Alright, so we’re talking about making a wise decision in your initial assignment as a missionary. If you haven’t already, make sure to read the last post on this subject.
As I write this, I am humbled and reminded of my own limited experience and wisdom. I take my hat off to every missionary who has made it long term, especially if you’ve passed through a toxic situation. To everyone else, find what wisdom you can in my words and seek out other sources. Remember that in everything, the Spirit of God must lead you.
Other situational problems
We’ve said that team is the most important situational factor, and a bad team can make a situation toxic. But there are tons of other potential problems like hostile locals, bad housing, lack of income, unclear purpose, and bad ministry strategy. I won’t go into detail on all these, because they’re harder to anticipate, and they can actually be the fire God uses to refine you into an amazing missionary–if you have a strong walk with Him and a healthy community. For example, if your team regularly prays and brainstorms together, then you’ll eventually ditch that awful ministry strategy. The lack of income won’t overcome you if you’re emotionally full. All that points to the need for a strong team.
Ways to land in a toxic situation
Often, the way you make your decision is what leads you to a toxic situation. Here’s a few decision-making pointers:
Don’t be hasty. How do you make a hasty decision? Drop out of college. Take acceptance into a mission as a sign from God that you’re supposed to work with them. Quit your job too quickly. We do all kinds of funny things when God’s call in our life is involved. And though He gives us more grace, you’re better off staying on the path of wisdom.
Know this: a good decision is worth waiting for. My friend was planning to teach English and work with an isolated missionary couple in Thailand. To her, the opportunity seemed amazing and unique. But when I saw some red flags, I told her, “You can always find another English teaching gig in Thailand.”
There’s no shortage of possible mission assignments out there. Sometimes, before we go, a toxic team feels like the only one that will take us. But there are tons of potential ministries out there. So, when you see the red flags, breathe these words, “There’s always another ____ing gig in ___.”
Trust your mission (but not completely). Before going to the mission field, I assumed that any mission would tell me “no” if I were choosing a dumb assignment. Unfortunately, the people sending you are also flawed human beings. They may care deeply about their workers and reaching the lost, but sometimes there’s just an oversight, and a person falls through the cracks.
The terrifying thing about missions is that you, a rookie who has perhaps never lived abroad, is ultimately responsible for the situation you land in. You choose to finally say “yes” or “no.” So before you commit, find someone who knows a lot about missions and ask what they think.
Avoid missionaries who speak down of the nationals. Missionaries should love the local people. But there’s this weird dynamic where sometimes burnt-out missionaries can’t stand their neighbors and exercise a patriarchal attitude.
I’ve known new missionaries who fit right in with the local people but couldn’t stand their team. In fact, they felt that their team actually hindered relationships with nationals. If you go and work with someone who wants to help the poor heathen but can’t stand their culture, the attitude might rub off on you.
A good situation
Here is what you want when you go to the mission field:
- A functioning team that loves one another and the locals
- Mentoring from someone you want to be like–Don’t assume that just because someone has lived in Bangladesh for 10 years that you want to mimic their ministry. Seek out someone worth imitating.
- Opportunity for ministry (but not too much)–A full-time language school generally segregates you from the locals and isn’t the best way to learn their language. However, too much ministry can also prevent language leaning. You want a healthy balance and lots of relationships with nationals.
- A similar vision–Some missions specialize in humanitarian work. Others go to translate the Bible. What is your passion and vision? Make sure that your mission and local team are compatible with this, because as you learn the new culture, you want to move towards that vision.
Go for a visit
Here’s my best thought in picking a good situation: go visit them for two weeks before the final “yes.” Some people seem nice enough until you meet in person, stay with their family, and see the way they treat nationals.
“But that’s expensive!” you say.
True, it’s expensive. Maybe, what, $5,000 at most?
But you know what’s expensive? I’ll tell you what’s expensive.
You plan for years to become a missionary after hearing the call of God. You go to Bible college. You count the cost and say, “Yes, Lord, I will pay it.” You spend a year raising support. You buy a ticket, pack your bags, and fly out.
You arrive on the field and immediately begin picking up a negative attitude towards your host country. You labor in a ministry you don’t care about. Team conflict replaces your dream of preaching the gospel. You love goes cold, and you go home discouraged after nine months.
That’s expensive. $5,000 is nothing compared to the pain of the Enemy using a dysfunctional situation to crush your dreams. I would pay $20,000 over burnout. Now, ideally you recover, end up wiser, and go back to the field, but why put yourself through that trouble?
Moreover, I urge you to walk into your placement on the mission field with two eyes wide open. Take care that when you go, you land somewhere you want to be.
Anyone else have any thoughts on what makes a good situation?