How to be a Real Missionary

by Anisha Hopkinson on June 10, 2016

Wonder woman

My first attempt at overseas missions was a rather spur of the moment decision. As I made plans to drop out of college and get an apartment with my best friend, Dad showed me the website of a medical mission in Africa and suggested I give it a try. So I did. I didn’t think about training, or have any idea of how long I’d serve. I just went.

Side Note: Although I served for 2+ years with that mission, I still didn’t consider myself a real missionary. I just dabbled in a life others spent decades in.

My next missionary attempt included nine years of preparation. From the start, my husband and I carefully considered training options and aimed for long-term service. This time I would finally be a real missionary. We joined an aviation mission and moved overseas again.

In those years of preparation, I began to develop a sense of what kind of missionary I wanted to be. I wouldn’t be like those missionaries, you know – the ones who might stay forever, but never really connect with the people or the culture. I would be a real missionary, you know – like Amy Carmichael (55 years in India without a furlough), Hudson Taylor (the man got huge results), Shane Claiborne (made the vow of poverty cool), Don Richardson (that clever ‘redemptive analogies’ guy), and Elisabeth Elliot (missionary to her husband’s murderers).

The trouble was, I couldn’t do it.

Truth: The only thing you need to do to be a real missionary, is to be a real person.

To be a real missionary, you don’t need to stay overseas for decades without a break. You don’t need to take a vow of poverty. You don’t need to start hundreds of projects. You don’t need to write books. You don’t even need huge results.

But I should tell you (and this is really important): you have to learn to be a missionary as the person that you are, not as the person you wish to be.

You are not too young or too old, too extroverted or too introverted, too technically minded or too artsy, too busy with a family or too single. It’s just you – and you are who you are.

Side Note: I really wanted to be an extrovert missionary. I’m not an extrovert. I failed in this. It’s ok though. God uses introverts too.

The whole of you becomes a missionary, not just the part that fits the job description. Your life experiences, your hang-ups, your sense of humor, your world view, your fitness level, your hopes and dreams – all of you, not a bit gets left out.

The real missionary is the person who takes all of who they are and willingly offers it back to the Lord. It’s not about striving to become a missionary, but willingly and joyfully surrendering who you actually, truthfully, really are.

Those other missionaries? The ones whose stories amaze and inspire? They are more like guides. Your own specific missions path is God’s to reveal, but you can still learn from theirs. You learn from their mistakes, successes, joys, and frustrations – but they do not define who you are.

Side Note: Corrie ten Boom is one of my heroes. I read her stories of simple acts of courage in Nazi-occupied Holland, her time in a concentration camp, and her incredible work in forgiveness and extending love to enemies. I’m inspired! I long to see that kind of fruit in my own life! Except… “God, It’s cool if you use me like Corrie, but can we just skip the whole concentration camp part?” Often I want the results of someone’s life, but not the suffering it took to get there.

Truth: You don’t have to be someone else, even if they are really cool. God’s got loads of good works prepared for you – yes, you!

What ultimately matters is that you are good clay. All the training, programs, aspirations, and strategies in the world don’t matter if you aren’t willing and pliable in God’s hands.

So you want to be a real missionary? Take a good look inside. With heart and hands wide open, offer yourself to the Lord.

“God, It’s me – just me. I’m not sure how you can use me, but I am willing.
Whatever you have in mind, I’m all in.”

Once you’ve laid it all out there, freed up from expectations and comparison, you can be who you really want to be – God’s own. Loved and loving others.

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About Anisha Hopkinson

Anisha was born to Chilean and Texan parents, first tasted missions in Mexico, fell in love with an Englishman in Africa, and now lives in Indonesia. She journals about cross-cultural life, helping people, and loving Jesus on www.namasayamommy.blogspot.com
  • Kathy Vaughan

    “The only thing you need to do to be a real missionary is to be a real person.” I came late to being a missionary (almost 60 years old) and sometimes I feel like I’m not a real missionary. What an important message for me to learn and remember! Thank you, Anisha.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Glad you were encouraged 🙂

  • Ashley Keller

    YES! Thank you!

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • AWESOME!! Yes, I’m convinced that some of the biggest barriers are not closed borders or daunting skill-sets, but doubts in our own hearts. I know before I left I really struggled wondering if I would “have what it takes” or would be able to be effective, etc. etc.

    “The real missionary is the person who takes all of who they are and willingly offers it back to the Lord.”

    We need more people to come out and lay down everything (even their desires to be a businessman, or church planter, or whatever), be willing to become nothing, and then find out how eager he is to use them to reveal himself in dark places. 🙂 https://canijustgo.com/

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Especially love your last paragraph!

  • The Responsible Mom at Home

    Seems to me Anisha it is about allowing your thought process to be controlled and a need to live out of a suitcase and see the world on vacation. My 27 year old daughter is doing and thinking like you and has been for the last 2 years. I have seen her go from a free thinking, open minded woman to a world wondering, brainwashed Jesus junkie who doesn’t consider any health risks of her current life-style, wants to force her limited beliefs on vulnerable people in other countries and have her world travel be solely funded by other working people and state welfare benefits (tax payers). So if being limited in your religious beliefs is being authentic and honest, I beg to differ. I see a close minded thinker who is looking for a charitable travel adventure.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Hiya. Thanks for your comment. I genuinely appreciate hearing from people who share different opinions/beliefs/world view than I do. Engaging in this missions conversation is one of the reasons why I write in a public forum. I obviously can’t comment on your daughter’s life, but can tell you if you’re interested in a dialog on missions, then you’re in the right place. This sight is full of articles that address the issues you’ve brought up. Believe me, many of us in missions don’t want to see charity vacations or the forcing of Christian beliefs on vulnerable people either. This post is a good place to start: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/10-reasons-not-to-become-a-missionary/

    • Marilyn Gardner

      I echo Anisha’s invitation to this space. As someone who has been part of the community for a long time through birth and friendship, I see a lot of struggling and working through how to live out faith and belief with integrity – that includes everything from finances to expression of faith in the places we live and work. For me, so much of it begins with a core belief that our very existence is determined by our view of and relationship to God, so how I live and express that core belief matters. And that gets complicated — we (I) don’t always do it well or right. Being willing to learn and put myself into a posture of cultural humility has never been easy, but it is essential. These conversations go down better with coffee and cake, but in the absence of those, you are welcome to dialogue here.

  • Christa

    Thank you for writing this! Ive been on the field for almost five years and have struggled with not being an “extrovert missionary.” I am an introvert and my giftings lie in admin and organization. Leaving me feeling like I am not cut out for the “requirements of the job” such as preaching and teaching. I like what you wrote “you have to learn to be a missionary as the person that you are, not as the person you wish to be.” Thank you for writing this.

  • Eden Julia Jones

    “It’s not about striving to become a missionary, but willingly and joyfully surrendering who you actually, truthfully, really are.”

    Thank you for this.

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