Great Commission

A Missionary’s Perspective: What I Wish I Knew

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My husband and I have been on the mission field over nine years now. It’s sometimes hard to believe that soon, our time in Portugal will make up a third of my life. I remember those first years: no kids, initially learning language, feeling like I was wandering aimlessly. It was all new, and there were many moments that I didn’t expect and many things I didn’t know I would learn along the way. Here are three things I wish I knew back when we started our journey as missionaries.

You don’t know the “best” way to do ministry, and you won’t.

By God’s grace, we are used to accomplish the will of God by proclaiming the Gospel. We are easily broken vessels of clay, and our strength is nothing compared to God’s. At first, I neglected this truth, teaching others the “best practices” I had been taught and forgetting to cling to the True Vine and Source of any success in ministry. Truthfully, in ministry, “best practices” are given through the Holy Spirit and vary in every situation. Apart from the Vine, we can do nothing. We are not meant to shoulder the weight of someone’s salvation or the success of a church plant, but our all-powerful God can, and He does.

You need the Church.

In America, I had never developed community in which we confessed our sins and mourned together over the effects of a fallen world. I was a faithful participant in college ministry and even participated in local non-profit ministry, but never depended on the Church. Then, we came to the field and were erroneously encouraged not to connect too much with the local church. Some feared association with the local church would potentially affect our “ministry” among not-yet-believers. I say that with a lot of remorse because now, nearly a decade later, we find in the Church (both local and global) a beautiful treasure. The accountability, encouragement, and camaraderie that we find in the Church has stilled our growing pride at times. At other times, it has affirmed our calling to the field. There’s a reason for the warning not to “neglect to meet together”. It’s vital to your life.

If you aren’t sharing now, you won’t on the field.

D.L. Moody once said, “It is clear you don’t like my way of evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” Evangelism isn’t always easy. It becomes difficult once a different language and culture gets added in. It becomes even more difficult when everyone disagrees with what you are saying, only nodding of agreement out of pity. So, if you aren’t doing some form of evangelism now, you won’t when you are on a mission field. Let fear and trembling drive you to greater dependence on the Holy Spirit to share boldly in your home context with confidence. Also, know that any conversations you have now are helping pave the way for when you share the gospel with a vocabulary that is more like that of my preschoolers.

I could go on with other lessons I’ve begun learning and how the Lord has grown me in these years, but the truth is, in many ways I feel less informed and less capable now. I am more aware of my lack of understanding of language and culture, but I am more aware of my dependence on God’s provision. I regularly preach to myself to avoid measuring success on the field in any other way besides my obedience. I see my many limits of time, energy, resources, and skills. To the world, this evolution of thinking looks like a downward spiral, but in the upside-down world of the Kingdom, I see God’s faithful and kind refinement of my mind, and I’m grateful.

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Cara Stevens

Cara began serving as church planter in Northern Portugal in 2016 with the International Mission Board. Before that, she and her husband were Journeymen for two years with the Board in Southern Portugal. She received her bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University (2013) and enjoys using her education in music to serve the local church. She currently lives in the area of Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal alongside her husband and 4 incredible kids: Elisabeth, Joseph, Abigail, and John.

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