“Ask God for his specific plan for you.”
Satan has always tried to bring a wedge between those in the mission world who strongly emphasize on-the-job training and those who advocate academic training. Surely it’s not either/or, but both/and. Some people are gifted in learning as they work in missions, while others find this almost impossible and need the discipline that a good academic environment gives.
Let’s remember that even those who are highly trained professionals can make huge blunders on the mission field. Because we tend to overreact to a mistake (I know I have), we all too quickly communicate that the mistake would not have happened if the person had more training, or more teaching, or better doctrine, or some other oversimplification.
Over the years, thousands who have worked in OM’s short-term program, often for a specific purpose such as working in the engine room on a ship, have later ended up in Bible college or something similar to further prepare for a different ministry. Surely, God leads different people in different ways, just as he uses people in different ways.
“Persevere, study, and look for learning opportunities.”
Remember that the Lord wants to teach us what it means to hear his voice and to help us grow in faith, grace, obedience, and holiness (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 8:29). God wants us to learn to persevere. So don’t be surprised when you encounter difficulty, personal conflict, and even anxiety. In all of these training opportunities the Lord is teaching you to depend on him.
As you learn to persevere, also be faithful to study. Daily read the Bible and pray. If you’re not doing it already, include in your prayer time intercession for non-Christian friends and needy areas of the world. Operation World is an excellent resource for praying for each country of the world. As you read about these countries, ask the Lord to put places or areas of ministry on your heart. Also, read the daily newspaper through mission eyes. Soon you’ll find that certain areas of the world claim greater attention. Research and pray more frequently for those areas.
The following are other learning opportunities:
Take advantage of exposure to mission opportunities through conferences, correspondence with missionaries, and contact with mission agencies.
Read widely. My favorite genre of literature is biographies. Read Ruth Tucker’s book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, which is a collection of short biographies of missionaries throughout history.
Include in your schedule intentional ministry opportunities. In addition to faithfully worshiping in a local congregation, intentionally share the gospel and help new Christians grow in their walk with the Lord.
Seriously consider formal Bible training, either full-time or by correspondence. I strongly recommend the Perspectives course, which is offered through the U.S. Center for World Mission. It will give you a systematic presentation of the biblical theology of mission as well as what’s going on in cross-cultural ministry today.
Answer from Jack Voelkel, 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 Columbia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
“Training develops our spirit and our character.”
The purpose of training is to strengthen weak areas, to improve attitudes, to provide problem-solving skills, and to hasten spiritual and emotional maturation. Training should improve our learning ability, make us more adaptable and flexible, enable us to trust and appreciate others, and above all, deepen our spiritual life.
Answer from Tom Hale, missionary to Nepal.
(Excerpted from the book On Being a Missionary: A Complete Look At What It Takes by Thomas Hale.)
“Look for training that matches giftedness.”
Consider your gifts and desires for the future. Look at lots of options and combinations of options. Gather information on schools that teach the Word and help you grow in your giftedness. Talk with your pastor and those on the mission committee who’ve had experience helping others move toward the mission field. If you already have some missions agencies in mind, ask them what they would suggest.
Consider the different possibilities and lay it all before the Lord and ask him to show you how to proceed. God probably will not show you too far down the road. But he will show you the next step. There is no end to the amount of information available today. It is easy to go into overload with the sheer amount out there. Every step of the process, ask the Lord to help you filter and tell you when enough is enough. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle from a box that contains extra pieces. Only God knows which pieces belong.
Answer from Tim, who has served in Cameroon and the U.S. with Wycliffe Bible Translators for twenty-five years.