I have interviewed way to many perspective missionaries who have next to zero training, tones of zeal and no time before they depart. This is crazy! Usually I end up as the bad guy because I put on the breaks and tell them to postpone their trip. The zero training and zeal we can work with but going to the foreign mission field without proper preparation is just foolish. Obviously, the next question is – how much preparation do I need? Well, I answer that by asking two questions:
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing when you get there?
Where are you going?
What I am looking for in this question is what we call “the cultural gap.” Meaning, how big of a jump is it from that missionaries home culture to the culture they will be ministering in? Are they going from yuppie Orange County to the slums of Nairobi? Or are they going from the suburban neighborhood into the jungles of Papua New Guinea? Obviously, if the answer is “yes” then we know that the cultural jump is going to be HUGE and require a lot of preparation. But say the missionary candidate is ethnically Mexican American. They grew up in a home in America but everyone spoke Spanish and ate traditional Mexican cuisine. If this person says, “I feel called to Rosarito, Mexico (or any other Latin American Country for that matter) then the cultural gap is not that extensive and the need for a lot of preparation is not as great. However, preparation is still necessary. We will address the Cultural Gap in other articles.
What are you going to do when you get there?
This question is seeking after the practical information. Are you planning on being a Bible translator? Or a church planter? Well, have you taken language courses? Or ever been involved in a church plant? Have you finished Bible College? Or maybe it is something like – I am going to go and set up a children’s ministry in _______ church. But the same question still follows: have you every set up or ran a children’s ministry? Sure there is an aspect of learning on the job but in the context of cross cultural missions you already have a mountain of problems to overcome. So why compound that with your inexperience? Why not take the time and volunteer in your home churches children’s ministry for six months? At least now you will be going with somewhat of an idea of what you are getting into.
Those who refuse to prepare
After doing missionary training/sending for almost 15 years I have reached a point where I will no longer waist time on individuals who are unwilling to prepare. I have made to many mistakes in the past by partnering with stubborn people in hopes that they will change and come to their senses and it always ended up bad. In one case the whole family was ripped apart by divorce simply because they would not heed council and prepare properly before they went to the mission field. So when I speak with an individual who has a plane ticket and is not prepared at all prepared I will share my “peace” and give them the council to not go but will let them know that if they refuse to heed that council I am not willing at all to partner with them. This sounds harsh but my hope is that once they hit rock bottom, which they most likely will, they will come back for council.
How to prepare
Here is a short list with specific thoughts. This is not an exhaustive list but should point you in the right direction and set you on the right path.
- Bible College – personally, I believe that it would be massively beneficial for all of our young adults to take one to four semesters and attend a solid Bible College. At this age most people still have no clue what they want to do with life and taking a few months or a few years to study the Bible and pray is only going to be beneficial. There is such a pressure to go to college right away and get a job and very little actually seeking the Lord and character development. Bible college can help prepare you for secular college where your faith is going to be put to the challenge in just about every class. Also, if you are called to ministry or missions this training will be invaluable.
- Serve in your church – this is the “bread and butter” of all ministry training. You need to be in the spotlight of discipleship in your church. You need to serve, you need to make mistakes, you need to humbly receive correction, you need to experience victories, warfare, failure, etc…
- Connect with your churches missions department. This is where you are going to find specific help in establishing a direction. They will help you understand the hurdles in front of you to get you from where you are now to the mission field. They will help you with visas, fund raising, administration, etc…
- Read – pick up and read every book you can on missions.