.”

    There can be many possible first steps, depending on your situation, but here are some possibilities. These are the ones that have been important to my journey.

    1. Get out or stay out of debt. It is very hard to launch out overseas when you are trying to repay a mortgage, student loan, or credit cards.

    2. Travel overseas for an exposure visit. Visiting another country firsthand can give you the vision and understanding you need to move forward. Be sure to visit other missionaries while there and get some hands-on experience.

    3. Get trained. There are many excellent training options. Which one suits you depends on what type of work you want to do. It could be a Bible school, seminary, YWAM program, etc.

    4. Get people at home (including your church) on board with your vision. Find someone who can mentor you or serve as a model. Listen to what they have to say.

    5. Learn as much as you can about your focus country or people group and about being a missionary in general. This can include making friends from that place who live in your home country, reading, studying the language, etc. Read books like Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper or The Great Omission by Robertson McQuilkin.

    6. Try to become as healthy as you can and develop healthy habits. These can include the discipline of spending time with God, dealing with past hurts/struggles so that they don’t burden you on the field, etc.

    Answer from Deborah, who has served with Youth With a Mission and OMF International in Norway, Thailand, England, and South Asia for seventeen years.
  • “PHere are some great places to start.”

    First, let me say that everyone’s path is different, so there is not really an exact “right” place to begin. If you are the type of person that strives to get it right, let yourself off the hook with this one. If God wants you somewhere, he will get you there (remember, he whisked Philip from the road to Gaza off to Samaria in the Spirit — now that must have been some trip!)

    Pray about this a lot! I can’t stress this enough. The path from here to there in missions is not usually an easy one. There will be many opportunities to question if you are truly on the right path both before you get on an airplane and after you arrive in a country of service. To the extent possible, you need to be at peace that this is, indeed, what God has planned for you next.

    Talk to your home fellowship (church) leadership. Before you spend lots of time on the internet searching for places to go or agencies to help you get there, use the resources that are right there with you each Sunday. Your church may have all kinds of training and preparation opportunities available for those wanting to serve cross-culturally. Believe me, wherever you end up in the future, you are going to want a strong foundation at home to “go with you” and they will be able to do that best if you begin the journey with them.

    Communicate with current missionaries that you know. People out there doing what you think God is leading you to do will be one of your best resources. How did they get their start? What do they wish that they had known when they were where you are? How would they recommend that you prepare? Most of us know at least one “missionary.” Get them on Skype (or email, Facebook, Facetime etc) and start asking questions and carefully listening to what they have to say. You will be helped. They will love it too.

    Pray for the world. I know, I already said to pray, but the focus of this time is to pray for those who still need to meet Jesus. Often we forget that the most effective tool in our toolbox is prayer. Remember, if anything really is to happen in the kingdom, it will happen because God wills it to happen. Our major part in bringing about God’s will is prayer. Operation World (published by Intervarsity Press) is a great guide to use, but by no means the only resource out there.

    Engage the cultures at your doorstep. In our excitement to follow God to the uttermost we often forget that God has brought the uttermost to our neighborhood. Most places in the US have first generation immigrants living and working there. If you intend to have an impact in some other country with some other culture, what better place to start than to get to know people of other cultures and religions here. How do you find them? My experience is that minority cultures tend to group. That is common of missionaries too, in other cultures. Begin with food. If there is an ethnic community near you there will be a place close by where they can buy food that reminds them of home.

    You may wonder why I didn’t include a short term mission trip. Well, trips cost money, for one thing. None of what I have mentioned above — besides perhaps buying a copy of OW — will cost you a cent. Since there are so many things you can do without needing money, why not start there and let God lead you into the more expensive stuff as those steps become clear?

    If, after you have tried out some of what I have recommended above (and that is not an exhaustive list, by any means), God still has you moving toward cross-cultural work then begin the process of searching out an agency family to partner with.

    Your Great Commission waits. What are you waiting for??

    Answer from Jeff Boesel, Director of Mobilization for One Challenge.
  • “Start by serving in your church.”

