By Marti Wade
None of us get where we’re going alone. And when the direction God is tugging us involves something as, well, apparently preposterous as leaving everything we know and moving to another country for cross-cultural service, we’re going to need a lot of help and encouragement to get there from here. Few make it to the field without help from a team of intercessors, cheerleaders, and supporters.
The most valuable player on that team may be a mentor. Mission mentors help tomorrow’s missionaries grow and get where they’re going. Usually a mentor is someone who has been down that road before (or one like it) and who is available and committed to walk alongside others as they try to find where they fit and take the next steps in their journey.
Want to find a mission mentor, become one, or just get some ideas to keep your mentoring relationship alive and growing? Consider these five activities would-be missionaries and their mentors can do together:
1. Talk things over.
Prospective missionaries need someone to listen to their story and hear about their vision, opportunities, and experiences. They need someone to help them recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to articulate their ideas (and maybe some misconceptions) about serving in ministry. A mentor can be that listening ear.
2. Seek God together.
All the self-awareness, talent, and training in the world can’t take the place of knowing and following God and doing what He says. Potential missionaries and their mentors may find their most fruitful time together is spent praying together for the world and for discernment about next steps in service.
Tips? Consider using something like Operation World or Prayercast as fuel for global intercession. Brainstorm and write down the key questions, concerns, or obstacles you face and pray about them, preferably often and with others.
3. Read and discuss a good book.
Often mission agencies and training programs will assign mission books, articles, or Bible studies for a prospective missionary to go through. Studying or reading together or at least discussing the contents with a mentor can increase retention and clarify lessons learned.
You have many options. You might work through Mission Smart: 15 Critical Questions to Ask before Launching Overseas or one of the books on our AskaMissionary.com book list, for example.
4. Serve together.
While cross-cultural ministry is full of surprises, the best predictor of future success is still past success. Missionaries need to learn and grow through ministry close to home before they serve far away. Besides that, many of us learn best through what we do and experience, not from someone telling us what they think we need to know. For these reasons more and more missionary training programs include a strong experiential element, including opportunities for evangelism, service, teaching and leading others, and cross-cultural relationship-building.
The prospective missionary who serves with a wise and sympathetic mentor close at hand has an edge: someone to help them make the most of these ministry experiences and learn as much as they can about God, themselves, and serving in ministry before they “go.” So find a way to pursue ministry together if you can. At least talk through ministry experiences before and after they happen.
5. Stay in touch.
Even mission mentors and prospective missionaries who are not able to meet face to face on a regular basis can stay in touch. Check in with one another by phone, text, or email. This is a great way to provide encouragement and accountability on any steps either of you has agreed to take in the process.
Not able to do all these things or find someone to walk with in these ways? Pray and ask God for eyes to see what you can do to mentor others or find what you need from those who could mentor you. In many cases, the role of mentor is not filled by one person who’s always there, but by a loose network of diverse people or a series of mentors over time.
» Comment on this article below or see previous Propel articles on mentoring.