What are some steps commonly overlooked by aspiring missionaries?

“Get experience, do research, raise prayer.”

Preparing spiritually and physically for the work of foreign missions is critical. Many individuals who believe they are called to mission work encounter quite a different picture once they actually arrive in-country. I recommend any individual who feels led to mission work go for a short-term mission trip of one to four weeks first before they make their decision. The work is demanding and living conditions can often be far less then what we know in North America. 

Study to know your area (country) of mission work and its people and culture; many mistakes can be avoided this way. 

Without a prayer and support group, both back home and abroad, you will almost certainly fail. We could never have accomplished what we have without the prayers and support of our partners back home and in country. 

Finally, be sure you fully understand the laws of the country(s) you will serve in, in terms of travel, residence, and employment. It’s often very difficult and expensive once you arrive in-country to accomplish needed paperwork.

Answer from Rev. Marty, who has served with Shekinah International Missions in Central America and Canada.

“Build a support team, even if you don’t ‘have to’.”

 More and more second career and retired people sense God leading them to missions. Many have their own financial resources and feel they can serve without raising support. Both from my personal experience and the experience of others we have gone into missions, I strongly urge people to raise a support team before they go to the field.

From a practical perspective, you will have many expenses and financial needs for the ministry that you don’t anticipate (travel, office supplies, resource materials, etc.). Most sending agencies will help you understand and plan for these needs, but don’t overlook these critical ministry expenses and don’t push your agency to send you before you have adequate support.

My wife and I made the mistake of beginning ministry without developing an adequate partnership team, so we are constantly torn between the demands of our work and the need to raise support. Potential partners will feel a greater urgency to send you to the field than to help you stay on the field, so develop an adequate support base before you begin serving.

From a spiritual perspective, you need the support of a strong team behind you. You are entering the battlefield and need reserves behind you. You may have sufficient income so you don’t need financial support, but people will pray harder and be more committed to your ministry if they support you financially. When people financially support your ministry, you form a bond that grows over the years and you truly become partners in the gospel.

I believe these are divinely appointed relationships that God entrusts to us, his servants. Yes, support raising is hard work and requires us to humble ourselves before the Lord, but you will miss a great blessing if you don’t build a strong partnership team.

Answer from Don, who has served for eight years in the U.S. and China with Leadership Development International and China Outreach Ministries.

“Confirmation, pre-field training, and building a team of partners.”

In our experience of forty years in cross-cultural ministry, three issues are most often overlooked:

1) The confirming call of the church and the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:2-3). It was the confirming call that sent Paul and Barnabas, and that kept Timothy in Ephesus. And it is often the memory of the Church laying on hands and setting them apart for the work of the ministry that keeps many missionaries on the field today.

2) Pre-field training. Every agency has their pre-field orientation, a time to go over policies and procedures. Too few engage in true pre-field training. A one-week trip to Mexico is NOT pre-field training! Assumed, that skills and experience specific to the type of work the person will do on the field have already been mastered, additional pre-field training should include:

    • Principles of cultural adaptation
    • Introduction to language acquisition 
    • Principles of interpersonal relationships
    • Principles of spiritual warfare
    • Enculturating the gospel and teachings of Christ
    • Primary health care
    • Contingency training

3) Partners! Paul commended the Christians in Philippi for being “partners in the gospel” in six areas of care that he asked for, and the six areas of care that every missionary needs today. Member Care is getting more attention today, but the actual building of a team of partners is still a long way from being the norm.

Answer from Neal Pirolo, director of Emmaus Road International, missionary trainer, and author of I Think God Wants Me to Be a Missionary and Serving As Senders. 

“Know the message.”

I would emphasize the need for more training beyond the basics. After we had been “on the field” for several years, the Lord laid on our hearts that my husband should continue his education in missions. He already had studied theology, etc., but we were really needing instruction on how to function more efficiently and effectively in a cross-cultural setting.

From those studies he learned a principle that has been a guiding light to successful ministry overseas: The mission is the vehicle that carries the message; the study of missions is learning how to deliver the message. But, without the message the mission is pointless.

Educate yourself in the how, but also in the what. Otherwise you will be like Ahimaaz in 2 Samuel 18:19-30 who ran faster, but had no message when he arrived.

Answer from Char, who has served for twenty-four years with Foursquare Missions in Korea and as an independent worker in China and Africa.

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