As church leaders, we often have church members who come to us for counsel about moving overseas to work as missionaries, professionals, or humanitarians. Their desires are generally good ones, and their motives are generally pure. Many times they feel they’ve heard a call but aren’t sure if it really came from God. They want our endorsement of their plans and ideas and often our advice with regard to this major life decision.
Sometimes those coming to us for counsel are faced with uncertainty and ask “How do I know I’m called to live, work, and minister overseas?” While we can rarely be 100% certain of God’s plan for someone’s life, there are several areas for evaluation when determining whether or not full-time overseas work and ministry is the best path for them to take.
1) Sensing a word from the Lord.
Probably the first place to begin is God’s ministry in their lives. Are they consistently in the Word, having times of prayer, and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit? Making a major life decision such as moving overseas requires concerted time placing the question before God and then waiting on Him for the answer. Sometimes God will be quick about answering, but other times, we have to stand with, pray with, and wait with those seeking God’s will. The Scriptures can have a lot to say with regard to guiding and directing someone’s life. As we counsel those seeking advice, we must constantly point them back to God’s Word, and always advise prayer and times of listening and meditation. Creating the space to hear from God is essential. Only then will they be able to cut through the world’s noise and hear the voice of God.
2) Seeking the words of others.
Many times in life, God uses others to speak truth into the lives of His followers. When faced with making a decision to move overseas, we can advise those in our church to seek advice from other believers with whom they share a close relationship. God may use others to confirm His leading. A confident word from the family of God can be the help needed when pursuing overseas opportunities. It is important to note that the best advice will come from those who know them best. Taking advice from strangers or acquaintances rarely produces effective results. Those who have lived life together for years, watching each other grow and mature are best qualified to pour into the lives of those seeking an overseas placement. They will have seen God work and may see the next logical step in life and ministry for their loved ones. God may speak to them, and they may be able to pass along His counsel as the Holy Spirit guides them to do so. Alternately, close friends and family members may (lovingly) advise that overseas service is not the right choice. That can be difficult to hear but may be needed to save someone from the grief that comes from choosing a path that may not be the right fit for them.
3) Receiving an invitation.
One of the clearest signs that an overseas opportunity is from the Lord may come in the form of an invitation from the local culture/organization with whom someone is considering to work. Many times a short term visit to an overseas culture is fun, exciting, and adventurous. Those visiting begin to form relationships that may or may not last a lifetime. However, a feel-good trip to an overseas ministry is not enough. Someone considering an overseas assignment must have serious conversations with the local organization with whom they are considering work. Specific questions regarding future role, specific timing, training opportunities, living quarters, financial requirements, and local leadership are all part of the discussion which will give some good guidance in making decisions. If there is no role, nor specific timing mentioned, this is a good indication that the “invitation” to serve overseas may be one of courtesy and relationship-building and not one to join the national team of indigenous workers. The national workers must issue a clear invitation. If they don’t, the answer to the question of moving overseas may become even clearer.
4) Having essential gifts, skills, and experiences.
Living and working overseas requires a specific set of gifts and abilities. Those gifts are often based in leadership, teaching, or service to others. However, the key in finding success cross-culturally will be taking the attitude of a learner and not relying on personal expertise, no matter how seemingly valuable, to try to find success alongside the national workers. Allowing the national workers to use their own gifts and give leadership to those coming to minister overseas is one of the keys to true success in a cross-cultural setting. Therefore, the most essential gifts, skills, and abilities required for those considering moving overseas are those that allow people to train nationals and work behind the scenes to empower local workers to take their own work forward. This mandates a servant attitude, as well as an overall mentality of teamwork and perhaps a time-bound commitment that allows the nationals to thrive and grow. Those with a “savior mentality” or those who are prone to enter the overseas scenario relying on their professional expertise may not be able to thrive in another culture. Humility and the commitment to service at all costs are the fundamentals of success.
5) Needing family alignment.
Finally, long-term overseas work and ministry requires full buy in from all family members who will be joining in the move. Many times a married couple will indicate that only one of the spouses actually feels called by God to serve overseas. Sometimes the family makes the move anyways, and one spouse makes a huge sacrifice to follow along. While this is a topic for more in-depth counsel and biblical examination, a successful overseas assignment often begins with both husband and wife determining God wants them both overseas for a particular season of life. Again, couples may come to us as church leaders for counsel in this area. We can ask some questions that might help them find clarity in the matter. Have they both individually heard from God on the matter? Do they both have gifts and abilities that can be used effectively overseas? Are there specific roles for each as individuals to play in their overseas assignment? How do their children feel about the move? Are there good opportunities for growth for those children? Those are just some of the key questions to consider. However, no matter the answers, family alignment is essential in making the final decision to move to a new culture.
Whatever the final decision, it’s vital that we encourage those seeking guidance to focus on finding the answer from God and only looking to others for help in seeing God’s answer. After all, He’s the one doing the calling.