Several years ago I interviewed a would-be missionary whose application was held up because of some questions about his emotional and spiritual maturity. He began and ended our session by telling me that the Lord had clearly “called” him to missions. He argued that God’s call on his life should trump any misgivings Wycliffe had about his potential success as a cross-cultural worker. I asked him to describe his “calling” for me. He told me it was fairly simple: Working in missions was the last thing he would ever want to do. He hated international travel, wasn’t good at language learning, and felt uncomfortable around poor people and dirt. Oh. How does that make him uniquelly called to fulltime mission service? He said that in his experience, he could always confirm the Lord’s will for his life by the things he didn’t want to do. The more he didn’t want to do it, the more he was sure that was God’s calling on his life. As you can imagine…that answer didn’t get him into Wycliffe Bible Translators.
The Call. How do you know you’ve been called to missions? We know (or should know) that all Christians have been called to ministry. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) confirms that Christians are commanded to make disciples here, there and everywhere. However, I’m talking more specifically about the call to cross-cultural disciple-making. What does the calling to mission service look like? How can you know if you’re called to be a missionary? The Scripture does not offer a nice clean formula for discerning the call to missions. But, let me venture a metaphor that may shed light on to knowing whether or not you’re called. I believe joining a mission is a lot like getting married. Prior to marrying Denise, I felt motivated…called, if you will…in a general sense…to get married. That represented a basic call to a relationship, a status, an institution, an obligation, and an adventure..kinda like missions. On my way to realizing the marriage calling I was aware that sometimes my affection and attention to a particular young woman…though genuine and compelling…was not always reciprocated. Other times, someone felt called to a relationship with me but I wasn’t similarly called. It wasn’t good enough that just one of two people felt attracted to the other. It certainly wouldn’t have been good enough for either party to think, “Since you’re the last person I would ever want to marry, I believe you are obviously God’s choice for my life mate.” Marrying out of loneliness, financial needs, lack of a better offer, a sense of duty, and/or “I’ll try it and see” are setups for marital disaster. Same with the missions call. Anything other than an enduring mutual affection confirmed by prayer, counsel, and wisdom is not gonna work out over the long haul. Marriage and missions share a common imperative: Better make sure it’s a three way passionate love affair between the wannabe missionary and the organization and the Lord. If you’ve got that kind of triangulated relationship with a mission or potential spouse, welcome to the party. If not…keep on prayerfully looking.
Remember Scott Wesley Brown’s 1995 song called “Please Don’t Send Me to Africa”? Funny song about being afraid of the missions call. Here’s a link to Brown talking about it and his music video.
Now go out there and have a big ol’ fortnight. Consider that your calling.