I was 8 years old when I first wanted to be a missionary.
Sitting in the hard wooden pew, I sat fixated on the pulpit as a missionary couple shared about their ministry in Africa.
My heart beat loud and fast. I wanted that too.
After eating lunch at home, I announced to my family that someday I was going to be a missionary in Africa too. There wasn’t really any discussion about it, I guess it was a bit of a mic drop moment for my parents.
But my heart continued to dream of Africa, of serving the Lord as a missionary overseas. Roughly 16 years later, my feet would land on the scorching tarmac beneath the blazing African sun.
As a youngster, I didn’t have a plan in place. I may have whispered my dreams to my friends and youth leaders over the years and been more interested in books or information about the continent, but the calling seemed pretty distant. Only as a young adult, when my husband and I prayed and sought unified discernment together and from our pastor, did it become a reality.
It’s an exciting dream and a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in the world. But sometimes we get stuck knowing what to do in the meantime, while we wait for the Lord’s timing and the pieces to fall into place as your heart beats with a passion for the unreached.
Here are some practical steps you can take.
Gather your people for prayer.
If you’ve felt this calling, pray. Ask the Lord to lead and guide you as you figure out what it could look like. Scripture teaches that we all have a role in making disciples of the nations, the question becomes what part you will play. Often, when you feel called, your heart is captured by a need and is longing for His glory through time in Scripture.
Talk to your pastor, others who have served overseas, and the brothers and sisters you fellowship with. They can pray alongside you, help discern your calling and share wisdom.
Missionary work overseas can’t bear fruit on its own. This network of people begins a support base for you as you may eventually move toward making preparations. Though our culture promotes independence and individualism, this is contrary to biblical fellowship and missional sending - you might be surprised to discover how difficult it is to rely on others. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church at Antioch after time in prayer and fasting, their hearts submitted to their leaders, stepped onward in obedience. Our rough edges become sanded down, even as we prepare, smoothing postures of humility and dependence in our hearts.
Dig deep into spiritual disciplines.
Regular habits in the Word and in prayer are the lifeline of drawing near to God and delighting in Him. Carrying his torch in the darkness depends on a continuous fuel source for the light to burn, and it’s found in His presence. Like the branch flourishes and bears fruit when nourished by the vine, so too we yield spiritual fruit when we are healthy and in relationship with Him. For we can’t do anything without Him.
“All who would proclaim Christ and his gospel must regularly, obsessively, and joyfully come to the gracious self-revelation of God in Christ if they are to be good missionaries” -Michael Reeves
Discipline doesn’t just happen. You don’t think about working out and find yourself lean and toned the next day - as much as we’d love that to be true. It’s through perseverance in the daily grind. We commune with the Lord and over time gain confidence and deeper relationship by relentlessly pursuing to know Him more, and, by His grace, become more like Him.
Be involved in ministry where you are.
Here’s the thing. If you’re not involved in ministry where you are, how prepared are you to ‘do ministry’ somewhere else? Involvement in your local church is the first place to start - if you’re not already. Ministry, whether near or far, is about relationships. Find places in your church community to serve others, to pray for others, and to share the Gospel wherever you are.
Consider your community and opportunities for cross-cultural ministry where you are, whether it’s through community centre programs or conversational English groups for newcomers. Grow your curiosity of other culture and begin learning how to connect in the initial discomfort of difference.
Challenge for the church today
I'm privileged to serve on the national board for Africa Inland Mission, and what we're seeing broadly is an increase in applicants who haven’t been discipled in their local churches. We’re sending disciples to go and make disciples, but if they haven’t learned how to be one, we discover a discrepancy.
This lack of discipleship is a growing trend among North American churches, leading to confusion about the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. The “State of Theology” survey this year - by Lifeway Research and Ligonier ministries - asked evangelicals about their beliefs on God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, the church, and the Bible. Unfortunately, this survey revealed many hold heretical beliefs (browse the results here), on some topics up to over half!
(So, if you aren’t called overseas, don’t worry, there’s much work to be done here as well!)
Let’s help equip our churches to know and believe rightly about God, that we’re becoming a people who delight in Him and share His Gospel with others. When we discover brothers and sisters in Christ discerning a call to missions, let’s disciple them well so they may obediently follow His leading in their lives and bear lasting fruit for the kingdom.
The body of Christ exists to make His name great, and we each have gifts, abilities and passions to contribute. So, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).