MYTH: Don’t go unless you plan to stay for life.
Maybe you were corn-fed on stories of missionaries who brought their coffins with them, or like Amy Carmichael, said goodbye to their families and homelands for life. Now, we’re pretty sure you’re familiar with FaceTime, Kayak, Marco Polo, and all sorts of amenities shrinking your distance around the world. Your folks and friends may well come to visit you, and your parents won’t be kissing grandbabies goodbye for life.
This ain’t your mama’s mission field.
But maybe you’re wondering if a “call” lasts a lifetime. Reality: Not really. When my family was waiting on a recalcitrant work permit in Uganda, I asked a friend what to do if God made me for this. How could I picture a life elsewhere?
“He made you for this in 2012. If you don’t get the permit, he’s made you for something else in 2013,” she explained matter-of-factly.
Paul’s missionary journeys yanked him all over the ancient world. And Ecclesiastes reminds us there are seasons in our lives. Sometimes our own seasons–a child’s needs, health concerns, political uprisings, personal stability, you name it–may draw us back to our home countries or elsewhere around the globe. Rather than to a people group or task–our secondary callings–our primary calling is always to God’s glory and our wholehearted enjoyment of him.
Allow me an obscure biblical example, if you will. In Luke 11:27-28, a woman cries out to Jesus,
“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In my understanding, she’s giving a shout-out to the woman whose identity got to be wrapped around being Jesus’ mom. As did mothers throughout time and especially in her time period, she sees identity and fulfillment in a role (presumably to a healthy and unhealthy extent).
But Jesus mentions there’s a higher calling: to follow God’s word, whatever it looks like in our lives. It’s more blessed to do God’s will than to even perform, well, the mother of all mothering roles. To have the highest of secondary callings.
More important than our secondary callings and the identity we find in them? Applying God’s will to our lives. Or as Jesus put it, “My will is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
No matter what your zipcode.
MYTH: Don’t plan on going unless you’re a super-Christian.
Truth: You do need to be able to function as a healthy, effective leader (see our self-assessments to help determine if you’re on the right track!). But so often, we cement global workers on pedestals, as if they are the superheroes of the Christian world.
First, all you possible super-Christians, remember what we do for God—our usefulness—is simply not the value statement of our lives. (That, I’ll propose, is an Americanized version of Christianity.) It’s what Jesus did. There are many things, but only one is important. And Mary chose it, not Martha: Enjoying God. Reveling in his acceptance and beauty.
Secondly, all of you afraid you might not make the cut of super-Christian: Remember Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be some of the world’s greatest global workers.
And when people “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Yes, of course get training! (Check out our Hands-On Adventures tab for wicked-cool ideas.) Yes, you’ll need to have a solid relationship with Jesus Christ and already be demonstrating all the qualifications for overseers in Bible passages like Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, & 1 Peter 5:1-4. Yes, you’ll need to be all in and incredibly solid, both in your relationship with God and your willingness to go anywhere he sends.
But perhaps like David or Jeremiah or Mary or Moses, you’ll feel like a normal dude or gal–whose super-ness is strictly supernatural.
MYTH: Plan on leading Bible studies, prayer, service projects, etc. 24/7.
Reality: Overseas, you will still need to buy groceries, go to the bathroom, play with your kids if you have them, sleep for 1/3 of your life, etc. But here’s the catch: In more developing countries, plan on this taking at least three steps longer.
Traffic is crazier. Water needs filtered. You get sick with weird bugs, and spend unexpected amounts of time in said bathroom, or in the doctor’s office. Lines are longer. You can’t get everything at one superstore. And when you do these everyday things, they require herculean amounts of energy because you’re adapting to, and translating, and accommodating them. (Don’t miss this key post, My Story: The 90% You’d Rather Not Hear About.)
And possibly, your host country is more relational, requiring long hours of listening to meandering stories and simply building friendships.
Discipleship around the world is long and often tedious. While prayer-letter stories of unheard-of numbers of people coming to Christ may be inspiring, may I be honest with you? Often those are the one-offs. Very few global workers host arena-sized events or disciple numbers of people in the tens or hundreds. Like you, their successes require a lot of labor and a lot of waiting.
And…as a cautionary tale, you might read this post on five ways missions agencies actually stretch the truth. (Don’t do it.)
Most global workers are involved the long, upward (and uphill) obedience of planting, watering, and eventually, harvesting (and then discipling for months or years after that). And they do it with the everyday-tasks slice of life much bigger than in their home country, because everything takes more time and energy in a cross-cultural context.
The average global worker is likely not hosting prayer meetings at his house every night of the week; he or she may go to their job, come home and have dinner with the family, and hopefully spend some time replenishing before it all starts again. Because we’re not what we do for God. We are not hired hands, but daughters and sons.
Prepare yourself not for a short-term missions sprint, but for a marathon of steady, sacrificial love.
MYTH: I should have the gift of evangelism.
My not-yet-husband once gave me this as a reason we would not likely go overseas. (We eventually spent five and a half years in Africa.)
Reality: The Body of Christ needs all sorts of parts overseas! Administrators. Engineers. Human Resources professionals. Managers. Community developers. Moms, dads, wives, husbands. Doctors. Construction Managers. English teachers.
Many of them are no more evangelistic than Jesus commands of all of us! They’re living their occupations out in a way that makes disciples, much as you likely are in your passport country. (Check out our expanding series on using your career overseas.) Yes, they’re sharing their faith. But shouldn’t all of us?
What if you, like my husband, allowed God to blow the doors off your expectations for global work?
How could your job, gifts, talents, passions, skills, personality, history, and heart be used overseas?
MYTH: I should have a specific calling to somewhere. or something. or some people group.
Reality: Sure, that could happen. And it’s great when it does.
But God can certainly use an availability to go anywhere, do anything, help anyone. Just because you don’t have a plan doesn’t mean he doesn’t! God works this calling in as many different ways as there are people. Some are called to a people group, some to a place, some to a project or mission statement, some to an agency or career, some to accompany a spouse (if you suspect the latter is you, make sure to check out Different Strokes? Marital Differences as You Look Overseas, Part I).
When Peter asked Jesus if John would die the same death as Peter would, Jesus answered, “What is that to you? You follow me!” We know too that we are to run “the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Don’t clothesline your possibilities by coveting others’ clarity. God knows exactly where you’re headed, when, how, and the good works he’s prepared in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).
I should be able to do life in the bush.
Again–the Body of Christ around the world is beautiful and diverse, and all parts are needed. If you think you might just keel over die without running water, don’t let your overseas possibilities spiral down the non-flush toilet just yet.
Urban missions is definitely needed around the world, including countries like Japan, the second-largest unreached nation in the world.
And don’t forget Europe, where 91% of Czech young adults have no religious affiliation, and 59% of young Brits never attend religious services. I promise you there are flush toilets there.
In Africa, I owned a microwave and Oreos (though it did take us a year to get hot-water showers). By the time I left, I could use my Visa in most large businesses.
Of course, all of us would like to proclaim we’d follow God anywhere, and truly follow through. But few of us would volunteer to, say, be put in prison for a couple of decades or live sustainably with eight kids in Siberia. Look at yourself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3), and count the cost before you go (Luke 14:28-33) for what you can truly give God generously, sacrificially, and joyfully.