When my husband and I decided we wanted to go and do long term missions we literally had no idea where to start. We had both been on short term mission trips separately, but both of us hadn’t really done anything typical. My husband had gone to Russia and ended up designing and welding up a fire escape for the local church there. And I had gone to India on a more personal trip with my Dad where we built upon personal relationships my Dad had made previously, strengthened church leadership and visited a lot of people in the community. Both experiences were life-changing, but not what you would call ‘normal missions,’ if there even is such a phrase.
Here are some steps that helped us research and choose a sending agency.
1. Forget Google
While in general I’m a huge fan of Google and the ease it brings to my life, I had no idea about how much of a monster Missions is and how many agencies there are out there. When I finally saw what I was trying to put a handle on, I had to put my computer away and take a breath. I tried to go back a couple of times, and I even reached out to one of the organisations on the list that sounded vaguely familiar.
But honestly, how is anyone supposed to make an informed decision while making the 3373625125637348949 calls necessary to get in touch with each agency? You can’t, so I highly recommend taking another route.
2. Look for Communication Quality.
While looking through Google, I managed to get in touch with an organisation that sounded familiar, and I organised an online interview. We seemed to fit, and it was all positive, but the communication dropped off after that. They didn’t seem to need us, and we didn’t want to bother them. This taught me that how an organisation communicates with new leads is very important and could be a clue as to how they run as an organisation.
Just remember, if this is your path, you’re going to be on the field in a foreign country with only small strings of attachment linking you back to the world you just left. So we decided that we wanted our sending organisation to make communication a priority, because that’s one giant key to keeping us sane once we finally get out there.
3. Use personal and local connections.
Personal and local connections are so much easier to set up, follow up, and evaluate. After failing at a few attempts of finding Missions agencies through Google, my husband approached the agency with whom he had gone to Russia. The director also happened to attend our church. He arranged a meeting to discuss our ideas and see if there was any way of going forward. This part of the process was remarkably quick and simple compared to what had been happening before, and that was mostly due to the fact that we could meet in person, catch up regularly, and track the process in real time. It also meant he could answer our questions and allay our fears pretty quickly and very organically.
4. Make sure the organisation values align with your values.
Because we were chatting to the director through our church connection, we took for granted that the organisation values would be the same as ours. As the process went on, we found out that there are some differences in opinion with some things, but luckily for us, these weren’t deal breakers. It would have been a shame to get most of the way through the process before potentially finding out that the differences were too many.
So if possible, look into the organisation and their beliefs, especially about things that are known to differ between Christian denominations. Be clear and concise with yourself about which issues are deal breakers and which differences you can accept.
5. If possible, take a short-term trip with the organisation.
At first I thought this option to be both frivolous and a waste of time. If we were going to work towards a short-term trip, wouldn’t that would take time and money away from our efforts to get out there long term? However, my husband still wasn’t firm on the idea of leaving his dream job, family, and the familiarity of home in order to chase a vague idea on the other side of the globe. So for us, a short-term trip became necessary.
However, even when not absolutely necessary, I would still highly recommend what is known in some circles as a ‘Vision Trip’. This gives the opportunity to experience firsthand how the sending organisation works in getting you on the field, without the pressure of it being the ‘long term launch.’ It also gives an opportunity to visit the field that you want to be a part of, and to be directly involved with the culture of that team and the dynamics of how they work. For me, meeting the destination team and seeing firsthand how they worked together was another confirmation that we had chosen the right country and the right sending agency.
Post-Covid, this can prove a real challenge, and maybe this option won’t be available for some time. However, I think when possible, a Vision Trip is such an irreplaceable course of action, and frankly, we wouldn’t be going long-term had we not done it.
6. If you’re married, both spouses must agree.
This may conflict with how others feel, but there is no doubt in my mind that if you are married and you feel called to overseas missions, your partner must also be called. God would never call you to a relationship, to then call only one of you to the other side of the world for an extended period of time. The calling must come to both of you. To make it even more complicated, in my experience and from the experience of others I have talked with, sometimes the calling comes to each of you at different times.
I cannot stress enough to you how important it is, as the person who first gets the calling, to shut up and let God do the talking. Convincing a partner through colourful words, pleas, and stories to follow you across the globe without their own concrete belief that God is calling them there very often ends in disaster. Don’t let that be your story. If God truly wills it, it will happen in His timing and he will speak to both of you, albeit at different times.
7. Prayer and confirmation from God.
This can look different for each person, so I can’t speak as to what everyone will feel when confirmation comes. However, our confirming experiences included the approval of key mentors, the approval of both the sending and receiving teams, the peace that comes from God even as situations were tricky and scary, and the confusing combo of clarity, clear direction, and spiritual struggle. This final confirmation is something along the lines of knowing that you know that you know, and experiencing things that lean into your weaknesses and spiritual deficits. It can be challenging, but is very different from lack of peace.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it has been our personal journey. In the end we were able to confidently choose our sending agency, knowing that it was God’s will and that we were a great fit for them, as they were for us.
I’m curious to know if you have other suggestions for finding and choosing a sending agency.
Naomi Johnston is a photographer and designer based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Along with her husband Glyn and daughter Minna May, she is currently fundraising on her way to joining the One Mission Society team in Budapest, Hungary. She will be part of the media team, and is also hoping to work in Human Trafficking Prevention. Naomi writes regularly on her blog at www.thejohnstonjourney.com