There is nothing I enjoy more than training missionaries. I am of the opinion that every believer should live the lifestyle of a missionary.
That means wherever I go, I am the missionary, and every place I set foot is the mission field. I should be the same whether I am browsing the shelves in a Wisconsin Walmart or standing in downtown Welshpool, Wales.
I think the words “short-term missionary” are misleading. If I read the Scriptures correctly, there is nothing short-term about taking up your cross daily and following Jesus. He will lead some of us to Walmart (yes, it is a mission field) and some of us to Welshpool.
The “where” is God’s business; the obedience is ours. But there are some practical things you need to know about being a missionary:
1. What you wear is important: If you are serving in a mosquito-infested part of the world, don’t wear a moisture-wicking shirt. Trust me, to do so is to create a water fountain for anything that flies. If mosquitoes sucked fat instead of blood; I would be 50 pounds lighter than I am.
And don’t go out and buy new clothes for a mission trip. Nothing screams “tourist” more than arriving in-country dressed like a Macy’s mannequin.
In most of the places I serve, the nationals buy their clothes from a vendor squatting alongside the road. Try to dress as close as you can to those you serve. Thrift stores are a good place to get your clothes. But the most important thing to wear is the love of Christ.
2. Little things are important: When you land at your destination, gather your passport, your carry-on and the air sickness bag from the seat in front of you. You never know when you might need any one of these.
Bring along a bag full of small, inexpensive trinkets to give to the children. You can show pictures of your family, but not of your two-story house with a pool in the back. And remember: Little things often lead to bigger things.
3. Food is important: Wear stretch pants, a stretch shirt and stretch socks, because every church you visit will want to honor you. They want to give you something, and about the only thing they have is food.
They also want you to experience their culture and cuisine. I have been to countries where the people have barely enough to feed their own families and yet will sacrifice their own food to share with their guests. Let them know that the bread of life is what fills your life.
4. Names are important: Try to remember the names of the people you are serving. If you have trouble, associate these names with words you already know. For example, Pastor Myhedurtz becomes Pastor My-Head-Hurts. Don’t forget to include the most important name in your conversation: Jesus.
5. Engaging the culture is important: I don’t how many times I have seen those who have raised thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles get no closer than 10 feet of those with whom they came to share the Gospel. I have never been bitten while witnessing. I take that back; I have never been bitten by a human.
Stand close enough that you can reach out and touch the people you’re sharing with. The best way to engage the culture is to do what they do; get involved in their lives. That might include learning to cook their way, doing their laundry or carrying banana stalks up a steep hill. Jesus came to identify with us in all things, and we do the same with those we serve.
6. People are important: Few of you work for National Geographic. Don’t get off the bus and start snapping pictures. Even when I go to some of the most exotic places in the world and take tens of thousands of pictures, I generally wait at least a day to start getting shots. Photos are good for communicating the story back home, but constantly snapping photos can make the people you serve feel like objects.
And another tip: Don’t start shopping for souvenirs at the first place you come to; wait till the end of the trip. People first, pictures second, souvenirs last.
If you have been on a mission trip, you know there is no greater joy than being an ambassador for Christ. These six tips are simply a way for the messenger to avoid getting in the way of the message. The apostle John said it best: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Whether this is your first mission trip or your 50th, the more you take the attention away from you and put it on Jesus, the greater joy—and the greater results—you will have.