20 lessons from 20 years of mission

Over the last 20 years I have served as a single, as a married woman and as a mother. I have served in five different countries with OMF and I have attempted to learn three languages—none of which I have mastered! God has taught me a lot during this time… 

1. Things don’t always go to plan

There are so many things that can force change: sickness, team issues, visa issues, closed and open doorsIt is wonderful to have a clear plan and focus, but it is vital to be redirected and guided by the Holy Spirit, for it is the Lord who established our steps (Prov 16:9). I have learnt that mission is unpredictable, but through it all we have a faithful and constant travel companion in Jesus.  

2. Be a learner 

Of all the roles I have had over the years, that of a learner is the one that covers it all. From language and cultural learning, to new skills needed to unforeseen circumstances, flexibility and teachability are key. We pray that our resolve to be faithful will be a powerful testimony of His faithfulness. 

3. Health and safety are not guaranteed 

Over the last 20 years I have personally experienced loss and trauma, and I have also witnessed coworkers go through terrible suffering. There have been robberies, miscarriages and stillbirths, child loss, cancer, illness, near fatal car crashes, accidents, mental health issues…Constantly, I am reminded of 1 Peter 5:9 and 2 Cor 4:7-9—of the treasure we have in jars of clay and the surpassing power of God.

4. Missionaries are not perfect people 

We all struggle with brokenness and sin. I have seen a whole range of issues over the years: pride, narcissism, depression, anxiety, extramarital affairs, addictions, marital breakdown, neglectful parents, anger…I have also seen God bring redemption and healing in many situations. I remember the joy on hearing that one missionary couple had reconciled after a time of separation and serious marital issues.   

5. Working in a multicultural team is really hard 

When I first set out, I was told that the most common cause of missionaries leaving is team conflict, and that most of the cultural shock I would experience would be more to do with serving on a cross-cultural team. I didn’t believe it then, but oh yes do I believe it now! It is especially hard for coworkers who are not native English speakers. We continually need the Holy Spirit to work in us and to bring unity, grace and love. 

6. Living by faith can be a joy 

Initially, OMF’s finance policy was daunting, but over 20 years have shown me that God is indeed able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Yes, there have been some very stressful times, but time and again we’ve seen the Lord provide in miraculous and often unexpected ways. 

7. God never wastes a thing 

He can use anyone! Disciple-making should always be our first calling, but missions today requires all sorts of professions that might not have previously been thought of as relevant: app builders, digital content creators, IT specialists, audio engineers, web designers, business people 

8. Saying goodbye to family never gets easier 

Even after 20 years.

9. “Home” will take on new meaning 

You will most likely never fully feel at home anywhere and seen as an outsider or an anomaly no matter where you are. This is so difficult to come to terms with, but we find our belonging and identity in Christ and look forward to heaven as our home (Heb 11:14-16).

10. The first year is the best and the worst 

The season of firsts is so humbling but also so excitingLearning a new language, where to shop, how to pay bills, how to eatMore than just gaining knowledge, you are brought to a point where you are pulled out of your comfort zone and made totally reliant and dependent on Christ. This is a vulnerable but wonderful place to be.

11. Communication in the local language is key 

Language learning can be difficult and frustrating but definitely worth investing in. Not only will you be more effective in discipling locals to be authentic Christians in their own context, but you will also feel more at home and settled.

12. What you eat and how you eat it matters 

Enjoying local food can help to build bridges (though this is not always possible, or can be very difficult such as super spicy foods, innards or alcohol). The same goes for the way you eat foods (such as using correct chopstick technique or eating curry with your hands). I’m always amused by how much praise my husband gets for holding his chopsticks correctly! 

13. Stopping to rest will keep you going 

Sabbath-keeping is vital for longevity. Going on holidays can seem like an indulgence when you’re on a missionary budget and when so many things seem urgent. Taking time to rest can seem like a waste of time, but it will save you from burnout and exhaustion.

14. Don’t give up on regular meetings 

It is essential to meet with others in your local context for mutual accountability and encouragement; inperson fellowship should always be a priority, a safe place where you stir each other up towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

15. Prayer is the backbone of all we do 

This would require a whole other article

16. The spiritual harvest can be unpredictable 

Sometimes the most unexpected people accept Jesus with little input, while others who have been prayed for and have heard the gospel many times over many years remain unrepentant.

17. Single life and family life each have their pros and cons 

We each have our own gifts from God (1 Cor 7:7). Singles have a wonderful opportunity to get deep into language, culture and local relationships with locals. Families and couples might be less lonely but have significant time and energy constraints.

18. Living an authentic faith-filled life can be the strongest witness 

The people you live amongst are watching everything you do: the way you live, how you decorate your home, how you interact with your spouse and your children, the care you show for your parents and family back home, how you prioritize your timeAs you live your life, people will see the difference that the gospel has made.

19. Character is more important than giftedness 

Some new workers might come with glowing resumes and lots of experience but lack the maturity and character to last. 

20. Be prepared to leave (see #1!) 

Sometimes it is harder to be called to leave than it is to be called to stay. Not long after I arrived, I met a family who were leaving to care for their elderly parents. I’ll never forget when they said that whether they were called to stay or go, they felt challenged to always respond to the Lord in obedience. This was great advice to hear on arrival.  

The Lord isn’t just after our sacrifices, but He is after our heart of obedience (1 Sam 15:22). It is ultimately a matter of faith, trusting that as the Lord calls, sends, leads and guides, He is sovereign and holds all things in His hands.   


Music and social media ministry in East Asia 

 *Name changed for security purposes 

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