The Pros and Cons of Being “On Mission” as a Non-Missionary

by Editor on October 5, 2016

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A missionary is, literally speaking, “one who is sent out.” But my husband and I did not go down the traditional missionary road. We were not sent by a church or organization, and we do not solicit funds or ask for financial support. We simply feel commissioned by the Holy Spirit to go to “the regions beyond.”

When I met my husband, he was working for an IT company in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was in transition, helping out as a locum physiotherapist at an orthopaedic practice in Pretoria, South Africa. The day before we met, I signed a contract to work at a practice in Namibia.

Four months later we got married and set off into the sunset on a honeymoon/road trip with a car full of belongings on our way to my new job in Namibia. Fortunately, my husband’s boss agreed that he could finish up his remaining project by working remotely from Namibia.

In many ways, the Namibian desert became our “exodus.” We had much to learn, but God began tugging at our hearts during that time. The Word became alive to us, and we realized that we were in preparation for a mission. We both felt passionate about reaching people who have never heard the gospel and agreed that Asia would be a good place to start.

So, while I finished my one-year contract in Namibia, my husband went ahead to Thailand to work as a volunteer and to check out our future options there. Needless to say, some people thought we were crazy. Even our local church at that time was not very supportive of our plan to “go to the nations” by jumping on the next plane.

Like many other young people in Asia, we ended up working as English teachers in Thailand. And here we are three years later with a new baby. . . . living, teaching, and volunteering in a Buddhist community.

So what is it like being non-missionaries on mission? I’ll start with the obvious CONS:

  1. No formal training for missions. Everything we know, we have learned from our personal journey with God and other people, the Bible, experiences of people we met along the way (our missionary friends and local Christians), and books/videos.
  1.  No formal language or culture preparation.
  1.  No financial support from a designated church, organization, or supporting partners.
  1.  No furlong, paid vacation, or paid trip to go back home to South Africa. Our only trip back home was a private trip to see our family and friends.
  1.  No team members or local support groups. We have no visitors except family or friends who have come on holiday.
  1.  No structured ministry-related assignments or opportunities.
  1.  Most time and energy spent on doing our secular jobs well. 

But there are many PROS to our situation:

  1. Total accountability to God; no accountability to any organization.
  1.  Freedom to learn and follow God. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and the Bible is our main guidebook.
  1.  No pressure, expectations, or concern for spiritual titles. It’s okay to figure it out as we go, and we have freedom to learn from our own mistakes without any denominational oversight or limitations. Therefore, we have freedom to help any local churches and missionaries by simply showing up with open hands to support what God is already doing in the community by coming alongside the local church leaders.
  1.  No fund-raising or administrative hassles. This gives us the freedom to write newsletters or blog posts simply for the joy of authentic writing and as a way of sharing and keeping in touch with the people we love.
  1.  Opportunity to be part of the local community. By taking secular jobs and raising a family here, doors for one-on-one ministry in the community are open wide. It also supports language acquisition and culture immersion and creates casual opportunities to share what we believe with those around us as insiders and not outsiders.
  1.  Freedom from judgement of our lifestyle. We live a simple lifestyle because of personal choice, not by constraint; but we also do touristy-things like going to the beach or eating out at restaurants sometimes without the fear of constant scrutiny or unfair judgment.

I’m not sure if I ever wanted to be a missionary, but being on this great (co)mission has been a revelation of how desperately those around me, as well as I myself, are in need of a Savior. And in the middle of our joys and struggles, God keeps showing up over and over again, always guiding, providing, and convincing me more and more each day that if I trust in Him, I do not need a back-up plan. He is enough.

He leads us by opening and closing doors — sometimes in the form of work opportunities or visa problems. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter where we end up going or whether we stay because He is already there and He will complete the good work He began in us and in the hearts of the people around us.

Being part of the global mission, introducing people to Jesus and sharing the good news with the nations, is a mission worth dedicating our lives to, regardless of where or how God leads us. So the pros always outweigh the cons if we keep on choosing to follow God’s leading and to remain content in Him, being grateful that He is truly enough.

