For most of my life I’ve periodically heard the phrase, “you’re a missionary wherever you go.” I suppose I understand the general meaning behind it, but over the course of leading 70 foreign mission trips I’ve encountered a lot of actual cross-cultural missionaries. When I see what they deal with every day, and hear their stories, I’m not so sure that what I face when I’m home compares at all. I can only imagine what it would be like to move my family to the other side of the planet, say goodbye to all friends and family, learn a new language, dress differently, eat strange food, battle exposure to foreign diseases, resort to sketchy transportation to get around, shop for the necessities of life with new currency, struggle with the paperwork and planning of visas, flights, homeschooling their kids, and deal with oppressive political and religious regimes ruling the country—some of whom are determined to eradicate their nation of Christians either by eviction or execution.
Missionaries are not overseas to make money; in fact, they live on donations. Their entire “job” revolves around winning the lost, discipling and training believers, and figuring out ways to meet the physical needs of people: food, water, clothing, education, medicine and health care, abandoned children. They do this on limited resources, technology, and most are surrounded by practicing false cults and religions.
In 1959, Scottish missionary Stephen Neill wrote, “If everything is mission, then nothing is mission.” In other words, if you a “missionary” every day, everywhere, then there is no intentionality. Jesus purposefully sent out His followers (Matthew 10:16), and He purposefully commissioned the rest of us to “go” into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
Not known as a missionary, Gospel singer and songwriter, Keith Green, astutely observed, “A Christian missionary is a person whose passion is to make the Lord Jesus known to the whole world. I believe that ‘being a missionary’ in the truest sense of the word is taking the Gospel where it has never been before, or at least to a different culture or a different language group. A true missionary is someone who will risk everything for the sake of the lost of the world.”
We are Christians wherever we go, and that is certainly not a lesser title; just as being a missionary is not a higher form of Christianity. In fact, it is a very specific calling. As Christians, we should be evangelists in our home country, yet if the opportunity presents itself, I shamelessly implore you to join a short-term missions team, or if God asks, then answer the call of long-term [cross-cultural] missions. 2 billion people haven’t heard the name of Jesus once.