By Josh Jellel, SEND IO Asia Communications Coordinator — Andrew Phillips might be you. He heard God calling him to something more in his Christian walk. He heard a missionary couple speak about their life serving God in Japan and felt it. But that nascent, acute sense of purpose, for many people, is accompanied by an equal uncertainty about what to do next.

Andrew’s story is particularly complicated: When he felt the call, he didn’t even know of the church that would ultimately send him, and a pivotal ministry he participated in — SEND International’s D House (“D” for discipleship) in Japan — didn’t exist yet.

How did Andrew successfully navigate an uncharted path through not-yet-existing ministries toward full-time cross-cultural ministry in three short years? Some of the steps he took may help you solve the riddle and navigate your own path toward missionary service.

Step 1: Hear the call? Make a call!

“I immediately began looking for opportunities to minister to Japanese people,” Andrew says. “I messaged a number of mission agencies, including SEND, but the Lord was not opening any doors to go overseas.” So Andrew began searching for a church with cross-cultural ministry opportunities on Google — “Our Lord is the Lord of the Internet.” He found a local church where he could serve as a conversation partner in an English class. Andrew was now connected to mission agencies and a church. Speaking of …

Step 2: Get connected to a church and community

Andrew’s pursuit of his call led him to a church that shared his vision and passion. Being in the right church for him and having a close relationship to it were key:

  • His church provided service opportunities: “I am very blessed to be a part of a church where there are many opportunities to grow and to serve not only in the church but outside it as well.”
  • His church stepped in to support his personal ministry ambitions: “They supported me by being my sending church, a financial and prayer supporter for two short-term mission trips to Japan. Even now they are behind me as I pursue full-time ministry in Japan.”

God also uses our church and community to voice the sought-after confirmation we often desire. “Having only been at my church for a few months, I had no idea if they would agree to be my sending church,” Andrew says. “The Lord made it clear that D House was the next step when the pastor and mission committee agreed not only to send me but to support me financially!”

At D House in Japan, Andrew found next-level Christian community. The D House program stresses discipleship in community — a cohort of believers simultaneously being discipled and discipling others — and Andrew learned a lot during his time there: “I have learned that it is about relationship. It is about sharing, praying with and for, and encouraging one another to be in the Word. [D House leader] John did this almost every morning at the breakfast table. He modeled the importance of asking questions, challenging one another, being a servant, and walking in faith.” But you don’t have to go to Japan to find these kinds of crucial spiritual interactions: They are taking place in vibrant Christian communities and churches all around you. Find them!

Step 3: Embrace opportunity

If you’ve done the above, you will likely discover that opportunities find you. For Andrew, first it was simply his willingness to be a conversational English partner through his church in the U.S. that drew an invitation. “After visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Miyamoto, I was quickly invited to join their Japanese ministry, which consists of the English class and Bible studies,” he says. “This was clearly the Lord’s plan as he was preparing to open the door for me to go to Japan.”

Then came an email from one of SEND’s mobilizers presenting him with an opportunity to follow his passion for Japan to Japan. “As I continued to minister alongside the Miyamotos, I received an email from Ron Hardy at SEND asking if I was still interested in Japan. Ron told me about the D House internship, and I saw it as a great opportunity to see and be a part of the missionary work happening in Japan.” Embracing one opportunity led to another, then another.

Church planting in Japan

Andrew recommends seeking out a short-term mission trip: “In our home countries we only see a glimpse of who God is and what he is doing in the world. On a short-term trip, you will meet Christian brothers and sisters who have a different language and culture than you, yet despite the differences you will see a heart for God just like yours. And the cool thing is that you get to participate!”

Step 4: Discern God’s leading

Each opportunity to work with others is an opportunity for God to work in you. Of his Japan D House experience, Andrew says, “God helped me to serve in ways I had never served before. Not only were the culture and language brand new but so was the ministry. By taking hold of the opportunities presented to me, the Lord taught me that I could work with children.” And that was just the start for Andrew. He has since taught at a vacation Bible school, tutored in inner-city Detroit, provided relief in Flint, Mich., assisted at Life Challenge Christian rehab, been asked to teach K-2 at church, and returned to Japan to disciple high school students.

Reflecting on each new experience allows you to discern exactly what God is equipping you to do next. As Andrew recounted disciple-making in Japan, this processing was evident: “In discipleship we are partnering with God. I cannot make someone want to be a disciple. I learned that if I am faithful in doing what God has called me to do and say, he will use that and work in people’s hearts in ways that only he can.”

Riddle solved?

The good and bad news about the cross-cultural-calling riddle is that there are many right answers. This challenges those who like a clear path toward a goal and comforts those who chafe at one-size-fits-all approaches. Andrew’s solution, however, demonstrates some basic actions that will benefit anyone who is exploring a calling to cross-cultural ministry. Make a call. (Or fill out this quick form to get connected with SEND.) Seek out a like-minded church, and grow in your own discipleship to Christ. Embrace opportunity and short-term service, and let those experiences help you discern God’s leading.

Photos courtesy of D House leader John Edwards.

Be disciples. Make disciples. Let’s do both, together. 

  • D House Asia intern Shanna: Discipleship is ‘worth the initial awkwardness of asking! God has designed us to need other people.’
  • SEND offers resources and stories that illustrate how you can grow in your own discipleship and disciple others, both where you are and around the world. Read more here.
  • Our internship programs, like the D House where Andrew found close community, include both practical outreach and personal growth through discipling relationships. We have D Houses in East Asia, Japan and Spain, plus programs in other countries. Find one that suits your interests.
  • SEND offers more than 200 opportunities to make disciples around the world. Explore them here. 
  • Sign up for On Mission, SEND’s monthly guide for people who want to become missionaries. Subscribe here, and as a welcome gift, you will receive a free download of a world map that highlights today’s unreached people groups. Together, we can bring them Good News. We can’t wait to join you on the journey!