When I was 15, I loved reading missionary biographies. The adventures the missionaries took, the incredible experiences they had and the ways they were used by God inspired me. I wondered if I was called to overseas missions. Though I didn’t know any missionaries personally, our church supported them. Between the pictures on the church wall and the books I read, missions seemed like a glamorous way to live out my faith.
But if you’ve been to visit a full-time missionary or known one in real life, you know their life is anything but glamorous. It’s hard. Their work takes resilience, patience, diligence and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. They struggle in ways their supporters and friends may never completely understand. Their work is beautiful and God-glorifying, but it’s not easy.
This isn’t meant to scare you off if you feel God calling you to missions. It’s a challenge to see this call rightly. Don’t be like I was, glamorizing what seemed like a fun way to see the world. Becoming a missionary starts long before you set foot in another country and, I would argue, has as much to do with how you’re living here and now as it does overseas. If you want to be a missionary, here are four things to consider first.
1. Are you living missionally in your current city?
I call this “picket fence missions.” We are ALL called by God to fulfill the Great Commission, which is to make disciples of all nations. That starts in our own neighborhoods! It starts wherever we live, not just in another country. And if we aren’t doing it here, what makes us think we can do it elsewhere?
I never ended up becoming a missionary in the sense I thought I might. Instead, my community became my mission field. Though I have never traveled to more than one foreign country, my work has reached thousands of girls and women around the globe. This isn’t me; this is God working through me, showing what He can do when we’re willing to live missionally right where we are!
2. Have you talked to full-time missionaries?
Do you know any full-time missionaries? Can you talk to them? Take them out to coffee when they are on leave and find out what it takes to do what they do? Or perhaps you can email them if they are unavailable. Find a connection who can help you talk to someone in the field. Just as with a secular career, it’s wise to gather information from those who’ve gone before you.
3. Have you considered that missions organizations may require you to be debt-free?
This is something many students do not consider, only to be severely disappointed after they graduate college with thousands of dollars in debt. Many major missions organizations require you to be out of debt before you can go overseas with them. If you want to do missions, take this into consideration! If you plan to get a college degree first, figure out how you can do so with minimal debt. It may take longer. You might work more than your peers. You’ll probably have to apply for scholarships all the way through your high school and college educations. God is a provider and if He has called you to this, He will make a way. But it takes work!
4. Is this a call on your heart from God or an emotional decision?
Last but not least, is this calling truly a calling or an emotional response? This is a hard question to answer and one that takes time. I’ve found that most people figure out which one it is as they do the hard preparation before getting into the missionary field. Ask God to show you if this is truly where He’s leading you. Ask Him to open doors and keep your heart pure. Then walk forward with confidence! If the answer is no, He will make it clear.