Growing up in church, I thought the mission field was a magical place where all your dreams came true.
This was partly my fault. As a teenager, I read too many stories where normal, everyday-type Christians went overseas with no money, no game plan and no return flight, only to be rewarded for their faithfulness and sacrifice with enough world-changing success to have made Mother Teresa jealous.
I idolized these people. Their stories became my escape. I even dropped out during my second year in college so I could go to Africa and follow in their footsteps. But the more time I spent on the mission field, the more these stories began to feel like fairytales.
What I’ve come to realize is that Christian culture perpetuates a lot of uninformed and downright misleading ideas about missions.
Here are some of the myths I fell for:
1. God can use anyone.
So many of the books out today encouraging young Christians to answer radical calls to service are totally unrealistic. They tell these extraordinary, one-in-a-million success stories in a way that suggests anyone can do it. According to some authors, it’s just a matter of picking a spot on the map, hopping on a plane and trusting in God to do the rest. But what these authors fail to mention, however, is that these results aren’t typical.
The truth is, the people in these stories didn’t get where they are today by accident. I can think of more than a few celebrity missionaries who came from highly privileged backgrounds and are supported by a vast network of qualified people doing the leg work behind the scenes. Not that this is a bad thing, but it should certainly make us pause before we try to replicate the success of people whose circumstances were anything but ordinary.
2. Missionaries are “called” or “chosen.”
When someone becomes a missionary, we say they’re “answering the call.” When we hear about their activity overseas, we say they’re “doing the Lord’s work.” No Christian I know would say that one person’s function in the Body of Christ is higher than another’s. But last time I checked, we don’t anoint, pray over and “send out” the church janitor.
Despite its prevalence back in the States, this elitist sort of thinking is almost nonexistent on the mission field. This was one of the more surprising takeaways from my time overseas. The missionaries I encountered, the people who served in the trenches for most of their adult lives, were some of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. In other words, they weren’t buying their own hype.
3. Miracles happen overseas.
Christians like to argue that the reason we don’t experience miracles in the West is because we’re more reliant on our wealth and technology and medicine than we are on God. They’ll say that those less fortunate living in the rest of the world have to fully trust in God to receive their provision, and that’s why we hear so many stories of signs and wonders coming from the mission field.