    One of the best ways you can prepare for a missions ministry is to be actively involved in ministries through your local church. Not just attendance: involvement. And a level of involvement that makes you accountable to someone in that ministry.

    That way you’re showing what kind of a worker you are, how you get along with co-workers, your responsibility level, responsiveness, and willingness to serve. This does several things. It shows you’re exercising your God-given gifts and skills to serve the body of Christ. It demonstrates your commitment to others in the body. It gives you opportunity to be involved in disciple making. And it allows leaders to observe you and then to be able to give accurate input on your readiness for additional service (including a missions role).

    So if you’re not already involved, I encourage you to thoughtfully examine opportunities that are in line with your interests, gifts, and availability. Be careful not to just take a position because it needs to be filled. Seek out opportunities that you’re gifted for. If you’re not sure of your spiritual gifting, ask for some help on making that discovery. There are many assessment tools available either through your church or, if need be, online.

    If you sense God has a missions role for you in your future, be intentional about making that known to the appropriate leadership in your church. Share with them how you have come to this understanding. Ask for their advice and direction. Clearly communicate any particular interests you have regarding the kind of ministry, locations that interest you, and your best understanding of the timeline.

    It may be that your interests would make a good fit with ministries the church is already involved with. If not, the church leadership may ask you to consider other ideas. In so doing, God can use that input to re-direct your steps or to re-confirm your interests. Either way, you will want to work together in your preparation.

    If your church has a missions program of any kind, get involved in it. If there is a team giving guidance to the missions program, and you are qualified to serve in that way, make yourself available for such a role. Start wherever you can. Volunteer your time. Take responsibility when it’s offered. This will enable you to fully understand the priorities, direction, and philosophy of the missions thrust of your church. It will open your eyes to a wide expanse of opportunity and need. This will also give the missions leadership opportunity to know you and understand your desire to eventually serve in a missions role.

    Answer from Don Parrott, who has served as a mission pastor, missionary, and mobilizer and now with MissionNext. This is excerpted from the MissionNext newsletter, The Bridge.

  • “Trust and wait.”

    We serve a God who knows each heart. As you speak with other missionaries, do not be surprised that his guidance is different for each life. My husband and I were both children when we caught a vision for China. God gave us a heart for China and we knew that someday we would be there. We met about fifteen years later, began a friendship, and later married. But it took another ten years before we arrived in China. Why did it take us so long? I have no idea, but when we went, it was so right!

    Pray each day about your burden for missions. God will speak to you through his Word, through the Holy Spirit in your times of prayer, and through other Christians in your life.

    Answer from Karin, who served as an English teacher in China for five years.
  • ““Wait on God to confirm his direction in multiple ways.”

    We believe that big moves require big confirmations, and God is faithful to provide that. We must have a heart assurance of God’s direction to endure the inherent difficulties and sacrifices that come with missions.

    This process will be more mystical in nature for some than for others. Though a mystical sense of God’s leading in our hearts is desirable, doing something as drastic as becoming a long-term missionary on only a whim or a feeling often produces disastrous results over time.

    Take incremental steps in your inquiries to your church, friends, and mission agencies, trusting God to open or shut doors as he sees fit. Look for specific and obvious answers to prayer concerning your move. Often, circumstances will line up in an unusual and revealing manner, indicating God’s favor toward a specific move.

    In our case we wrote down all the small, circumstantial “miracles” that God did to get us to Spain; for example, the way our house sold. By the time we were in Spain there were twenty such confirmations which we kept on file just in case we ever began to doubt God’s hand in this assignment. This assurance was a source of strength, comfort, and peace. God is good to us, and being a missionary is a great honor well worth any sacrifice for him and worth the time it takes to hear his voice.

    Answer from David Nelson, who served for thirteen years in Spain planting churches with Elim Fellowship.
  • “Wait for God’s peace to fill your heart.”

    I began to look into long-term options for ministry in Russia. Although organizations were eager to have me join, there was a restraint in my heart, and I just knew that this wasn’t what God wanted. I became so confused about God’s will and where he was leading me that I was fed up. Maybe it is at times like this that many people give up on the whole idea of missions. I certainly was very close to that point! I didn’t have a clue what God wanted from me.

