10 things I have learned over 35 years of being a missionary.
By Tom Hackett - Founder and Director of Alternative Missions and Dwellings.
- God is faithful and trustworthy. It begins and ends right there. It is all about being able to count on God in all things. Your calling to go in whatever form, to whomever, with whomever, to wherever, for however long, and through all the ups and downs life presents depends on being able to count on God’s promises. Having started mission projects of various kinds in multiple locations, we have lived through a lot of scenarios where we have held on to the promise God gave us when we got engaged to be married 42 years ago. To this day Psalm 48:14 is an anchor in or lives: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.”
- Life can be weird. When I was young, life seemed predictable and, to some degree, controllable. As time went by relationships and responsibilities changed and grew. Things got more complex and “interesting.” As that happens, life has a way of getting weird. You are tempted to control it, complain about it, or fight it. You have to learn along the way to deal with it. Just realize that stuff happens, that we are normal until we get to know each other, and that when things get weird, we need to stay calm and work it out with the ones you love, work with, and serve. Don’t let the weirdness ruin you. Ephesians 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
- People can be amazingly generous and caring. I am part of a generous and caring tribe. People continually amaze me with acts of kindness. When you include others in the mission God has given you, they see the needs and respond. Make sure you’re not only telling your story but also providing opportunities for people to join you. Matthew 9: 35-38 “Jesus went through all the towns and villages. . . When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.”
- You have to take chances to make a difference. The cost of obedience or a new idea can be big. Innovators are the first 2.5 percent of a group to adopt a new idea. If you’re going to be a pioneer, you are going to have to get out there ahead of everyone else and figure it out. I find that I have a very high tolerance for risk. That excites some of my coworkers and frustrates others. I have pioneered several projects, ministries, and operating locations. Pioneering is my thing. I love startups with all the unknowns and all the opportunities to see God do miracles. At some time in your life you are going to find that you will have to take a risk. It is exciting and scary and what God is asking you to do in order to make a bigger difference or establish something new. 1 Samuel 14:6 “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
- People are hurting. God cares. It is important to understand that God cares more than you do. God is the answer and has the provision in all forms that people need. You can be a steward of God’s provision and love, but don’t confuse yourself and others by thinking you are their answer. Overly identifying with the personal needs of others can cause a psychological alliance, dependence, attraction, and at times compromising situations. People need to be trusting in and sustained by God’s love and provision, and that is where the attention needs to be focused. Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.”
- God provides for the poor. God sees the needs of the poor. God is looking for people to go to them and share with those in need. It is also encouraging and empowering to know that if you are taking risks to help the poor, God will be on your side and help you help others. I have been involved in many projects building clinics, schools, and homes for the poor. At the beginning I had no idea where people, money, and other resources were going to come from. When you make the determination to do something, share your ideas with others; God will to prompt others to join you. I have always been amazed how God has blessed the efforts of those who have taken chances and joined in with God to be the answer to needs. God’s provision encourages me to take chances on projects for which I cannot see the funding or provision until I act on that belief. Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
- Perspective is critical. The proverb “Familiarity breads contempt” is true. The more acquainted one becomes with a person, place, or situation, the more one knows about his or her shortcomings and, hence, the easier it is to dislike that person, place, or situation. It is critical that you approach things with God’s perspective and not that you’ve received from others or formed from your own experience. Prayer is a key here. You must stay open to a miracle. Familiarity can be the enemy of obedience and miracles. Normally it is easier for me to expect a miracle in a person, place, or situation I am not familiar with than in a person, place or situation that I have a formed an opinion about based on my experiences. Jesus warned and taught against allowing your perspective to get in the way of what God wants and is going to do. Those who remain open are those that see things happen. John 4:35 “Do you think the work of harvesting will not begin until the summer ends four months from now? Look around you! Vast fields of human souls are ripening all around us, and are ready now for reaping.”
- The importance of growing your tribe. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. . . A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate” (Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us). Whatever you are going to accomplish, you will need others to join you in one way or another. The benefits of a tribe are enormous. As Mother Theresa said, “I can do things you cannot do, you can do things I cannot do, together we can do great things.” And as the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” With all the ways to communicate and organize, your mastery of your message and your platform will be the difference between success or failure. For insight into how you can build your platform see Michael Hyatt’s book Platform Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
- Many people pay a price for your obedience. In particular, your family and extended family are impacted by your commitments. I remember telling my parents of my decision to “Go.” They were immediately concerned about the insecurity of finances, our safety, and missing out on their grandkids lives. Now that I am a grandparent, I understand their fears. My wife, Linnea, and I made decisions that, for the most part, our children had to accept and adjust to. There have been consequences for us as a family. They lived a life of adventure, travel, cultural awareness, and regular relational adjustments. Overall we all think it was a positive experience, but there was also plenty of negative. My advice now would be to obey God, but be aware and sensitive to those around you who don’t necessarily have your same calling. Be as respectful and loving as possible when declaring your intentions and making decisions. Matthew 10:37-38 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
- Life is an adventure. As a younger person I was hesitant to commit my life to God, let alone serve as a minister or missionary, thinking that nothing could be more boring. Wow, was I wrong! Obedience to the Holy Spirit’s voice and direction has taken me places and allowed me to meet people, experience adventure, and do things the devil or my own plans would never have done. I have had the pleasure of pioneering projects in countries and people groups I didn’t even know existed. The people I have met and served with along the way have enriched my life. I am so thankful for the life I have gotten to live! If you are looking for adventure and fulfillment, look no further. God has a life for you; all you have to do is listen and obey. John 10:10 “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”