rebelling against low expectations

So You Want To Be A Missionary? Advice From The Mission Field


At six years old I sat at my windowsill, gazed out upon my quiet little neighborhood, and whispered the prayer, “God…please send me to Africa.”

Here I am, nine years later, sitting at my desk, writing this out as an overseas missionary in West Africa.

Goodness, our God works wonders, doesn’t He?

But it wasn’t until I became an overseas missionary that I realized the value of not being one. If that made you frown…good. You’re the exact person I want reading this. And you aren’t the only one feeling confused. Buckle up, dear friend, let’s go for a ride…

Reaching All People

As an overseas missionary I encounter a lot of people that want to go into overseas missions—and I cannot begin to express how joyful that makes me! But there is also a huge gap in our understanding of the great commission, and it saddens me deeply to find that very few teens wanting to go into overseas missions are practicing where they already live.

Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are two little words here that are vitally important: all nations.

Not just China.

Not just North Africa.

Not just Paraguay.

All nations.

In the past three years I’ve known three Americans to commit suicide, talked with several friends considering suicide, known almost a dozen American teenagers struggling with eating disorders and depression, had countless American friends that feel disconnected at their church and youth group, and even had conversations with a Muslim friend in America who has no one else to tell her about Jesus.

So, I wonder…where are America’s missionaries?

When you look to serve Jesus, don’t forget about the lost and hurting people that are already before you.

Where are America’s missionaries? When you look to serve Jesus, don't forget about the lost and hurting people that are already before you. Share on X

Everyone needs Jesus.

The Importance of Cultural Understanding

One of the most difficult things for overseas missionaries is adapting to cultures. We live in the world…but we don’t know the world. It’s a strange mindset where everyone around us sees and feels and thinks differently. They have a home, a nation, and an identity that applies to this earth.

We don’t.

I’m white as the sand on Kaunaoa Bay’s beaches but I don’t think “American” or act “American” or speak “American.” My culture is a mix of French, African, and a dash of American.

It’s like taking a ball of blue clay and a ball of yellow clay. Everyone is either yellow or blue. I used to be blue. But then, one day, God took the blue and the yellow and He rolled them into another ball…a swirled one. Now I’m blue and yellow and green.

And yes, it’s beautiful…but it’s also a mess.

Overseas missionaries must learn how to work past cultural barriers before we can even begin trying to minister. For example, if I walked up to a Muslim here and questioned Allah it would be extremely offensive to them. But I wouldn’t know that unless I first learned the rules of the culture.

That’s the wonderful thing about being called to serve right where you are. You know your culture’s mindset, perspective, and greatest needs. You know how to approach them and challenge them. Don’t take that for granted! There is such an amazing opportunity at the tip of your fingers…don’t let it go to waste.

You know your culture’s mindset, perspective, and greatest needs. You know how to approach them and challenge them. Don’t take that for granted! Share on X

What Overseas Missionaries Wish They Could Tell You

Before I went into overseas missions, I put missionaries on a pedestal. To my little-girl-heart they were “Christian heroes” meant to be admired. I was always a bit jealous when they came back to America on furloughs and visited our church, sharing about all the amazing things that were happening overseas.

I would think… they’re such “perfect” Christians.

And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What you don’t see are the quiet mornings when I walk up to the roof, sit down, and watch the thunderclouds roll in while the rain dances in the swirling wind. You aren’t there when I simply bury my head in my arms and cry because some days…some days I don’t have the strength. Or the courage. Or the passion. Some days I’m tired and lonely and scared.

Because ya know what?

I’m human too.

Missionaries are just Christians living overseas. The only difference between me and you is that tiny little word—overseas.

I’m no better than you. My experiences differ from yours…but yours are just as important. Trust me, my life isn’t perfect. I still get bad grades, have long cries, and bicker with my siblings. I don’t visit all my African neighbor’s houses every day to sing songs or tell a Bible story.

We’re just ordinary people trying to live for Jesus.

It’s all a beautifully broken journey…and you’re a part of it too.

Serving Right Where You Are

The most important thing about our walk as believers is learning to serve God to our fullest ability wherever He has us.

There are three simple steps to this…

1. Value the opportunities before you

Look at the world around you with a new perspective. Seek the lost and hurting people. They are everywhere – in the house next to yours, at your local grocery store and coffee shop, even at your library. Pray for open doors to share the gospel and lonely souls to care for.

