International (MNN) — Christians should be willing to serve
God in any place for any length of time, says Richard Coleman, Director of
Mobilization and Candidacy for The Mission Society.
"I just want people to be available to God for what He wants
for their life–" Coleman said, "not to
have a contingency plan just in case they don't like what God has called them
to do, or chasing after the American dream. But I want people to be available."
The Mission Society and other missions agencies have been
noticing that missionaries no longer seem to move overseas with the expectation
that they'll live there for the rest of their lives.
"In the past, missionaries would pack their coffins with
their belongings and move to Africa or
wherever they were going. And they planned to be there the rest of their lives,"
Coleman said. "But now,a lot of
missionary families when they go, they don't really have that mentality that
'I'm going for the rest of my life.' They're perhaps going for a season."
There are conflicting views on how long a missionary ought
to serve in one place, Coleman said. Some strategists say foreign missionaries have no business staying in
one area for decades. Missionaries ought
to launch a ministry in a region and empower the local believers to do the
rest, then leave.
Others suggest that longer periods of service are
"It takes time to learn a language, and then on top of that
to learn the culture, and then to be truly respected and trusted and to see
people grow up and die and get married. Those things just take time," Coleman explained. "[Missionaries] might have an effective
ministry for five to ten years, but if they had stayed for fifteen or twenty,
then they might have even greater breakthroughs in working with that culture."
Coleman has noticed that older and younger generations have
different expectations and desires for missionary service. Older families tend to prefer safer
locations, while the young and unattached are drawn to Africa
and more unstable societies.
"Most of the interns or the college students and the younger
people, they have a desire to go to Africa,"
he said. "They really can relate to the
need and the desire to do relief work, working with AIDS, working with famine,
working with orphans. They're just
gung-ho, and they want to go anywhere."
Adults with families, on the other hand, have legitimate
concerns about safety, education, and health care. Coleman said The Mission Society addresses
these issues by being upfront about the need for flexibility and by educating
potential missionaries about mission work in restricted societies.
"We assume that going to a strongly Islamic country and
presenting the Gospel will always generate persecution, but that's not
necessarily the case," Coleman explained.
"If it's done in a culturally appropriate way, just making little
changes can help a missionary to go into those settings that would normally be
hostile and communicate a very important message."
It's important for missionaries to be willing to serve in
more dangerous areas, Coleman said.
"Most of the cross-cultural missionaries are ministering
among already-Christianized nations or people groups. And there are still about 1.8 billion people
that have never heard the Gospel one time."
Coleman believes that he and his wife must also be willing
to go wherever God calls them.
"Even though I might have lots of other things I want to
accomplish in my life, I think obedience to God and His command needs to be
first," Coleman said. "We have way too
many things that have consumed us, material things and fears about the
future. Just be open and be willing, and
God will take care of the rest."