We simply need to continually choose to see obstacles and problems as learning opportunities, and, of course, to choose to point others to Jesus in their life’s journey that they too may choose to end their journey safe in the arms of God.

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dorette-skinnerDorette Skinner is a farm girl from South Africa who ended up kicking off her shoes in a small town in Thailand. Four countries and three career changes later she is content to be a full-time mommy and part-time volunteer for now. She loves learning more about God, spending time with people, reading good books and going on mini-adventures. She writes at reporterofhope.com

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  • nicolette hutcherson

    This is an interesting post… Several of her pros, I see very clearly as cons and others aren’t things I see as mutually exclusive. I as a missionary who raises support and is sent by churches through an organization have complete freedom to follow God, I have awesome opportunities to be part of a local community, these things aren’t taken away just because we are part of an organization. I will also admit I laughed outloud at the thought of a paid vacation! What this article did for me more than anything was show me what a huge misunderstanding so many have of what “traditional” missionary life is like. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to hear the perspectives of all different kinds of workers around the world!

    • Yes, point me towards the org offering paid vacations! 😉

      • Hi Karen, sorry about that terrible choice of words ‘as explained’ above – if I found an org offering paid vacations I might have considered working for them as well 😉

        • Your clarification is helpful, Dorette, and no apology necessary! I was just thinking why that bit jumped out at me and I think it’s because some assume missions is just a paid travelling holiday, or when we do travel (as happens a lot), it’s *always* for work (which we do pay for) so proper holidays never actually happen. We’ve been in this “business” 12 years now and only this year took our very first non-work-related holiday and it was amazing! We put it off way too long, passing up caring for ourselves with rest and restoration because we feared others’ perception and felt like we travelled all the time. We’re actually planning our month-long Christmas trip to the US and even though it’s an actual calendar holiday, we’ll be spending 75% of that time working: meeting with supporters, raising funds, reporting back to churches. It’s so tough knowing that the only way we can see family is when we MUST travel back for work. 🙁

          Anyway, all that to say is, I am really thankful for posts like this, even though some of it may sting, in that it helps us appreciate our partners in non-traditional ministry roles (like you!) while also keeping us accountable to be somewhat transparent (with boundaries, of course) about our roles, needs and blessings.

          • Wow, 12 years and only one non-work related holiday. No wonder those two words jumped out at you 🙂 Be assured I know missions is not just a paid travelling holiday, and I cannot even imagine what it must feel like having so much homework on home assignment, I never would have guessed 75% 😉 I hope you and your family with find a million ways to make the most of the other 25% and be an example for others in taking the time to care for yourselves, to rest and be restored. Thank you for sharing your experience, part of being in a non-traditional ministry role is learning how we can best serve and help those who are in full time ministry.

          • Well hopefully we can make it a 50/50 split. 🙂

    • Hi Nicolette, I found your comment just as interesting… and insightful. For a moment I felt almost tempted to defend myself, but then I realized that I never intended to write this post as my life vs. the life of a ‘traditional’ missionary. What I consider pros, someone else might very well consider cons and visa versa. I obviously do not know all the ins and outs of working for an organization not being a missionary makes me more of an outsider in this conversation than I would like to be. Especially since it’s the closest to a community I found that I could relate to in so many other ways in living overseas as a Christian. With ‘paid vacation’ I meant the opportunity to go back home, which I realize is not exactly considered a vacation for most missionaries, because there is a lot of travel and fundraising involved that could be better described as ”work”. I’m sorry about that and I hope we could all walk away with a glimpse into someone else’s perspective.

      • nicolette hutcherson

        Thanks for your reply, Dorette, and I’m sorry if my comment made you feel like you needed to defend yourself, that certainly wasn’t my intention at all! I found your post incredibly insightful… anytime someone on the “outside” (though I wouldn’t consider you an outsider, just playing a different role on the same team!) talks about those on the “inside” (again, I actually hate that terminology, so I hope the meaning comes through) it gives those of us inside great perspective on the way we are viewed and therefore most likely presenting ourselves.