2. Trust Yahweh fully

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”-Proverbs 3:5-6

In the middle of what might seem like a complete mix-up in the plans you have for your life, don’t forget about the One who has already written out your days.

Cling to the truth even when it doesn’t make sense and have faith that He will guide you and use you in His timing and according to His plan for your life.

3. Love all equally

Do not have more compassion for the eyes of starving children in India than you have for the depressed teens in America living on the brim of suicide. Every unbeliever needs salvation through Jesus in equal measure.

Love unconditionally.

Do not have more compassion for the eyes of starving children in India than you have for the depressed teens in America living on the brim of suicide. Share on X

The most biblical take on love is what I call stubborn love. Stubborn love is when you look at someone who didn’t do anything to earn your sympathy and whisper “I’ll fight for you all the same.”

Which is exactly what Jesus does for us.

Take Advantage of Every Moment

God has you where you are for a reason. He wants to use you right where you are, but first you must be willing to trust Him with your life. Who knows what He will do in and through you? You may even end up serving Him overseas. But for now, I challenge you to ask yourself: what does God want from me today?

Because following Jesus is waking up every morning and whispering, “Okay, Lord…today is Yours.”

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About the author

Rue Arrow

Rue Arrow is a soul-pondering, rain-dancing, dawn-seeking, child of the Father with deep feeling and intrigue for both the blessings and brokenness in this beautifully messy life. Her desire is to forever embrace every season, fully valuing this mere breath, while carefully sharing her heart-thoughts, enlightening imaginations, and hopeless romantics for all things lovely with the world. You can further journey with her in this endless pursuit of God's heart through her blog ThisMessyThingCalledLife.


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  • I love what you’re saying here about sharing the gospel wherever God has put us, because the good news is for all people everywhere. We need people not just “over there,” so to speak, but here too! Only, my question is how do we know if we are those called to stay or those called to go? I really identify with that tendency to, “…put missionaries on a pedestal,” especially when you hear remarkable stories of God’s work in their lives. What advice would you give on determining a desire to go isn’t just coming from the glow of this built up excitement? While we are sharing the good news in our communities now, and in our minds at least believe we have counted the cost of following Christ, how can someone know for sure they are able to handle the kind of sacrifice overseas long term missions could bring?

    • Hi Audrey! Goodness, what a lovely question; thank you for asking it!
      Prayer is extremely important. I cannot emphasize it enough. Who better to advise you than the One Who has known the plans for your life since before you took your first breath? Spend time with Him, seek Him in the confusing moments. The stronger your relationship with Yahweh is, the easier it will be to discern His voice from the world’s. Another thing to do is research and study areas or people you feel intrigued to serve, communicate with missionaries when you have the opportunity to do so (ask questions! We love talking with those curious in ministry overseas or in general!), talk with your pastor and others you respect, explore missions agency, and consider a missions trip or internship. Many missionaries start out short-term rather than career. This simply means that they agree to serve overseas for a specific amount of time (about two months to a year) to get an idea of what overseas mission is like without jumping in head first. This is something I’d highly encourage you to consider, but do pray over it and discuss it with your parents, pastor, a mentor, or a strong Christian that you respect! Their advice and prayers are invaluable.

      Also, consider the gifts you have and what you feel God is calling you to use them for. Are they more valuable/useful stateside or elsewhere? This should not be a determining factor, but it is worth considering and praying over.

      Your latter question is also wonderful, but I want to point something out. You asked, “how can someone know for sure they are able to handle the kind of sacrifice overseas long term missions could bring?” Honestly, the answer is quite simple, my friend. You can’t. But He can. We are weak and broken people; and missions is hard. There are days where it feels like throwing in the towel, crying till you have no more tears to cry, and then just quitting. I don’t, in any way, want to scare you away from missions, I just want to remind you of the less glamorous side of it. It is by Christ’s strength alone that we press on. So focus on your relationship with Him! No matter what (or where) He calls you to, He will walk with you and strengthen you. Our God does indeed call us to “do hard things,” but He does not abandon nor forsake us along the way. Be careful not to keep yourself from pursuing His calling on your life simply because you feel inadequate…we all are. But His power is made perfect in weakness.
      I hope this helps clarify some things. If you have any follow-up questions, please do ask them!

By Rue Arrow
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →