My Young Friend Wants to Be a Missionary: Here's the Advice I Gave When He Asked
“I want to tell you something. The other night when I was doing homework in my room, I felt like God was calling me into missions. I think he wants me to be a missionary when I’m an adult.”
A young man in our youth group shared those words with me a couple weeks ago. He’s only in middle school, but his heart has already been prompted by the Spirit to at least consider what a life in missions might look like.
“Do you have any advice for me?” he asked.
What a thrill! What a privilege to plant seeds for missions into this boy’s heart. I prayed for him and about his question for a couple weeks. I wrote his mom an email last night with some ideas. I thought I’d share them here with you, that the Lord may use them in the life of another who may be feeling prompted towards a future on the mission field.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Bible
The best way to prepare for a life in ministry is to know and love the Word of God. Being young does not preclude you from being able to study the Bible! You can dive in at any age or stage of life. I would strongly encourage all Christians—but especially those who feel called to teach or lead in some way—to be fiercely committed to a local church and possibly a youth group, or a small group, or a discipleship relationship, or all of the above. You can’t overdo it on studying scripture and no matter how old or how smart you are, the Word of God will never be fully known to you. I encouraged my young friend to get a good study Bible so that he can overcome hurdles when he comes to them. One thought is checking out the CSB Apologetics Study Bible for Students.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the World
Displaying a world map in your home does wonders for simply reminding you that life is bigger than your own hometown. Maps are somehow inherently attractive—wherever one is displayed people linger over them and examine far away places. Our family had one on our dining room table, under a plastic mat, for years. It kept us at the table well beyond meal time.
In addition to the map, I encourage teens to get a subscription to World Teen Magazine. It is age-appropriate and will broaden your horizons in geography, history, sociology, and current events. Also, making a daily habit to check on the Joshua Project website will increase both your knowledge of and burden for people around the world. The site features a different unreached people group each day.
3. Read Missionary Biographies
Reading missionary biographies will enlighten and motivate any Christian to consider going to the mission field. There’s just something about reading what another person was willing to do for the name of Jesus that spurs us on to good works ourselves. They’re an invaluable resource for anyone considering missions! There are many great series written for kids. We own many of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now and they were perfect for my kids when they were in elementary school.
Other missionary biographies that I have enjoyed are Reckless Abandon, The Story of John G. Paton: Or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, and Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, among many others.
4. Be In Ministry Now
As my husband and I were preparing for the mission field, our missions pastor gave us good advice: dive headfirst into as much ministry as we could while missions was still a ways off. He knew we needed to excel at serving and that would require practice. He also knew that it would benefit us to get to know many people in the church, to experience a variety of relationships and needs and learn how to elevate others above ourselves. We washed dishes after church dinners, served coffee, taught classes, you name it. I’ve heard many wise men and women in full-time missions say, “If you’re not willing to be a missionary right where you are, don’t fly around the world to give it a try.”
5. Support Missionaries and Seek Out Mentors
Supporting missionaries, even as a young person, is an effective way to increase your affection for missions. By providing financial support (yes, even as a young person—and it needs to be your own hard-earned cash) and prayer support to a missionary or two or three, you will become invested in God’s work through them. You’ll feel the thrill of investing in eternity and you’ll become more aware of the highs, lows, joys, and sorrows felt by those on the mission field.
As you receive prayer letters and emails from missionaries overseas, you’ll be mentored, in a way. You’ll get a glimpse of their life and have a small taste of what your life might be like if you were to walk in their shoes. Some missionaries may even be willing to mentor you from afar—meaning they may correspond with you by email or snail mail or even Skype with you at times. When we served overseas it was normal for us to engage in conversations with young supporters about our average day, our needs, our victories. Many missionaries are happy to share!
6. Go On Short-Term Mission Trips
One sure way to have your eyes opened and heart burdened is to travel to a potential future mission field and serve there with local national believers or long-term missionaries already there. I strongly caution all short-termers to read and embrace the wisdom of When Helping Hurts. But if you can find a team from your local church that is going overseas to connect with long-term, indigenous gospel work in a meaningful way, go for it!
As young people graduate from high school and even college, I think taking a whole summer or year is a beneficial way to both expose yourself to future callings, as well as to bless those on the field. I think Pioneers’ Edge and Venture programs are two excellent options.
You’re never too young to pray for various people groups around the world, for the gospel to go out to all the nations, and for God to grow you into the adult he wants to use for his glory. Talk to the Lord regularly about all of these things! David Platt says, “God has ordained our prayer as a means to accomplish His purpose in the world.” Don’t miss this vital practice for your good and God’s glory.
And lastly, few postscript book ideas: