What if a sending agency turns me down, or I fail the psychological evaluation?

“Don’t be too discouraged.”

After twenty years overseas, I decided that the repeated psychological evaluations were to make sure I was still crazy enough to live overseas!

On the serious side, we all have learned certain coping mechanisms for living with the ups and downs of life. When you move overseas, some of those “ways of responding” are no longer available or are not “acceptable” in the culture you moved to. Yet due to the cultural differences, you will feel more stress, and thus need to use those coping mechanisms more to deal with the added stresses.

So I say, rejoice that the “evaluation” pointed out something that you can work on to better prepare yourself. Ask questions to better understand what showed up and why it is a problem. And then add some new “tools” to your coping skills bag. Yes, from personal experience I know that some of the evaluative comments you may hear will feel like a kick in the gut, but don’t let that stop you.

Answer from David, who served 20 years with One Challenge in Colombia, Guatemala, and the US and now serves with Mission Data International.

“Understand why agencies turn people down, face up to your weaknesses, and keep looking.”

If you’re rejected by an agency, try to discover the reason or reasons why. Maybe it just isn’t a good fit! Another agency or ministry might be glad to have you. Predicting who will do well and who won’t is far from an exact science. Even the “ideal” candidate has weak spots, while those who seem least-likely-to-succeed may do quite well after all.

Some agencies may throw the net out too wide, promoting opportunities to those who are not suited for them. These agencies may have more applicants than positions. As a result, some applicants must be rejected. If the agency provides salaries without asking field workers to raise their own support, they may not be able to afford to hire all those they would like to send. 

In most cases, if you are invited to submit a full application, and (especially) to attend a candidate orientation program, the agency expects to accept you. If they don’t, they’ll probably be forthright with you enough to tell you why and to recommend areas for growth or other ministries that may be a better fit. Even agencies that say yes may ask you to delay your departure to the field, get some counseling, serve a while in your church, finish your schooling, etc. Acceptance may not mean you’re ready to get on the plane tomorrow! 

The wise agency will also look for ways to protect and care for you as you adjust to the field, working with you to address the challenges and problems that are bound to arise. If you go without an agency or someone else overseeing you, you may miss the red flags that those with more experience could clearly see. It may be fine for you to work without an agency, but probably not until you have more experience under your belt.

Right after college I applied to join the staff of a large ministry organization that didn’t know me well, and they rejected me. I was cautious to try again. The agency I ended up joining gave me the opportunity to serve with them in a six-month project, first. That way I could get to know them and they could get to know me. That was a huge help! At the end of the project, I put in my application to join them full-time. The short-term experience with them helped me know what to expect and to describe it with confidence and accuracy to family, friends, and potential supporters. 

Isobel Kuhn, in her classic autobiography By Searching describes a meeting with the director of the China Inland Mission when she was applying to join them. He told her that one of her confidential references had described her as “proud, disobedient, and likely to be a trouble maker,” traits that could cause great problems on the field. Not deterred but certainly dismayed, she shared this accusation with a friend. She expected him to be indignant and defend her, but instead he said this: 

“Isobel, what surprised me most of all was your attitude in this matter. You sound bitter and resentful. Why, if anyone had said to me, ‘you are proud, disobedient, and a troublemaker,’ I would answer, ‘Amen, brother! And even then you haven’t said the half of it!'” 

Taking these words to heart, Isobel humbled herself, served faithfully where she was, and was eventually sent to the field by the CIM without reservations. 

Note: To understand some of the evaluations used by mission agencies, read What Missionaries Ought to Know about Psychological Testing.

Answer from Marti, an AskaMissionary editor who has twenty years of experience with mission agencies.

“Consider going ‘independently.”

I really wanted to go with a missionary agency. I think I contacted nine of them. Of the five or so that talked with me, none of them thought we were a good match. I didn’t fail any psychological tests, but I never got that far because I had unusual circumstances surrounding my call and we didn’t get much farther than one or two conversations. They were very encouraging but told me sadly that I didn’t fit their “paradigm.” 

However, God had made it very, very clear to me (and even to most of the missionary agencies I talked to) that he was sending me. 

I was grieved by this because I didn’t feel prepared to go by myself. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t have a lot of resources, and really I wanted the training. I wasn’t as worried about financial support, and in fact felt convicted not to gather it (as my husband would be working.)

However, my local church supported me as much as they could. They didn’t “officially” send me as they were only allowed to do that with denominationally approved missionaries. However, the church bought me a few textbooks to study on my own about intercultural ministry, tried to give me some pastoral feedback, prayed over supplies I was taking to the field, and on my last Sunday called me up to pray over me and allowed me to gather email addresses for a prayer support email system in the lobby. This was less support than they gave to official missionaries, but it was very welcome.

Before I left, the reason that God had me going independently hit me like a lightning strike: it was because I wanted it so bad. I was looking for the approval of others to sanction my calling, instead of letting God’s sending be enough for me. I felt like without others, I wouldn’t be capable of doing what he had called for me, instead of having faith that he equips those he calls.

I’ve been in the field less than a year, but more than half a year. And honestly, I feel like I’m just starting. My language skills are nearly absent, I’ve tried learning from online resources but I really need the structure of a class and God hasn’t provided the financial assistance to enroll in one yet. Blessedly, there are a lot of English speaking people here. Culture shock knocked me off my feet. I’ve had a hard time adjusting. I’ve not felt like I have a great witness. I do think an agency would have helped smooth all this over…

But after a rocky start, I do feel very optimistic about the areas of ministry God has opened in front of me recently, in just the last month or so. I’m still not sure how I’m helping people. I just know that God called, and regardless of the agencies, I had to go. I’m here for several more years at least, I think, so the rocky start will probably be overcome. 

Also, I remember many of the missionary agencies said that with long term missions the first year is often just adjustment… and that after I’d been the field for over a year, I should try to connect with an agency again. I’m going to pray about that before I do, but perhaps that was the path God wanted for me.

I have no idea if this is the path God has for you, but I thought I would share. If God says go, then yes, seek the counsel of others… but don’t let their hesitancy to support you drown out the Lord’s voice. Pray. Seek him. Maybe like me you’re using an agency as a crutch and God wants you to take the leap of faith leaning on him alone.

I’m praying for you.

Answer from Pamela, who has served for less than a year in an Asian country.

“Service agencies work well!”

Please consider a service agency, such as World Outreach Ministries in the greater Atlanta area.

As an independent missionary since 1986, I appreciate working through an organization that is not a sending agency but rather a service agency. Certainly a service agency is not for all missionaries, but many find that a sending agency limits them in fully following God’s specific calling. In those cases, a service agency might well fill the bill.

I often chuckle when I read that such evaluations are required by some sending agencies – my question is not what to do when one fails such tests, but rather why one would submit to such a test?

If God has called you, then find a service agency and follow God! That’s what this ol’ missionary thinks!

Answer from Eric, who has served with World Outreach Ministries for twenty-seven years, in Sweden, Russia, Norway, Finland, India, Africa, and the Philippines.

Editor’s note: See the related question, How do I find a service agency?

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