This is a question that many people ask, and the only accurate answer is, “it varies.”
There are typically a host of logistical issues to work through. Most missionaries must raise their own support (funds) to cover their personal and ministry needs on the field. This can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on whether you’re single or have a family, where you’ll be serving, what type of ministry you’ll be involved with, etc.
You may also need to obtain some further training in how to learn a language, cross-cultural communications, and a host of other topics that may be relevant to your ministry and your host country environment. If you’re going to a restricted access country, you may need to connect with an existing organization, or start a new one, for the purposes of getting a visa, work permit, or other documents that will allow you to enter and remain in the country.
There are also many factors that may impact your readiness to go. For example, it’s best if you’re sent out by your local church, which should help you confirm your calling to go as well as identify any growth areas or issues that may or should be addressed before you leave. Most churches are not able to send out and support missionaries on their own, so you may also get connected to a missionary sending agency (Frontiers, Pioneers, YWAM, OM, etc.), which may require or recommend other areas to ensure you’re ready spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and otherwise.
These are not all of the factors involved but should be adequate to help you see how the time between a commitment to go and the actual departure can vary significantly.
Answer from B.J., who served in Central Asia for fifteen years with several agencies, including Frontiers.
“God is not in a hurry.”
To help you know for sure whether you’re called to missions, I recommend taking a missions trip for at least 10-14 days. You’ll know whether you love it or hate it.
Then you need to decide what you have to offer. Will you be a medical missionary, a teacher/preacher of the Word of God, or something else? You need to prepare for what you’ll be doing there.
It can take one to two years to get all the details lined up: leaving your job; selling your home; preparing your family for relocation; and itinerating to raise awareness and develop a financial base.
God is not in a hurry. The better you plan for success, the more success you’ll have. Take the time to prepare properly. Visit the nation you intend to go to on short-term trips while you’re preparing. It can help solidify your vision and keep you in touch with the dream while you’re waiting for it to manifest.
Answer from Diana in Ukraine, who has been a missionary for twenty-two years.
“In his time.”
How long it takes is how long until the Lord may consider you to be ready. Many have a call to go but still have to work through issues. Be ready to go and wait for the Lord to give you the go-ahead. His time is always the best time.
Answer from Rocco, who has served with Integrity Ministries for thirty years.