Can I become a missionary even though I’ve made a ton of mistakes in life?


Be encouraged! It’s only by the grace of God that any of us are in one piece. One of the messages of a missionary is, “if God can heal me, he can heal you as well.” Your difficulties can make you more real and understanding and can help you relate to those who are suffering.

Beware: going to a different country must not be a means of hiding from your problems at home. If left unresolved, these problems will haunt you in missions. Being immersed in a new culture and new language is stressful enough, and just as a dike holds back a flood, powerful stresses highlight breaking points that seemed insignificant before the waters started rising. If your relationship with your parents is not healthy, for example, you could easily find yourself in trouble overseas. 

God has always chosen to use broken people to do his work. Your humility is a crucial step to being used by God. As long as you are submissive to the Holy Spirit, there is nothing to stop you. I would suggest you find a mentor who can help you deal with some of these issues and who can force you to be honest.

Answer from Jack Voelkel, former 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.

Mistakes can equal “experience”, if learned from

How did the people around you get their experience? By doing things. And often, doing things imperfectly. Maybe you didn’t see their mistakes, but they were there. 

In response to a question about his many failed experiments, Edison once said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Notice the perspective. Take the time to ask “Why did that happen?” or “How could I have done that better?” And don’t be afraid to ask others the same. You can learn as much through analyzing an experience as you can by walking through the experience. That is why journaling is so beneficial.

AAM Editorial Team

“God uses fallible people!”

I thought that people had to belong to the Christian faith “hall of fame” to become a missionary. Missionaries had to be people of exceptional quality and show no weaknesses. Because so few people were involved in missions in my local city, I came to the conclusion that we first need to sort out our problems at home before we should think of the world. All around me I saw needs. I became very introspective and inward-looking. 

I had studied at a Bible night school for four years and was very involved in my local church and was one of the youth leaders of about 250 young people. I became an itinerant preacher within the city and felt I was doing my bit for God. Besides, I had just started working and was beginning to earn fairly good money. Having money in my pocket gave me a great sense of security. It meant that I didn’t need to be dependent upon anyone else.

The day after writing my final exam at the University of South Africa. Praying through the book Operation World, I recall praying for a particular country. One of the prayer points was to ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers. I remember clearly that when I prayed that prayer, I was challenged personally to be part of the answer. All of the excuses that I had up to that point came into question.

A key event

About that time a mission ship visited Cape Town. I attended a youth leaders conference on board and to my surprise all of my ideas about the kind of people who get involved in missions were blown away. I saw young people who were as fallible as I am but who had the zeal to know and serve the Lord. I kept thinking, “If they can do it, then so can I.” 

I remember sharing my vision to join missions with the leaders of my local church. Although this was something foreign to them, they could see how seriously I viewed this call on my life. As I took time to walk through the process with them, they became convinced of the missionary call upon the local church as well. Even though my family and community were quite poor and despite all the financial challenges that faced the church, they agreed to support me. 

Answer from Peter, from South Africa.

Excerpted from the book Scaling the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles to Missions Involvement, by Kathy Hicks of Operation Mobilization.

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