    I decided to spend some specific time praying and fasting to discern God’s will. I asked God to speak to me specifically, and at the end of that week, he did. I was just reading through the Bible as I did every evening. As I turned to the next chapter in Judges, the peace of God just filled my heart when I read chapter 18. The situation with the Danite tribe was the same as my situation, and I nearly laughed at how specific God was! I knew that God wanted me to go back to Russia with the same agency. It was clear, and after that I never questioned God’s call. I just took him at His word and went for it.

    I have been in Siberia, Russia, for a couple of years and am really enjoying life here. These past years have been some of the hardest of my life, but I can honestly say that I ‘ve never experienced God like I have during this time. I am looking forward to what he has in store for me this next year!

    Answer from Adele from North Ireland.
  • “Embrace what you’re doing now as God’s preparation.”

    I have found that with a willingness to serve, God often finds wonderful ways to prepare us for the calling that lies ahead. Often, our idea of our calling undergoes modification. Many times the preparation that we went through just out of willingness turns out to be the exact preparation we need.

    Answer from John, director of In His Image Physicians in Missions.

  • “Yes, but go for several months.”

    I know that some people say that a short-term trip is not necessary to confirm God’s direction for you in missions. I would say, however, that they can be helpful. If possible, go for several months, six months to a year if you can.

    Although I guidance to go into missions since my midteens, short-term trips changed my ideas concerning what tasks or roles I should be doing in missions. I actually changed my career direction completely: I did medical training but am doing surveys for future Bible translations.

    Answer from Mike, who served ten years in West Africa and North Africa on a Bible translation team with WEC International.
  • “Perhaps go for the long-term track from the start.”

    If you are reasonably sure God wants you in missions long-term, go for the long-term track right from the start. It will save you in the end and get you on course right away.

    If you’re not sure, but are open to be shown with a heart to follow fully, then a short-term experience in an area of the world in which you have an interest, or to a ministry for which you have a heart is a good approach.

    Answer from Merle, who served for twenty-one years in Ethiopia and Sudan with SIM.
  • “Consider more of a field visit instead of a typical mission trip.”

    A short-term trip can be a valuable way to test the waters and get a sense of what it would be like to be a missionary, but if you have already done a short-term or two, it’s time to think more strategically. Go on a longer trip or one that’s more focused on the kinds of things you see yourself doing.

    Better yet, rather than joining a short-term team with its own itinerary and agenda (and trying to follow your own agenda on the side), consider going by yourself or with your spouse or a good friend and visiting the actual field you’d like to join. If you aren’t sure, try to set up visits to two or three likely ministries and locations so you can compare and get a sense of what the options and obstacles might be.

    That kind of field visit will not hold you back or distract you from preparing to go long-term, but will instead serve as an important step in finding your fit and figuring out what it will take to get there. You’ll have a much better idea of what you’re getting into and can better share that vision with family members, friends, and supporters.

    Many of the teams sent out by the agency I serve with require new applicants to make a field visit before they come long-term. I think it’s a wise policy.

    Answer from Marti, who has served in missions for twenty years, currently with Pioneers.
  • “No. Let God direct you where and how he pleases.”

    Don’t let this worry you. We are all different. Missionary biographies are replete with those who had a lifetime direction to a particular people, such as Hudson Taylor’s call to the Chinese. Others, like C.T. Studd, moved around. Did Paul have direction to a particular culture or geographical location? He went as the Spirit led him.

    My own direction came as a child. I knew God wanted me to be a missionary. I thought it was going to be in Korea, but God shut that door. Through a chain of circumstances, he led me first to Canada, then to Latin America in general and university students in particular. Thirty years in Colombia has made these people very dear to us, but we lived in four different countries and served in many others. He will lay the burdens on our hearts when and how he pleases, as we are open to him.

    God’s basic guidance is to know and serve him. The place is secondary. We served the Lord among students for many years in Colombia, South America. I once asked Eugenio, who worked for several years among indigenous peoples, how he happened into cross-cultural ministry. He replied, “Well, you got us involved in serving the people next to us, then took us to universities where there was no witness, and you never told us when to stop.”

