By Eric Oldenburg, missionary to Ukraine — A lucky few missionaries have just a short time between their decision to commit to cross-cultural service and their arrival in their new country. Most cross-cultural workers experience long stretches of training, waiting and fundraising before heading off to their Great Commission destinations. If you sense the call to missions while you are in college, the wait can be even longer, especially if you have to pay off student debt.
You might struggle to keep your passion for missions alive during those in-between months or years, but your local church can provide many opportunities to feed your passion for missions while you wait to move to the field.
Serve on the missions committee
If your church has been involved in missions for a while, it probably has a missions committee. If so, let your leaders know that you would be willing to serve as a member. There you will be introduced to the sending side of cross-cultural service and the church politics associated with missions (the good and the tricky). Your missions vision will be expanded as you learn about other workers, fields and organizations. I served on the missions committee of our sending church while I was in seminary. By the time I graduated, I knew which mission I wanted to go with based on what I observed while on the committee. (I chose SEND, for all of the reasons listed here, plus for the compassionate way they handled a team conflict.)
Take a trip (or two or three)
Many churches send short-term teams on a regular basis. Consider joining one of these short-term trips as budget and schedule allow. If you have no cross-cultural experience, this trip will give you a glimpse into life in another culture. You will definitely experience the blessings and stresses of mission team dynamics, which can serve as a slice of what it’s like to serve on a long-term team. And God might use the trip to show you where he wants (or doesn’t want) you to serve. A short-term trip to India confirmed that God wanted me to serve in Ukraine, a place that I felt called to — but had started feeling hesitant about due to the long delay between call and deployment.
Connect with the church’s current missionaries
First-hand testimony from the front lines is invaluable. Hearing missionaries tell their story with passion can strengthen your perseverance. Missionaries are often asked to give presentations to large groups of people. But they might welcome the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who wants to get to know them, to hear the stories that don’t make it into the presentations and to ask questions that aren’t limited to 60-second answers. I still remember things I learned about Ukraine when I invited a missionary who hates avocados and refried beans to a Mexican food restaurant for dinner — and I went on to serve alongside that missionary for more than a decade.
The support of your church community will prove invaluable once you’re on the field, but it also can play a key role in developing you as a missionary before you go. Waiting and fundraising can be draining, but getting involved in missions from where you are now can help keep your passion for overseas service alive.
This post originally was published in On Mission, our monthly “travel companion” newsletter for people journeying the path to missions. Each month, you’ll find ideas for finding a quicker route, advice for getting past the rough spots, or encouraging stories that prove that others have successfully traveled this road — and that you can, too. The next On Mission comes out next week. Don’t miss an issue — sign up here!
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Banner photo by Mikito Tateisi