Before You Go

Five Pre-Field Practices Healthy Missionaries Cultivate

By Marti Wade

Your support is raised. Your bags are packed. You’re heading out for your first term as a newly minted missionary. But what are you forgetting? We asked veteran missionaries what advice they’d give people preparing to serve in missions. Here’s what they said.

1. Serve in your church, first.

Get some hands-on experience. Be part of your sending church’s leadership, if you can. Join a church plant in the U.S. Start Bible studies with international students or refugees. Even if the context is quite different from what you may face on the field, you’ll get a good taste of what it takes to start and grow a new ministry. And if you’re serving with the church that’s going to send you out, you’ll also benefit from deepening those connections now.

2. Learn to plan and manage your time.

Many missionaries don’t know what the next day may hold. That’s all the more reason to grow in personal management and strategic planning skills. Test and grow such skills at work, school, or in ministry.

“Life on the field is so much more complicated than I ever thought it could be…We find it so easy to spend all of our time putting out fires that ultimately don’t move us forward.”

3. Get ready to tackle a new language.

Many of us have had high-school Spanish or picked up some phrases to use on a short-term trip, but learning a new language from scratch and getting to the point where you can use it to build strong relational bridges requires some different skills and disciplines. As your departure for the field comes closer, consider a language acquisition course. A mission agency may recommend or even provide this kind of training.

“Even if your team doesn’t require it for you, it will absolutely pay off in your language and culture learning. It’s worth a little time and money to start the process well,” says one who came without such training. She feels as if she has been “driving in a slower gear” with her language learning because of that omission.

“Don’t rush language study to hurry into ministry. Invest the time and money up front in order to be effective later.”

4. Develop self-awareness and resilience.

Crossing cultures is tough work. The work may be difficult and slow. And, while in transition, you will likely be the worst version of yourself. So how do you face those challenges and overcome them? Part of the answer seems to dealing with the expectations you have for yourself and others and learning when to put those aside. Taking the time to reflect and learn from the experiences you have had can really make a difference. A ministry immersion internship of some kind can provide a greenhouse for your growth in this area, preparing you for life on the field long-term.

“Learn how you (1) relax and rejuvenate, and (2) process stress and anxiety in healthy way.”

5. Grow in your relationship with God.

Finally, the key to getting through the challenges of your first term and becoming fruitful is staying connected to the vine (John 15:5), and that’s something you can focus on and benefit from right now.

“The most important preparation you can do is to practice daily time in prayer, Bible intake and other spiritual disciplines.”

“Your personal walk with God is your anchor, the thing that will keep you steady when the unexpected trials come. Start now to figure out how to do battle in prayer and grow in intimacy with Christ. If that is a constant in your life, you have the foundation right. Everything else is secondary.”

Get the process started.

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