Our family lives in a small village in Cameroon, Africa. In our seven years there, my husband and I have repeatedly thought the same thing: I’m pretty sure this is outside our job description.
That’s what I was thinking when a midwife handed me my friend’s afterbirth and told me to throw it in the pit outside the hospital (no gloves!). It’s also what we thought when my husband, after being chased by a drunken neighbor who was swinging a two-by-four at him, came home and just sat in silence, grateful to be alive.
We’re Bible translators, but we end up doing all sorts of things: teaching literacy, resolving conflict, driving to and from the medical clinic, discipling new believers, ministering to children—and the list goes on. Are we spread thin? Sure! And so is every other missionary we know.
Jesus himself saw a world of ministry possibilities and acknowledged there simply weren’t enough workers (Matt. 9:36–37). This still rings true today. Honestly, if our family had known everything we’d be asked to do on the field, we probably would have approached missions with much more fear and trepidation. Over the years, I’ve heard would-be missionaries give three main reasons for not answering Jesus’s call.
‘I Can’t Raise Support’
Many people don’t consider doing missions because they believe raising support is like convincing someone to buy a used car. Before going to the field, I spent several years selling cell phones in the mall. Comparing the two experiences, I’m persuaded support raising for missions is nothing like sales. A salesperson’s goal is to get people to spend money so that he, the seller, will profit. But a missionary’s goal in support raising is that others receive the benefit.
Yes, we raise money so people overseas will benefit by hearing the gospel, but we also do it so the giver might benefit (2 Cor. 8:10; Phil. 4:17). Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). If we believe Christ’s words, we must affirm that those who support missionaries receive the greater benefit.
We raise money so people overseas will benefit by hearing the gospel, but we also do it so the giver might benefit.
A missionary’s job is not to prod, convince, and plead for money. No, our job is to share our passion to see people worshiping Jesus and give opportunities for other Christians to help. Our family has lived on support for over 10 years, and we don’t regret it. God’s people love to support God’s work. There’s nothing to fear.
‘I Can’t Leave Home’
Has a familiar scent ever taken you back to your childhood? Isn’t there something nice about returning to the roads where you first learned to drive? Don’t we love going home for Christmas? This comfort with the familiar is what makes it difficult to leave home.
Missionaries, however, must go to places where almost nothing is familiar. They have new things thrown at them (sometimes literally) all the time. They wander down foreign paths, confronted by foreign sights and smells daily.
If the idea of such a life makes you shudder, just imagine the incarnation. Jesus left the familiarity of heaven to live on earth, to smell our smells, to feel our pain. Even while on earth, he didn’t cling tightly to his earthly family. One day, his mother and brothers came looking for him. When he heard this, Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33–35).
With these words, Jesus doesn’t denigrate the importance of a biological family but rather gives first importance to the spiritual family. When we start to see our future brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently in a foreign country as our family, we’ll be able to let go of “home.”
‘I Can’t Be a Missionary’
When our family talks at churches about our ministry, nine times out of 10 a person will say, “I could never do what you do.” While I’m always grateful for their kind words, I also like to challenge his or her thinking: “Why could you never be a missionary?”
For some, the reason is fear. It might be a fear of bugs and snakes. Or it might be a feeling of inadequacy as they think about learning new languages or relating to different cultures. But here’s something they may not realize: every missionary has fears and feels inadequate. The key to getting to (and staying on) the mission field isn’t abolishing fear. The key is trusting our good Father to care for us—especially when we have no idea how that’s going to happen.
Every missionary has fears and feels inadequate.
But there’s another fear I’ve noticed lately. It’s the fear of being labeled “white saviors” who go and impose their “superior” ways on the “uncivilized.”
If this is your concern, I have good news: good missionaries don’t do this. They’re not colonizers. They don’t convert people to their cultures. The salvation we preach isn’t “white.” The rescue we offer isn’t “American.” And though we bring the message of salvation, we don’t save anyone. In the words of Paul, “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
Yes, missionaries are servants. We’re not saviors. We’re also not superhuman. Nobody said we love cockroaches, awkward conversations, or being far from family.
In fact, every missionary I know is struggling. Most significantly, we’re struggling with the weight of a ministry too big for us, with far too many jobs for one person to fill, as we watch people die without the gospel.
Today, I’d ask you to join us in praying to the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers. But I’d also ask you to consider how you might be the answer to that prayer. That journey might begin by rethinking the reasons you have for not going.