I’ve known David Armstrong for five years now. We’ve shared office space for more than three years.
David served with OC International for 20 years, most of that time overseas in Latin America. After three or so years back in OC’s home office he co-founded Mission Data International (proprietor of this publication) with his son and eventually moved to Arkansas to work in the M-DAT office full-time. In this interview I tried to draw on his lifetime of knowledge on mission involvement.
Propel: What events or interests led up to your decision to pursue missions?
David: Mary and I have always been interested in missions, and supported missionaries since we were age 12, but I never thought about being a missionary. It wasn’t until after two years of college, four years of electronics in the Air Force, and I was in Seattle working that I wrestled with what I what going to do with my life. I’m not the kind of person who can work eight to five and then sit and watch TV or spend my weekends fishing. I needed something worth putting my life into. After a couple years of thinking during which we had our first child and bought our first house, I thought “anything I do in electronics or home remodeling (both interests for me) is going to be gone in 50 to 100 years. The only things that are going to stay around forever are people and God and His Word. If I want to be involved in something that is going to last, that where it needs to be.
That was in essence a decision to be involved full time in ministry. The decision to be involved in missions was almost simultaneous as we asked “where is the greatest need?” Having grown up in a good Bible teaching church, that answer was obvious – overseas. And since we had always been interested in missions, it was a fit. With that we sold our home after only a year and headed to Multnomah Bible College in Portland.
Propel: What did you and your wife do to prepare for long-term, cross-cultural mission service?
David: Looking back, the best preparation for missions was being involved in a good church as we grew up. We learned the Word, we worked with people, we taught kids and worked with youth, we experienced church life and we learned to walk with God.
Bible School was a good review of what I believed and rounded me out well. Seminary exposed me to the breadth of “Christian” thought, and prepared me for the many heresies that abound.
The life experience of having and raising three kids while working my way though Bible School and Seminary while also being involved in a church kept my feet on the ground, rooted in reality.
David is on the left — the one without the nametag.
Propel: How important are college level Bible classes to a cross-cultural missionary? Can certain kinds of mission-workers get away with little or no formal training?
David: The type of missionary activity largely determines the amount of formal Bible training one needs. If you are going to do evangelism and church planting, you need to be a life long learner of the Word. Bible School and/or Seminary will give you an overview and organize your thinking. But they are only a beginning. If you are flying a plane or doing relief work, a consistent growing walk with the Lord is essential, so that you are ready to respond to questions and situations. You will still be walking by faith – so your relationship with God has to be growing.
Propel: What would you have done differently in hindsight?
David: Spend more time hanging out and talking about life as I grew up. I am more task oriented – but ministry is about people.
Propel: How did you decide on a sending organization to serve with?
David: We heard dozens of missionaries speak in our church as we grew up so we had a couple organizations in mind due to the kinds of ministries and types of people they were. In Bible School and Seminary we met many more at the annual missions conferences.
We came up with a short list of three or four that we kept tabs with and checked out. We had decided on one before we finished school.
Propel: What obstacles did you have to overcome as you planned and prepared to go overseas?
David: Getting through school with a family. God was very faithful in providing as needed. We learned live with a lot of stress.
Propel: What were the biggest struggles for you and your family in the first year of living overseas? What were the greatest joys of the first year?
David: The first year was great! It was language school and we had no other responsibilities. We got up at the same time, had three meals a day together and watched Dukes of Hazard in Spanish in the evening. We memorized verses in English and Spanish and enjoyed life. And we all learned Spanish. It was a wonderful relaxing year after all the stress of school!
We were over 30 with kids aged 8 to 13 by the time we moved to Latin America.
Propel: How has preparing to be a missionary changed in the last twenty years? What’s more difficult than it used to be? What’s easier?
David: If you are going to do church planting, Bible translation or evangelism, it hasn’t. If you are going to a part of the world where you can’t get a missionary visa, you have to think creative! You still need a solid Bible base and a growing relationship with the Lord, without an “I’m a missionary stamp” on your transcripts. You will need a legitimate reason for living in the country to which you are going, i.e. a reason understandable to the common person there. A reason which you intend to live out.
Propel: What can people do to prepare for career missions even if they are four or five years from actually being in ministry?
David: Talk and talk and talk. And read and read and read. The more stories of Godly lives you hear and see the better prepared you will be for life in whatever setting you end up. My varied experiences in jobs and education, and my varied interests have all helped me connect with people everywhere I go.
Get to know God! That is what it is all about. It is his show that you are getting involved in. The better you know him and the more clearly you hear his “voice and leading”, the better.
And learn to appreciate people and the differing ways they see life. Learn about different styles of personalities, hear their values and view of life. You will have to live and work with every kind in the ministry. Learn to communicate; to hear others, to resolve conflicts, to encourage others, to live with differences, yet live with boundaries. Most everyone loves the culture and nationals they go to. It is their fellow missionaries they will have trouble getting along with.