I just returned from leading orientation for 100 IMB summer missionaries. These young people will be serving throughout the Peruvian Andes to extend the footprint of the IMB presence in Peru, represent their churches, and glorify God by extending His kingdom. While our orientation covered issues such as the worldview of oral cultures, spiritual warfare, Andean animism, and syncretism, the theme of the week was the missionary call.
Virtually every student there indicated a desire to surrender to completely God’s will. But they were also uncertain what that would look like. When I asked these radically committed young people how many knew that God had called them to serve as an overseas missionary and live in another country the rest of their career, only one or two raised their hands. Increasingly, young people see short-term missions as a viable option in their lives. I regularly hear young people expressing a desire to go for only a couple of years. Is that okay?
Two truths are at work in the answer. One, there is no substitution for the career field missionary. The missionary who knows the language, culture, laws, customs, worldview, and churches and testimonies of local believers is an essential and invaluable resource for short term missionaries. Two, short term missionaries are like the sunrise; it is going to happen every day until Jesus comes back whether you like it or not. Rather than debate about whether short term missionaries are the best utilization of human and financial resources, we need to strategize how best to employ them.
God educates short term missionaries and exposes them to cultures and worldviews in ways that would have been impossible in their home contexts. This exposure is often how God begins to reveal to them His missionary call on their lives. The late Ralph Winter said, “God cannot lead you based on information you do not have.” The information gained on short term missions experiences guides some to career service on foreign fields, others to return to the USA to pastor missions-minded churches, and still others to ministries mobilizing the church for missions.
As I point out in The Missionary Call, there is no biblical example of career missionary service if that means going to serve in one place for the rest of one’s life; rather the missionary call is dynamic and always developing. But I strongly affirm the wise stewardship of the career missionary model. Several of our seminary presidents have challenged their students to consider short term missions—especially while young and less encumbered. At least one well-known church in our convention encourages their high school grads to spend a year on the mission field before college. In this way, young people can see and consider the claims of Christ in their lives before their adult years and responsibilities begin to cloud their vision. Of course, this is also a legitimate way to serve Christ in itself. While the missionary call is a life-long call, the guidance for fulfilling that call may lead to the field for a time, to the pastorate, to a missions minister position, to missions mobilization, or to being a prayer warrior for missions.
I was so encouraged by the character and commitment of the summer missionaries that I met in Peru last week. I am also thankful for the SBC, IMB, and their missionaries to Peru who make short term missions possible for all these summer workers. I hope that they will keep the flame of missions zeal at a white hot fever pitch all of their lives, no matter where and how God leads them to fulfill it.