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 fiftieth, the more you take the attention away from you and put it on Jesus, the greater joy—and the greater results—you will have.
I have spent a good portion of my adult life traveling internationally. As summer approaches, many church groups and individuals are hard at work raising money, applying for passports and getting visas as they prepare to serve overseas. Getting everything together is not easy, I know; I have led thousands of students to the four corners of the world. And I have made more mistakes and bloopers in these journeys than most of you have ever considered.
In other words, I have learned a thing or two about international travel that might benefit those who are preparing for a mission trip, and I thought I would share some of them with you. I can guarantee you won’t find these thoughts anywhere but here. Here are “Walker Moore’s Top 12 Plus 2 International Travel Tips.”
2) If you can, avoid the aisle seat next to the airplane restroom—unless you’re homesick for the family farm.
3) Please do not try to raise the windows after the plane takes off.
4) Don’t tie a yellow or orange piece of yarn around the handle of your suitcase. You may not realize it, but 300 other passengers on your flight did the same thing.
5) If you drool when you sleep, bring along a dry washcloth. On my last flight, the guy next to me used one to get all the drool off his shirt after he woke up. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was the one who drooled on him.
6) No matter how high your hotel is rated, always subtract two stars. Residents of a third-world country would rate Motel 6 as a five-star establishment.
7) Always check to see if your hotel is hosting some type of event during your stay. You might find yourself in the middle of a yodeling or ukulele convention.
8) Calling 911 in a foreign country will only get you room service, a goat or a woman named Helga.
9) If your mission work takes you to a remote place, and you find yourself sleeping in a hammock, make sure you know which is the “enter” and which is the “exit” side. Get them mixed up, and you will find yourself on the ground in a hurry. (I learned this tip from Marti Pieper.)
10) Always carry your own toilet paper unless the outhouse is a two-holer, in which case you might be able to borrow some.
11) As you enter a country, don’t try to high-five customs agents who are carrying weapons.
12) In an international location, there is no such thing as a soundproof wall. You will hear every cricket chirping and rooster crowing outside, but those don’t compare to Grandma, snoring at the other end of the building.
13) Every souvenir shop in the world buys its merchandise from the same store in China, TrinketsRUs. The best souvenirs are the friendships and the memories.
14) When everything goes wrong, and it will, pray. I hereby grant permission to use my favorite prayer: “Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
If you’re preparing to leave on an international mission trip, let me remind you: Nothing looks like what you’ve seen in the brochure. Mission work is difficult, and many challenges lie ahead. If you don’t believe me, look what happened to the group who used the Apostle Paul Travel Agency:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor. 11:24-27).
Doing real mission work involves embracing the difficulties, the differences and the disappointments. Enduring jet lag, travel sickness, language difficulties, rough roads and customs just to tell one person about Christ—is it worth it? You had better believe it.
I could give you many more tips about traveling and living internationally, but the best tip is to make sure you are prayed up, your pride is in check and your heart is right before God. He will take you and make you a light on a hill so others can see His glory.
They slowly gather in a room every Wednesday morning, with no pomp and circumstance. Once, these women were young and strong. They raised families and ran businesses, but life is like a river, with many bends and turns to negotiate along the way.
Now, the women of this group are moving on up in years. Many have retired, their children and families have moved away and even their husbands have passed on. But these women have resolved to live life to the fullest. They start each weekly session by plugging in their machines, setting out fabrics and praying together. Yes, some socializing happens, but soon, that comes to an end as each one lowers the needle on her machine and pushes down on its pedal. Whirling noises ensue, and each seamstress pulls her fabric through the machine and begins to sew.
Arthritis has set in for many of the women, and sometimes they stop to rub out the soreness. But as quickly as they can, they lower their heads and continue to work. Some are making stuffed animals. Cats, dogs and bears roll off the assembly line; each one is prayed over as it is made.
Other women are making clothes for small children; still others are knitting stocking caps and scarves. The women make each of these items with the purpose of helping someone come to know Christ. These “sewing ladies” of Parkview, Tulsa, are working in partnership with our ministry, which sends groups of students between the ages of 13 and 22 across the globe. The students have found a way to use these animals, dolls and articles of clothing to engage other cultures. Before each trip, these ladies deliver bags and bags of their handmade, prayed-over products, ready to give to the next team to use wherever they might go.
The students take these animals and pack them into trunks destined for places as exotic as the jungles of Panama and the darkest parts of Africa. Once the students arrive in-country, they set up their sound systems and begin to draw a crowd. They have come to present a drama that starts with the creation and goes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before they tell this special story, they engage the crowd by making an announcement. “At the end of the program, we have a special gift for your children.” The gifts are the ladies’ handmade items.
A crowd gathers as the students share their testimonies and lay out the claims of Christ. As those watching wait for their gifts, the Holy Spirit leads many of the adults to another gift: that of Jesus as their Savior. Over and over, God uses these handmade products as His keys to open closed doors.
Orphanages and schools that refused to let us enter swing their doors wide open when they learn we come bearing gifts. Children who have never had anything to call their own now hug brand-new stuffed animals, smiles flooding their faces. I wonder if when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40), He was thinking of a stuffed animal sewn with love and delivered alongside the story of the greatest love of all.
A few weeks ago, during spring break, a team took these stuffed animals to Mexico and led 205 people to Christ. Seeing the church in action is incredible: the older generation partnering with the younger one to bring the gospel to a lost world, each doing its part. As the Bible says, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).
Why are the women so diligent to return week after week, producing thousands of these stuffed animals? Why are the young people so diligent about going to the far corners of the earth to deliver the good news? The two groups have a common purpose: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
God intends the whole church to work together, each member taking a significant part. Some are hands and others, the feet. Together, they can accomplish more for the kingdom than alone.
On March 29, Gay Faith, who led Parkview’s sewing ministry for many years, went home to be with the Lord. At her memorial service, 12 of her sewing partners paid their respects. But the next Wednesday. they were back at their sewing machines, continuing to pray and sew so we might go. Thank you, sewing women, student missionaries and all who use their gifts to share His story.