Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Archive for August, 2007

A lifetime of mission involvement

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

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.

Ralph Winter brown bag luncheon
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.

Not fitting in

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

by Paul Nielsen

For those of us who’ve heard the Great Commission’s call and are being led into full-time mission work, the ease of getting plugged in varies. For some, the perfect opportunity presents itself in such a way that to say “no” would be like Jonah not going to Nineveh when he was so clearly instructed to do so.

Other people possess clarity of calling but can’t seem to get plugged in. Reasons for these circumstances vary, from the right opportunity not being out there to, I believe, God keeping some back — who truly desire to go — in order to mobilize.

My wife and I have experienced both of the above scenarios. We were clearly led to be a part of Mission Data International, and we acted on that. Before this, however, I agonized (and still do) over the lack of opportunities created and offered by mission agencies for visual artists, opportunities other than graphic design, illustration and photography.

It seems as though I just don’t fit into the whole missions thing. My own interest lies with the tactile arts of painting, sculpture and ceramics. Very few openings with established sending organizations exist for people who feel led to serve in long-term missions while using their talent as a potter or printmaker.

Existing opportunities
Organizations like PIONEERS give teams and individuals the flexibility to create their own strategies, employing a variety of skillsets in order to create dynamic church planting efforts. Last year I exchanged emails with a PIONEERS team eager to have an artist serving with them in Southeast Asia. This is encouraging and gives me hope things are moving in the right direction. However, job descriptions are often lacking in these circumstances. Someone trying to find their place in such instances must possess an entrepreneurial bent to get involved this way. Not all people led to be missionaries are such self-starters.

Operation Mobilization, is devoted to getting visual artists into missions. In this way artists who want to use their gifts overseas aren’t the ones coming up with the opportunities. Within the current American mission structure, efforts such as Arts Link are a must.

Going for going’s sake
I can imagine some people saying that if you are led to serve overseas, every effort should be made to participate in any way possible. There are needs, all kinds of needs all of the time, among mission projects all over the world. Pious work is pious work, right?

I met a missionary family some years back who arrived in Spain expecting to oversee a camp. When they got to the camp the current director decided he wasn’t ready to retire just yet. The family was reassigned to a nearby church plant, where they felt entirely out of place. After seven years of service at this awkward post, the family learned the camp director would now retire, and they finally took their post at the camp.

Some will argue this was part of God’s bigger plan. Perhaps the family wasn’t ready for certain challenges presented by the camp administration; maybe God was testing their faithfulness as he did with Abraham and Isaac. While time may give us a better idea of the reasons behind certain trials, we can’t always know the meaning of things like these in the moment. And regardless, such arguments don’t allow us to forgo making appropriate plans before we build our tower — or go to an unreached people group with the Gospel.

Serving for the sake of serving is commendable and sacrificial, but it’s also poor strategy and a waste of God-given resources. Scripture tells us that different members of the Body are given different talents. An eye can’t do what the hand is able to; the Body must work together.

So how much patience is required on the part of the missionary candidate? How long should a person planning to go into full-time missions work search and wait for the perfect opportunity? Or is not finding the perfect and most strategic opportunity the same as a closed door?

I’ve been reminded a few times in the last month of how one person cannot rightly judge the circumstances of another. Seeking counsel is Biblical and important, but wise counsel will understand that they aren’t the ones walking in your shoes. No one else can tell you how the Spirit of God might be leading you.

Instead of closing with a true yet cliched proverb, I want to encourage readers who find themselves on the outside (per se) to press on. Oops, I guess that’s a bit of a platitude as well. Still, press on! Press on by supporting existing programs that focus on your calling, even if they aren’t exactly what you’d like to be a part of. Brainstorm new ideas with people of similar passion and research what it would take to get them going. Stay in touch with people who share your ideas. Your work will not be vain.

Where did all the missionaries go?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

By M-DAT Executive Director

Have you ever stopped to wonder where all the missionaries went?

I’ve notice a declining presence of missionaries in churches. Growing up as a missionary kid I traveled around the country with my parents whenever we were on furlough and sat through countless field reports, presentations, and sermons. I also went out to meals with friends and supporters from the churches we were visiting. Oddly, with each successive furlough, the length of time my parents received from churches to share decreased—dropping from an evening sermon or presentation to three to five minute “mission moments” in Sunday morning services. The number of people we saw after the service for meals also declined.

Three of the biggest reasons for these declines are: the move many churches made to “seeker friendly” Sunday morning services; the cancellation of Sunday and Wednesday evening services; and cultural shifts in terms of busyness and hospitality.

The consequences of these shifts are becoming increasingly apparent to those of us who work in missions mobilization (indeed they are what have fueled an increase in the number of mission mobilization organizations). We find that people simply don’t know what it means, what it takes, or what its like to be a missionary because they have never had a meaningful interaction with one.

Interacting with a living, breathing missionary makes missions come alive and makes it more personal. It helps people see that missionaries are ordinary people (warts and all) and helps grow vision for missions. In addition, it provides people with starting points for when God prompts them to consider full-time missions service.

Here at M-DAT we are mindful of all of these benefits of interacting with real life missionaries as we work on a new web service focused on helping believers who are considering becoming missionaries. Our hope is to reproduce, as best as possible, the mentoring and encouragement that occurs in a face to face interaction with a missionary. Stay tuned for more about this exciting new service in the next issue of Propel. Until then, the next time a missionary sets foot in your church, seize the opportunity. You may not see one again!

Four Practical Ways to Get More Face Time with Missionaries

  • Take a moment to introduce yourself and thank a visiting missionary for serving.
  • Sit down with them at the church potluck or ask them to a meal that day or later in the week.
  • Plug them into your Sunday School class or small group and give them the whole time to share.
  • Invite them to take part in an activity you have planned in the coming week with your family or friends (fishing, going to the fair, boating, going to the park, scrap booking, etc.).
  • M-DAT prayer and gratitude: August 2007

    Tuesday, August 7th, 2007
  • Development of the next iteration of, a website geared towards people planning to become long-term missionaries, is underway. Please pray for our team as we work through testing the feasibility of providing weekly streaming video content featuring real life missionaries weighing in on key issues potential missionaries face. We are also looking to further develop the “Next Step Assessment Tool” on the website by the end of this year. Ask God to provide the additional staff needed to continue to expand this new website and a robust network of volunteers to help edit video segments.
  • Last month we relaunched M-DAT’s organizational website ( Besides sporting a much improved look, the new version provides fresh information about the ministry and its projects and makes it even easier for people to get involved with this innovative ministry. Check it out (and while you are at it, consider giving our new online donation setup a whirl 🙂 )!
  • M-DAT helps people make it to the mission field. Explore our websites:

    About M-DAT | Help People Make it to the Mission Field | Donate