    Answer from Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously, Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Colombia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
  • “Invite God to first match you to a mission agency.”

    Mission statesman Ralph Winter used a sports analogy: what team you’re playing on is more important than the stadium in which you are playing. Let the Lord decide where he wants to place you in his world. Perhaps you have a clear, specific geographic interest, and that will focus your selection of an agency. But for most, God has given gifts and a desire to respond. For example, about half of those who join WEC International don’t begin with a geographic interest, but they know they’re being led into missions and to that agency.

    Some agencies have global opportunities, so you can find a placement anywhere in the world. Other groups have a focused geographic focus such as Greater Europe Mission. The agency name may or may not indicate that focus. For example, Christian Associates International is a ministry that works mainly in Europe.

    Answer from John McVay, mission mobilizer with In His Image International Medical Missions.
  • “Let others match your gifts with the need.”

    I’d always thought missionaries were “called” to a particular country, and I had no tug like that. I talked with a recruiter about my background. When I mentioned my degree in journalism and career in publications, her eyes lit up. She mentioned a communications role in Hungary. I had never had any interest in Hungary. I wasn’t even sure I could find it on the map! But something clicked. I know this could only come from the Lord, because I have never been interested in leaving my friends and family and moving halfway across the world to become a missionary!

    God has led me to a place physically, spiritually, and emotionally where I have to depend on him. My relationship with the Lord has grown stronger and more confident. He always responds to my questions, frustrations, and my occasional willingness to obey with love, assurance, and blessings.

    Answer from Rebecca, who at age thirty-seven, had finally settled in the business world after years of climbing the ladder.
  • “No. Expect a God-given curiosity to be your first step to the nations.”

    Christians in the West have for generations talked about missions mostly in terms of being called to political countries. The Bible, however, tells us to make disciples among all nations, using the Greek term ethne – or ethnic groups. For example, the political country of Sudan has more than 500 distinct ethnic groups. So how does God lead you to a particular group?

    Missiologist Herbert Kane interviewed hundreds of missionaries about their sense of a missionary call to a place or people. He found that what they referred to in hindsight as a call was most often a sequence of curiosity, interest, understanding, assurance, conviction, commitment, and finally, the action of moving out to live among a particular people.

    So instead of waiting and waiting for some kind of traditional “call” to a specific place or people, it makes all kinds of sense to follow your God-given curiosity and interests – and “look among the nations” (Habakkuk 1:5).

    Answer from Bill Stearns, mission mobilizer and author.
  • See also How do I discover the country or people group God is leading me to serve?
    OMF has a great article as well about deciding on a country.

  • “See what a mission pastor and four mission mobilizers say.”

    The GOer Group videos are a free seven-lesson series addressing the major questions and barriers many encounter as they pursue cross-cultural ministry. Each video features insights and advice from experienced people who have either spent time on the mission field or have helped many people to get there. Though speaking to college students, many issues come up for those of all ages.

    In this video, Dick, a mission pastor, along with mission mobilizers Andy, Jessica, Todd, and John, address several questions:

    1. Do students need to be involved in a local church?
    2. What should you do if your church is not supportive of missions?
    3. What should you do if your parents are not supportive of you going overseas?
    4. How do you keep romantic relationships from keeping you from the field?

  • “Try these three things.”

    It is unfortunate to be engaged with a church that does not have a worldwide passion for the lost. That being said, here is what you can do:

    1. PRAY. Oh yeah, pray. NO, PRAY! We do not expect great things from God, anymore, but we need to. Draw a group from the church to pray with you.

    2. Begin ministering to internationals who are living among you in your neighborhood or around the church. There are zillions of ways to reach out to them. Offer conversational or grammatical English classes. The book Internationals Who Live Among Us offers ideas of how to engage with seven different types of internationals living in every community.

    3. Identify those within the church who know a missionary. Develop relationships with these other partners in the gospel. Make sure the missionaries are being well cared-for. The book Serving As Senders~Today will help.

