I believed God was calling me to be a missionary and I wanted to be one. After spending two weeks in Brazil on a short-term mission trip with college students helping two churches evangelize in the community, I returned to America certain that God was calling me to be a missionary. The next summer I returned to Belo Horizonte with my wife and we stayed with a native family, which was an enjoyable experience, while I taught the Gospel of John in various small groups. I was still sure about God’s call.
Obviously, my wife and I never moved to a foreign country to do mission work. As most who know me know, before beginning seminary studies at Harding School of Theology, my wife and I had a son, Kenny, who died (you can read about it here, here, and here). After joining a team preparing for mission work in Australia a couple of years later, we came to realize with some timely advise from a couple of seasoned missionaries that we were not emotionally ready to handle the stress of moving to a foreign culture yet due to our grief (yes grieving the loss of a child takes years, not months). Consequently, I became a minister with a local church and continue to gladly serve in the vocation of church ministry today. And I became a missionary too, I just didn’t realize it just yet.
What I quickly learned about ministering with churches on American soil is that the church now exists in a mission context. The days of Christendom were (and are) disappearing fast as a more secular and pluralistic culture was ascending (and still is) in America. This prompted me to start reading books by Bosch and Hesselgrave as well as Frost and Hirsch, opening what was then an emerging missional church conversation that is now gaining traction as sort of a movement. I also discovered that God had given me the ability to think theologically and missionally about the gospel with a discerning mind toward the new post-Christian culture that churches were now in (= churches with a culture of modernism trying to grasp the new postmodern culture). So even though there is a part of me that would love to move to a foreign country as a missionary, I understand why God, in his providential wisdom, has kept my wife and I in America.
However, I also want to say that this may be true for you. Perhaps you have plans to go on a short-term mission trip somewhere like I did. I hope you go and as you do, may God expand your worldview and shape you to be even more like Jesus as you serve others. But when you return, know that you be a missionary where you live in America as well.
Allow me also to say a word about preaching and ministering with local established churches. According to some research, 81% of today’s seminary students don’t have plans to preach and minister with a local church. That leaves a lot of churches without gifted men and women (yes I hope more opportunities are opening up for women too) to come among them and help them learn to live on mission with God. I know that some seminary students have plans to church plant missionaries in North America (which I applaud 100%) and others plan to serve as foreign missionaries (which I also applaud 100%) but I hope more seminary students will consider preaching and ministering with local established churches too because it is a mission work as well.
So go right here in America, in your town, my town, uptown and downtown, and in the neighborhoods as well…
Be a missionary!