        So if a lot of people think that our home assignment is something even remotely close to a vacation, I need to be better about communicating. Or if lots of people think support raising is a huge con of traditional missions, then I need to do a better job communicating what a joy it is to depend totally on God through the sacrifice and generosity of His people.

        So thank you for this post… though it may not have generated the response (from me, I’m just one person) you anticipated, I found it incredibly helpful!

        • Thank you, Nicolette. I like the idea of just “playing a different role on the same team’ .. I really appreciate your comments here and I think we can all learn so much from each other, especially when it comes to communicating better. (Not only across cultures 😉

  • Tai Tirzah

    Wow! These comments are such a drastic contrast from many comments I have read before. You guys are so amazing!!!! I loved reading the comments just as much as I loved the article; so graciousness, positive, respectful and loving!!! Absolutely the best!!! You guys are the best! Thank you for being so loving and I learned so much from the article and the blog post! I love you guys so much! Thank you for being such an amazing example!!!! You guy are amazing!!!

    Love your fellow team member (Stateside missionary with YWAM Chico)

    • Thank you for your kind words, Tai. I sure learned a lot from the comments as well and I’m glad if the post could also be helpful! <3

  • Miriam

    Thanks for an interesting post! I have been on both sides. When I was not with an organisation, I missed the accountability, I missed other people encouraging me and helping me to keep my focus sharp. That is one of the reasons I have made the shift and am with an organisation now, and this has been the right step for me. Fundraising has never felt like a big burden, and I love to get people involved in what I am doing here, seeing them as partners in the work who also support me with prayer, rather than just giving money. (Though I’m afraid this wouldn’t apply to all supporters, for some it would still be ‘giving money to charity’ – but that is a whole different discussion).
    So we clearly experience things in a different way and that’s okay!
    One of your points I didn’t fully agree with though. While it’s good to learn from our mistakes, I also like to learn from others’ mistakes so that I don’t make them! While I need to learn from mistakes, I rather don’t want to make mistakes that would damage the local community and it’s so valuable to learn from others who have gone on this path before me.

    • Hi, Miriam. Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful reply 😉 I also miss the accountability and encouragement that would come from serving on a team. And I agree that we do not only need to learn from our own mistakes, especially at the cost of damage to the local community. In the same sense we can also learn a lot from good choices others have made who has gone on this path before us. God always provides and for me this came in the form of a local missionary friend who has served and lived in this town for 14 years, she can speak the language fluently and I’ve learned so much from her cultural insights and experiences. The town where we live also happens to be one of the places that was affected by the Tsnami in 2004. By simply witnessing the rippling after effect of mass foreign aid (also a whole different discussion), I have plenty of reasons to question even my own ‘good intentions’ in the light of ‘when helping hurts’. So much to ponder and pray about. I also like your approach on fund raising and trust that your supporters appreciate it as well.

  • Jennifer McDuffie

    I appreciated this article as it hit home to me. My husband and I are not your “traditional” missionaries either. We actually left the US to go to South Africa (which eventually became a base as we ventured into Africa). We didn’t have an organization, church, etc backing us financially or otherwise. We had fellow brothers and sisters who backed us with prayer. But we also had those who questioned us. All we knew is that we were called and we needed to be obedient to the calling. There were some pretty amazing miracles that happened leading up to our departure that solidified our calling and timing to go. (Like the fact that we had already booked our plane tickets before my husband even had his passport!! He only received it with less than 48 hours until we departed. This was a HUGE impossible that only God could have made possible!)

    Needless to say, as already stated, there has definitely been pros and cons to the journey. I don’t know if I would have changed our experience at all because it has made me who I am today. Through every valley and mountain top, I’ve found myself clinging more and more to my Heavenly Father. It’s definitely not a journey for all but for us it has been the right journey… I think! 🙂

    • Hi Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your story here.. I guess on some subconscious level I was hoping for a ‘me too’ when I wrote this post and it’s really nice to know that there are other people too who were led in a similar way. it’s also interesting that you ended up with South Africa as your base-camp – I’m sure we could share a lot of awesome stories about the place I call home 😉 I agree on so many levels that I would also not change anything about the experience and this journey. May God bless your ministry and keep on leading you to become more and more like Him.

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