    A gentleman once called me to say that he sensed God’s call to the field, but the church had no interest. I challenged him to take up to two years to generate a passion for missions in his church. He did. They sent his family out. A good nine years of ministry. Came home to be the missions pastor of that church. It is well worth the wait to have a church totally supportive of your mission.

    Answer from Neal Pirolo who has served with Wycliffe/SIL and Emmaus Road International for more than forty years.

  • “I did not know if I would be an effective missionary.”

    One doubt I had was whether or not I would be effective. Though my heart was full of desire to go, my mind was full of doubts as to my ability to make a real difference in the lives of the Albanian people.

    Over the years, my doubts have remained! On one hand I look at the ministries I’ve started and helped others get plugged into and I’m satisfied. But I also realize that whatever good I’ve done, whether it be the number of ministries started, or souls won to Christ, must be viewed in the light of my degree of surrender to Christ. My doubts have served as a thorn so that my sense of accomplishment may not rest on my good works, but on Christ and his righteousness.

    I think our longevity on the field depends on our dependence on God’s grace. Doubts and feelings of inadequacy are necessary for us to remain qualified for the tasks before us.

    Answer from Nathan in Albania, who has served with Christar for more than fifteen years.
  • “I was surprised that it took so long to get there.”

    I was really surprised that the Lord and our mission group waited so long to send us. We pastored a rural congregation for five years, after I served a year in short-term missions while my husband was an assistant pastor. This long period seemed so difficult. We were ready; we though we had so much to give. Bring it on!

    Then we went to Korea. The language, the culture, our ignorance of the country, and our arrogance in thinking we knew all the answers threw us for a loop. We were not as ready as we thought.

    We had needed that time. We were newly married, then with two new babies. We were also dirt poor! God was gracious to only hold us off for those five years when we learned a little on how to lean on him. We learned so much from our brothers and sisters in Korea, and we are better, much better, for it today.

    Answer from Char in South Africa, who has served with Foursquare in Korea, as well as independently in China and Africa for more than twenty-five years.
  • “I did not anticipate friendly fire.”

    When we begin to talk about engaging in kingdom expansion, spiritual attack will come, and often early on our journey it comes as “friendly fire.” By that I mean opposition comes from someone we would not normally expect it from: maybe a family member, a friend, or someone in church or ministry leadership. We are surprised, maybe shocked, and quickly discouraged, feeling this just shouldn’t be!

    Often the attack is in the form of an accusation, coming from people who know us and are believers. This is what can make it so discouraging. We think these people should be for us, then we find them saying things about us that are unkind and usually untrue. Friendly fire. What should we do?

    First, we do what scripture instructs us to do: stand firm. This means we do not quit and run. Nor do we try to attack. We stand firm:

    – Firm in the conviction that we are being obedient to God’s direction in our life;
    – Firm in our faith that God knows exactly what is happening and knows how to protect us;
    – Firm in our commitment to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost;
    – Firm in our understanding that the enemy will flee as we resist him (James 4:7).

    This topic is one of the themes discussed in The Journey Deepens weekend retreats for prospective missionaries.
  • Ask others for answers. Then put their name, role and country below the answer.
    Answer from Hersey, missionary and organization leader from China.
  • I felt God was calling me to serve Him in Cross-cultural mission. However, I hardly know about mission as I just came to faith in Jesus for several months. I continue to pray and seek God for His guidance. God confirmed His calling in my life when I joined my first short-term mission overseas. Short-term mission trip is one of the best ways to hear God’s heart.
    Answer from 郑立, missionary and organization leader from Southeast Asia.
  • When Jim Elliot was considering missions, he didn’t know where to go or what to do. But he did have two ideas. So he started corresponding with one missionary in India and another in Ecuador. In view of the information he received, he made a choice: Ecuador. But before deciding, he first did a lot of thinking and praying. It wasn’t a wild guess but an act of faith in the God who promises to guide.
    Jim used to say, “you can’t steer a parked car.” It makes sense to move in the direction you believe God is leading, trusting him as a faithful shepherd to lead you in paths of righteousness.