Missionaries discuss what it means to have a career in missions
by Keegan D’Alfonso and Josh Burris
A career in missions looks different for everyone. Everyone also has a unique road to the field.
However, there are a few things missionaries must accomplish before going overseas into the field. They have to go through training, raise support and find a missions agency to work through.
Training can come in different forms. Some will go to college for education and missions training. However, going to college is not required to be a full-time missionary. Senior Biblical studies major Andrew Yount said missionaries are sent out by their home church similar to what was done in the New Testament.
“They are your sponsor in the sense that they endorse you to become a missionary,” Yount said. “Training is developed in home church. They know if you would do a good job spreading the gospel and planting a church.”
According to Yount, the process is thorough and takes a couple years to be ready. During this time, missionaries prepare for the experience overseas, culture shock, plugging into a ministry and other adjustments.
Missionaries also need to raise financial support for income and resources to help others. Also during this time, there is a lot of prayer and traveling to churches. Yount said missionaries travel around and tell different churches why they feel called and ask for their support. They also meet with individuals for support.
When raising support, Yount said missionaries aren’t trying to meet a one-time goal. Instead, they try to raise a monthly commitment level. For example, if they need $120,000 for a year, they would try to raise $10,000 each month.
“You do that to create a continual relationship with your givers because they are just as important as you are,” Yount said. “You want to be engaged with people giving and let them know the difference they are making because you need the money and they are making an impact.”
Along with raising financial support, they need to find a location and an agency. Location varies with each situation, Yount said. Some people pray for God to lead them somewhere. Others already know where they want to go. Some people also want to only reach unreached people groups.
As for finding an agency, Yount said it is a unique and important process.
“It’s not like finding an employer, but you yourself are applying to be a part of that mission agency,” Yount said. “But as much as you are applying to them, they are applying for you in a sense. You are interviewing them in a sense about how they treat their missionaries as they interview you for if you would be a good fit.”
Adjusting to a new culture is also a challenge. Like anything else, Yount said missionaries learn and adjust after spending time in a new setting.
“It depends on the person and the language,” Yount said. “Some people are more gifted at picking up languages than others. Some languages are just more difficult based on how they are even spoken.”
Yount said usually missionaries can hold conversations after seven to nine months and that it can take four or five years to become fluent.
“From a missionary standpoint, you can communicate like a pastor can preach a sermon without notes.”
A Second Career
While some places are open to missionaries, there are other parts of the world that have either banned evangelism of certain religions, or have radical members of the local religion who actively seek to harm or kill those who evangelize or choose to convert. One local missionary who routinely serves in India would only identify himself as Butch because the use of his name could cause radical Hindu nationalists to kill his ministry partners in India.
Butch started in missions later in life when he decided to go on a short-term mission trip in India in 2006. A trip, he said he was hesitant to go on because he felt short-term missions were a waste of money. However, he was so impacted by the relationships he formed while on the trip that he decided to continue with more regular missions in India.
“I saw the value of short-term missions because had I never gone on that mission trip I wouldn’t be involved in this ministry,” Butch said
Partnered with his new Indian friends, Butch began spreading the gospel to other Indians. What began initially as a church planting effort soon grew into a much larger and holistic mission when his partners in India began working to help the widows, orphans and those with AIDS.
“Taking care of orphans and widows is pure religion and undefiled according to James Chapter 1,” Butch said. “So how could we argue with that?”
The mission of Butch and his partners in India has grown to help hundreds of orphans and widows while also discipling new Christians and spreading the gospel to other villages. All this through the funding of one local church.
The mission is truly a partnership, as Butch works closely with his Indian partners to make sure the gospel is spread in the best way to reach those in India and not endanger his ministry partners. While Butch does frequently visit India, he said can do more for India in the United States by raising financial support while his Indian partners evangelize and serve the impoverished in India.
“We go by the leadings and the promptings of our hosts who are indigenous and know the country very well and are wise,” Butch said. “They’re the labor of the church, we’re the bank of the church. [God’s] going to use us to provide resources to send them, so it’s a partnership with the Lord.”
The mission field, however, has not been without difficulties. Numerous health issues faced by both Butch and his partners slowed the start of their ministry and they face a constant threat of persecution.
“The thing that gets you kicked out of India, and the thing that gets you killed in India is converting Hindus,” Butch said.
There are also natural dangers as well. Disease and poisonous animals and insects pose a real danger when living in less-developed regions of the world.
Always A Missionary
David Brooks, who is part of a longstanding international organization that typically serves in what his organization calls “hard places” also spoke of the danger that missionaries face.
Brooks has spent over 20 years in full-time missions, with 16 years spent in Afghanistan. He has been threatened, had friends killed by the Taliban and had to take care not to accidentally step on old landmines as he did his work. Now he serves as a security advisor for his organization.
Unlike Butch, Brooks knew he wanted to get involved in missions at an early age. Both his dad and grandfather had served as missionaries.
“It was in the family as it were,” Brooks said, “I was fairly young and I really felt the Lord put it on my heart. Not just missions; I was particularly interested in aid work and development work.”
Rather than planting churches Brooks directed a program that provided basic eyecare to the Afghan people as well as other large projects to provide self-sufficiency.
“So many people think of a missionary as someone in a white shirt and dark suit with a great big bible standing out preaching to people far away,” Brooks said. “It’s so much bigger than that. Living out your vocation as a follower of Jesus in whatever he gives you to do.”
Surprisingly, Brooks said the biggest challenge to mission work was not the danger or hardships faced in living in another country.
“One of the main things that causes people to go home is not the difficulty of being overseas, it’s the conflict with other Christian workers,” Brooks said.
Another challenge faced by missionaries abroad are everyday tasks to get through the day, Brooks said.
“If you want a shower, well you build a fire, and you heat up the water, and then you’ve got to heat up the room if it’s winter. You just spend an hour getting ready to take a bath,” He said. “It’s stuff like that that made it hard to get any work done.”
According to Brooks, missionaries can also struggle with issues of perception.
“Sometimes people put you on a pedestal, which is really weird if you are on the receiving end of it,” he said.
Alternatively, Brooks said that often people think they are strange for working in such dangerous places and he often feels the need to defend why he does what he does.
Despite the challenges, Brooks said he loves working in missions as a career.
“It is actually a career, and you can develop in it and become more of a professional,” Brooks said. “You’re not going to become wealthy doing it, but it is going to be hugely satisfying. It’s way more fun than anything else.”
Keegan D’Alfonso is a sophomore journalism major and the off-campus news editor for Cedars. He was a sergeant in the Marines and enjoys learning about and experiencing other cultures.
Josh Burris is a senior journalism major and the sports editor for Cedars. He is interested in sports broadcasting and reporting. He enjoys watching sports, lifting, and listening to rock and rap music.