I've been involved in international missions for most of my life. My parents are missionaries. I grew up on the mission field, and now I’ve been a missionary in Mozambique for the past ten years. I've seen missionaries come and go. Over and over.
A missionary is one who is sent. You may be familiar with the terminology, but the the longer I do missions, the more I've thought about a deeper meaning of a calling. What is my part in the work that God is doing here? What should my focus be? What is my true purpose in being sent? Many have stepped into the role of missionary. Many have succeeded, and yet many have failed. There are many logical justifications to become a missionary, but only one true reason will pull you through: God sent you.
In the beginning, the mission field is a bed of roses, and we dance and lay in it like in a dream world. The new environment is great. The new mission is awesome. You're fired up, pumped up, and ready to conquer the world. However, then the bed of roses begins to disappear. The newness begins to dwindle and fade like a rose after it is cut. There is a point in a missionary's life where he hits a brick wall. All romance is gone. All excitement has waned, and life becomes a drag. The questions become vivid and poignant, "What am I doing here?" "Why did I agree to this?" "What was I thinking?" Doubt and regret become frequent visitors. Maybe I should title this post, “My Confessions” -- but I think these questions all haunt a missionary at one point or another.
The only thing that will make the mission successful is if one can answer the question: Did God send me? If He sent you, you will be able to endure to the end. If He sent you, you will be able to conquer all the emotions that would otherwise destroy you. When you peel away all the superficial reasons you're on the mission field, the core should be God and His mandate for you to go. All other reasons will not sustain you to the end.
I get asked to give advice to new missionaries. (Sometimes I just give it without being asked.) I believe there are three things that will bring success to a missionary and his mandate. The first one I've already mentioned above, He has called you. If God didn't send you, you're actually in disobedience because how can you say you are being sent if He didn't actually send you. Sure, churches send people, missionary organizations send people, and a lot of people obey that because they are trusting their leadership is being led by God. I've been sent here by our home church, but before I accepted their request to move across the Atlantic, I sought God and heard from Him. Not all open doors are God's. One’s calling is the foundation for this endeavor.
The second thing I tell new missionaries is: endure. It's going to be tough; there's going to be blood, sweat, and tears; but don't give up. Keep going and don't let the hardships nor temptations distract you from your call. If God called you to it, He will see you through it. It is at this point that one’s calling is truly tested, and this life is not for the faint of heart. Persevere to the end.
The third thing I tell people is leave when God tells you. I get asked quite often about how long we will be here. I give the same answer I've said since the beginning, "When God tells me to leave, I'll leave." The conviction that I need when being sent, is the same as when I need to leave. We can fall prey to the normalcy of the mission field and get used to life as it happens, slowly becoming inefficient and no longer a missionary but an extended stay visitor. I always go back to the story of Israel in the wilderness. When God (in the form of a cloud) moved, the people moved. When He stopped, they stopped. When God moves, go. When God calls you back, do it. Hear His voice, and be obedient and faithful in what He has asked.
Being a missionary is an awesome privilege and an honor. It's adventurous and exciting. The harvest is great but the laborers are few. The most successful missionaries are those that are always hearing God's voice in everything they do.