How long should I plan to go: one year, two years, or longer?

“Just take the next step.”

Short-term mission experiences are so common these days that many prospective missionaries and their families, churches, and supporters automatically think “mission trip” when they think of missions. They assume you will come back. They may fear that you won’t. The truth is that many things can impact how long you stay.

It’s not all that uncommon for someone who has been on the field for ten years to admit they came thinking they’d only stay for one, or someone who thought they’d live and die overseas to end up back home pursuing something quite different, often due to unanticipated challenges with health or family. You just can’t know what will happen and how God will guide and provide for you. 

I’d encourage you to think long-term. Some studies suggest that missionaries typically reach their season of greatest fruitfulness when they’ve been on the field for seven years, but the typical missionary serves a shorter time than that. 

Mission service is diverse. If you are going to serve among minority groups in a place like North Africa or East Asia, you may need to learn several languages. If you serve in a war-torn or unstable area, there may be years when you are off the field waiting for a visa or open door to return. So we need people who can stick with it long term. 

On the other hand, most mission agencies also have opportunities where you can serve effectively even if you only stay for a year. English-teaching positions and missionary schools are among those often glad to take people who only plan to come for a year.

In some ways, then, how long should I plan to go is the wrong question. Take your next step, planning to serve God wherever he leads you for the rest of your life, yet recognizing the duration of your ministry in any given local is in God’s hand.

Answer from Marti, who has served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.

“Start with two years.”

Start with two years. Two things you can start to accomplish in this time period: 

Incarnation: Jesus modeled for us how to do ministry and mission. Two years may be long enough to live among a people, develop relationships, and allow them to see and know Christ.

Life transformation: Those that go for two years will develop life-long habits, faith postures, and global paradigms that will affect how they see the world and how they live the rest of their lives in a way that short-term missions cannot. 

Seize the season! Now is the season to go and follow Christ to the least reached. Take the time between jobs or before launching a career to go and help propel their understanding and involvement in their role in God’s global purpose.

Answer from Student Volunteer Movement 2.

“Spend at least two years for language learning.”

If you’re going to the field and need to learn a new language, it would make sense to spend at least two years. Learning a new language is a critical aspect to serving the people of your new country and can take quite a time to be able to discuss the gospel in their native language.

If you are only there for one year, you’ll just be getting comfortable with the language before you leave.

Answer from J.B., who serves in Russia.

“Go for a lifetime.”

If you’re going to commit to reaching the unreached, be a lifer. Missionary pioneer Adoniram Judson said:

“In commencing my remarks, I take you as you are. You are contemplating a missionary life. First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term.

Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them for what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?”

Answer from Mark, who has served three years with Heart of God Ministries.

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