Austin Wesson and Rebekah Bouma met as young missionaries. Tragically, they got married and died on their honeymoon a year ago. And it leaves us with the question, who will take their place?
The number of American missionaries is declining. If you look at the average age of staff in most missions organizations, it is getting older. Young people are not only less interested in becoming missionaries, they also are less equipped with basic life skills.
As a former missionary and as the leader of a missions organization, I’ve had a front row seat to these trends for forty years. During that time, there has been a marked shift in the missions workforce. As more missionaries from China, India and other countries have stepped up, fewer Americans have committed to long-term service.
If you’re prepared to buck this trend and become a missionary, what should you do? Here are a few pointers:
1. Get God’s perspective on missions
The Bible tells us that Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Pray and ask God to show you his heart for the world. Ask him what he wants you to do and ask him to confirm that call. Recognize that it is a wonderful time to become a missionary. There is greater access, greater resources and greater opportunity than ever before. Missionaries just need to fill the appropriate roles and serve under local leadership.
2. Apprentice with a missions agency
Develop relationships with key people on staff both in the home office and overseas. Spend time talking to those who are familiar with the field and team you have targeted. Ask them to help you understand the challenges that they see in that field and in the process of becoming equipped to serve there. Then find a way to spend an extended time (up to six months) in your targeted country. Make lists of all the things you’ll need to be successful if you go long-term.
3. Develop a plan for learning the skills you’ll need
Every missionary needs to understand the cultural gaps they will encounter. It will take time to study the culture and language of your targeted country. Find resources to guide you (see this list). Missionary candidates need to learn to live a more simple life that is in line with the economic realities of those they serve. They need to understand partnership dynamics and language acquisition skills. While getting a seminary education is not essential for many missions agencies, being a learner is.
4. Avoid student debt
If you are a young person thinking about missions, then minimizing debt will be especially important. Too many people who have a call to missions have taken on large debt loads that get in the way of overseas service. While student debt doesn’t preclude serving as a missionary, it makes it more difficult. If you do have a regular monthly debt payment, you should be prepared to cut back on your lifestyle and live more simply.
5. Develop a support team
Meet with your friends and family to bring them into your process and ask them for help before you ask them for money. If you involve them as you seek to pray and confirm God’s call and begin to equip yourself to go, then they will be more likely to invest by becoming a part of your team. Even if you go as a tent-making missionary who doesn’t need financial support, you’ll want to have a support team to pray for you and encourage you.
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