When Darren and I felt led to serve in Nepal in the early nineties, we were filled with enthusiasm for the task. We had read all that we could about the physical and spiritual needs in that country and we couldn’t wait to get there and begin the task of ministering cross-culturally. It was like we wanted to jump on an express train and anything less, especially anything with stops, was merely fuel for our frustration.
So when we applied to INF and discovered that the process of application and preparation would take at least 18 months, we were horrified. How could it possibly take that long? Surely God had already showed us the need and given us a heart to serve him in Nepal. Wasn’t that enough? Over the next 18 months, the answer became clearly ‘no’.
One of the biggest challenges in missionary preparation is working out the best ways to prepare for your new life while still carrying on normal life in Australia and earning a living. Often, mission agencies require a certain amount of theological training as well as specific intensive cross-cultural training. Sometimes, further professional qualifications are required to gain a work visa into the new country. As well as that, the applicant usually wants to begin to meet nationals from that country and start language and cultural training while still here in Australia. And on top of all that, the often-daunting task of support-raising and spreading the vision must be tackled. Over time, the question becomes more, ‘How will we ever be ready?’ rather than, ‘Why can’t we go tomorrow?’
But perhaps that very feeling of inadequacy that begins during missionary preparation is one of the most important aspects of the journey. Rather than being something to be discouraged by, it becomes instead the trigger that causes us to rely more and more on God. We begin to cling on to his sovereignty and adequacy to meet the need, rather than on our own clever abilities. And more than anything, that’s what we need to know and to do in the cultures to which we are sent, where stress and challenge and ambiguity are daily realities. If God is sovereign and able in Australia, then he is equally sovereign and able in Tanzania and Sri Lanka, Nepal and PNG, Iraq and Bolivia. If God is sovereign and able within a society of affluence and wealth then he is equally sovereign and able within a society of poverty and war. And we begin to see over time that he is able because he is, not because we have just reached our 80% support target or finished our final interview. And it’s this very reliance on the One who holds all things in his hands that is the best preparation for any of us, for service anywhere.
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.