Planting thriving churches where the light of the Gospel has never shone – this is truly an enormous task. It seems that it must take a special kind of person to survive and thrive in this environment – a person who can persevere and get results despite many obstacles. You might call this person the “ideal missionary.”
So what characteristics would this “ideal missionary” have?
A Daring Adventurer
The task ahead of you is not for the faint of heart. You’re going somewhere that may require a helicopter ride into the jungle or a boat ride across choppy ocean waters, or even hours of hiking or canoeing. The climate may be extreme. There could be anacondas or jaguars. For years at a time, you may lack access to creature comforts like phone service, reliable electricity, the food of your choice, and even emergency medical care. On top of that, you may face tremendous opposition and risks to your safety. The “ideal missionary” should be healthy, young, strong, and fearless – ready for a rough ride.
A Gregarious People-Person
Have you ever been to a party where you didn’t know anyone? How about a village where everybody knows the language and culture except for you? You lack the basic social skills that even their children understand, and they often remark that they’ve never met anyone as weird and awkward as you. Your objective is to break the ice, appropriately insert yourself into their culture (and perhaps even their kinship system), and develop lasting and genuine friendships. We’re not talking about surface-level friendships; you’ll need to “peel the onion” and learn the intricacies of their worldview, so that you can communicate God’s Truth with clarity. The “ideal missionary” should be outgoing, tactful, culturally shrewd, and undaunted by the prospect of making lots of humiliating mistakes.
An Accomplished Linguist
In order to plant a thriving church, you’ll need to be able to teach God’s Truth with accuracy into their heart language. But many of these tribal languages are incredibly complex, and there’s no Duolingo or Rosetta Stone; you’ll have to learn the language from the people. You’ll be dealing with speech sounds you’ve never heard before and complex grammatical puzzles that make your head hurt. You’ll find that God did a thorough job when He scrambled the languages at Babel!
For example, in the Guarijio language in Mexico, there are about half a dozen ways to say “there is the man.” Hua hueri tijoe. Hua kati tijoe. Hua ohuina tijoe. Etc. Which one to use depends on whether the man is standing, seated, walking, laying down, or hanging from a tree limb, and each one changes completely when pluralized. And so, the “ideal missionary” is a natural and tenacious problem-solver who has a keen mind and the patience to study for long hours to achieve proficiency.
A Bible Scholar
Are there any verses in the Bible that you struggle to understand? Imagine translating those verses into another language! This is God’s flawless Word, and the stakes are high! You’ll need to grasp the original meaning of the passage so that you can accurately convey that meaning into the target language. As a missionary to an unreached people group, you are the utmost authority on the Bible for hundreds of miles around. You’re the expert. You are laying a foundation for the first time, and it’s essential that you lay it clearly and accurately. You must know God’s Word well and be able to explain it into their worldview. The “ideal missionary” would be a seasoned Bible scholar of the highest credentials.
A Jack of All Trades
Living in a remote location means you may not have access to a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, a water filtration technician, a computer or printer repairman, or a small engine mechanic. If your house or motorbike need repairs (which they will), you may have to figure it out yourself. The “ideal missionary” should be a skilled handyman.
Less than Ideal?
The “ideal missionary” – that’s a tall order! But here at Emanate, we don’t manufacture ideal missionaries. The ideal missionary doesn’t exist – just a bunch of fragile and broken people who are willing to go where God leads.
We do equip students in all of the areas described above, and we believe that’s important. We believe you should seriously consider the physical demands of the job and “count the cost” before going. If you’re disposed to count some of these challenges as adventures, even better! And you should develop skills in building cross-cultural relationships and be prepared to sacrificially invest in the lives of people very different from yourself (But fear not! We know many missionaries who are introverts.).
You should also be prepared to work hard at language acquisition, which is why we teach linguistics classes to equip you with tools to learn language faster. You’ll practice these skills here, but make no mistake – becoming proficient in any other language will take time, effort, and diligence. And of course you should have a strong handle on God’s Word! We take seriously the charge to “correctly handle the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); in fact, a formal Bible education is a prerequisite for attending Emanate, and the Bible continues to be our main textbook throughout training.
Nevertheless, all the training in the world will never produce an “ideal missionary.” You’ll arrive here as a work in progress and leave here as a work in progress. You’ll join a team full of imperfect people with God-given strengths and some serious weaknesses. Working together, you’ll be stronger but still inadequate. Yet as you depend on Him each step of the way, God will still do an incredible work in and through you. We think there’s no better job on the planet!
What do you see when you look in the mirror? If you see a man or woman who is eager to chase adventure and endowed with many skills, we hope you’ll pause.
We hope you won’t see an “ideal missionary,” in that mirror, but rather a blood-bought child of God who is available to humbly follow His lead. And guess what? You won’t do that perfectly, either.