There is nothing more exciting than stepping on a plane and going to a country you’ve never visited to have adventures you’ve never had. If God has put a desire in your heart to pursue cross-cultural missions, to make him known and worshipped in regions where he is unknown, why not not begin your ministry now?
Many people would rather go alone and be their own leader than serve with a missions agency. But through my own experience, I have discovered that a missions agency is crucial to success as a missionary. Here’s why:
1. Missions agencies have the expertise.
Missions agencies specialize in helping churches send their sent ones. Ideally, the church and the missionary recognize the Holy Spirit’s leading, and then, the agency equips the missionary with their practical expertise like preparation, accountability, dealing with culture shock and more.
I have served short-term in the Middle East, both with a missions agency and with a well-known, secular study abroad program (I consider this going “maverick” as well, as I still wanted to form gospel-centered relationships while there but didn’t have support to do so). My experiences were vastly different, mainly due to the organizations I served with.
With the secular program, I learned Arabic and local culture, took classes and kept busy. But with non-Christian leadership, I couldn’t seek help or express my desire to share Christ in the region. I didn’t have guidance on how to have gospel-focused conversations with my host family or classmates. I didn’t know what was culturally appropriate for a foreigner to do or how to serve the Lord well in that context.
Conversely, when I went to the Middle East with TEAM, a missions agency, I was able to specifically learn about sharing the gospel in my host culture. The missionaries I served with had a combined total of over 50 years of living and working in this country.
They helped answer questions such as:
- What is the Christian church like in my host country?
- What can I say and do in public in regards to the church and ministry?
- How do I best protect myself as a single woman living in a city?
- How is ministry contextualized in this Muslim-majority nation?
They were all great lessons for a heart that was burning to share Christ.
2. Missions agencies provide training.
With the secular program, all the training I received was a one-hour seminar about the packing list and required shots. Upon arrival, we had one day of safety training and a lot of tours. Then we were released, with no follow-up. Many days I felt alone and ill-equipped to live in the country.
With TEAM, I had a one-on-one coach who made sure I processed my expectations, who challenged me to learn about my host culture and who prayed for me every week leading up to my departure. I even had a one-week training course that covered everything from teamwork to cultural sensitivity, from the history of the country to culturally specific needs for redemption.
I also had on-the-ground leadership who challenged me, spent time building a relationship with me and made sure I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. The foundation that my coach and the training laid, along with the missionaries’ leadership, helped me successfully navigate cultural situations and Christ-centered conversations with locals.
3. Missions agencies provide accountability, at home and on the ground.
Missions agencies have one goal: to help churches further the kingdom of God around the world. And when you serve with an agency, there are supporters, churches, directors and leaders to make sure you are not distracted from this goal.
This support and accountability can even extend to Christians professionals with a desire to engage in cross-cultural missions while building their traditional career.
Going alone or with a secular organization, however, does not bring unity of purpose or accountability. In my study abroad program, many students went to the Middle East because they had to, while others went with the goal of joining a branch of government. Some went because their families were from that region.
I couldn’t tell people why I went to the Middle East: to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage the local church. There was no leadership, and no one helped me in ministry. I did have some fellow students who had a similar heart, and I did get involved in a local church. But I never realized how key unity in the desire to share the gospel is until there was a lack of it. Everyone went with their own goal in mind, working individually to accomplish that. A missions agency would have provided teammates to follow the Great Commission with.
4. Missions Agencies follow up when you go home.
With an agency, there is a debrief process and someone to make sure you act on what you learned, rather than going back to the same routine. There’s someone to walk with you through reverse culture shock and help your process your experiences, both positive and negative. This level of care and support is invaluable.
It has been a few years since I returned from my experience traveling with a secular program, and I have not had any contact with my leaders there. No one challenged me to continue language study, to remember the cultural experiences and lessons I learned and to keep seeking ways to share Christ at home.
Furthermore, the staff knew I endured a traumatic experience abroad, and they did not follow up with or care for me. It took a year of healing and processing before I felt comfortable walking around alone or wasn’t dealing with anxiety. Love and care, centered in Christ, lacked when I needed it the most.
Ultimately, my two vastly different experiences of serving overseas with a missions agency and without one taught me about God’s heart for community and mentorship in furthering his kingdom. That’s why God is three in one. That’s why he ordained the church to participate with him in fulfilling the Great Commission. That is why I believe successful missions and missionaries are rooted in the church and equipped by an agency.
So if you have a burning desire from the Lord to pursue cross-cultural missions, consider the lesson I have learned. Before you decide to go overseas independently, think about the rich preparation, accountability and support a mission agency can offer you. Seek the Lord in your going and coming, because going maverick overseas may not be the most fruitful choice in furthering the gospel.