On a hot evening in spring, our air conditioner had kicked on outside our bedroom window and woke me up in the middle of the night. I wasn’t able to fall back asleep after that, not because of the noise, but because God was calling me and I told him I was willing to be a missionary. That ceiling above me that seemed to repel my prayers over the past months was breaking like the sweat on my forehead. My defenses were falling like my tears—one by one in silent submission.
My wife Angela had known from childhood that she would be a missionary someday. Other missionaries and mentors encouraged us to pursue it, but I had shrugged them off. Now, I was convinced it was time to go. We no sooner pressed into Jesus for direction about what country He wanted us to go to than He gave us a hard turn to navigate. He revealed through a miraculous fulfillment of a vision that we were being prepared to pour our lives into a local church plant. Two of them, actually…but in the United States, not overseas. Saying no to this opportunity would have been disobedience. As we faithfully served in those churches and had some huge victories and brutal disappointments, I still remembered that promise I had made God. I would go if He said “go”. No questions asked.
On the same bed in a different state, nine years later, God woke us both up again. It was a burning burden for Europe. It was like a starting gun went off in our spirits, but we didn’t know which way to run. We went all out and laid it all on the line. As you process God’s call, it may feel like your life is being torn loose from its moorings. For us setting sail into missions was a slow, heavy beginning—yet we carried with those burdens a certainty that could not be revoked. As you read the following paragraphs, I hope you will not just get a glimpse of the process of becoming a missionary, but you’ll see the amazing things that happen inside of you as you respond to His call.
The first thing that no one wants to tell a prospective missionary is this: expect to be hurt.
The first thing that no one wants to tell a prospective missionary is this: expect to be hurt. Your news of an intention to leave your country isn’t always met with enthusiasm by those who matter the most to you. Our kids were in the middle of their middle school years and they weren’t too happy with us when we told them what God had told us. God worked that out in them in the coming months, but the first conversations were not easy. Also, no matter how old you may be, the chances are high that your own parents and relatives will still want to love you in as close a proximity as possible.
Even though we hadn’t made application for world missionary appointment, we had carefully begun the first phases of communication. Part of missionary candidacy and itineration is getting people to confirm, buy into, and support the vision that God has called you to fulfill. Doing that is not hard compared to the people you’ll have to convince first: your family, your friends, and—perhaps most importantly—yourself. I remember those first conversations. What we said was, “We have felt God’s call to missions for a long time and now we feel that His timing is at hand for us to go to Europe and serve.” What our parents heard was this: “We are leaving, flying across an ocean, and taking your grandkids with us. We will only celebrate Christmas with you once every few years”. Work through that tough stuff with patience and understanding for those people in your life who love you but are grieving at the same time.
Wow! That was hard. Are you still on board? Good. Do you still have a realization most of the time that you have no idea what you are doing? Don’t be discouraged. That’s pretty normal for the abnormal process you are in. Here are some steps for pushing through that doubt and fear?
SPEAK IT OUT LOUD. When you verbalize with your mouth something that is deep inside you, something happens. You have to listen to your own words. Realizing that those words have been inspired by The Holy Spirit and hearing your own voice confirm that truth carries with it a power that is hard to contain. You either have to deny or believe what you have spoken. If it is from God, you won’t be able to go back. Careful, now! What I didn’t say is: “Go, and blab it to everyone.” That is bad advice. Instead, do this: speak it to yourself. Does it resonate as being from Jesus and is it fully truthful? If it is, move on in grace.
TELL A LEADER YOU TRUST. Ask God for wisdom in where to start. Ask a missionary or a district leader that you have good relationship with. Move on in the grace and wisdom that God gives you. If it is from God, it will be confirmed and nothing will be able to stop you. Getting support from your leaders in confidence is what you’re needing to fulfill the next steps. You’ll be leaning on them a lot in the future. Start the conversation.
BE WHO GOD CALLED YOU TO BE. You don’t become a missionary by raising money and flying to a foreign country. You do it by being obedient to God. Tell people about Jesus where you live. Get out of your comfort zone. Sell something precious and apply it to your debts. Make a sacrifice. Develop better friendships. There is an old saying: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” While this is not to be taken literally in this sense, (please, don’t start wearing the national garb of the country you want to go to just yet). However, somewhere in the process, we have to make a conscious decision that there is no going back. Are we looking forward to change and starting to get comfortable with wildly varying degrees of being uncomfortable for the rest of our existence if need be? You most likely know what you need to do in order to be free and move on. Jesus can do it if you let Him, but no one is going to come in and do it for you. Set goals and work at them. Be courageous.
BUILD A TEAM OF SUPPORT AROUND YOU BEFORE YOU HAVE TO. You know that missionaries itinerate, raise support, and ask people to pray for them. Even though you may not be released to do that in an official capacity yet, do it in the best way you know how. Pray and ask for prayer every chance you get. Talk to missionaries that are home in the States on furlough. Attend a missionary service.
SUPPORT SOME MISSIONARIES. You’ll never have true breakthrough in your life until you’re willing to lay down your own vision and dreams and desire and give unselfishly. God will grow you in amazing ways when you do what you’re asking others to do.
Most of all, and this cannot be stressed enough: be truthful with God in your prayers. He will always be truthful with you. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He has a lot to say to you and He wants to listen to you too. Are you telling Him everything? Be encouraged that He knows the answer and the way to go.