Why would anyone leave the comfort of their home and venture into a place that is uncomfortable, hostile perhaps, and unfamiliar? There are a number of reasons for making this decision and ways that can give Pastors insight into recruiting and mobilizing missionary volunteers –even factors that strengthen local church growth.
First of all, what is a missionary volunteer? As the term implies, this is someone who is sent to reach people in a land or environment that has restricted access to the Gospel. Their message is proclaimed in word and in deed…and is free of charge. E.G. White said that the church that supports the foreign mission field is in turn blessed by God in their domestic evangelistic programs. She called this blessing “the reflex influence.” (6 Testimonies, page 27).
Roughly 80% of missionary volunteers are under 30 years of age. It is therefore worth noting that most young people want to know that they are making a difference in the lives of others, and that that difference, in turn, can tangibly impact their own lives. Pastors, the purely altruistic and traditional argument (which made sense to Boomers and Gen-Xers) that one should serve because that’s what Christians do…is no longer enough of a motivator. The sense given is “Yes. I want to serve. But how will this meet my own goals in life and how can I feel that I’ve made a difference in the world?” Their reasons must include things such as the salvation of mankind, the eradication of world hunger, and social justice. But they will quickly lose interest when we recruit them to reach personal quotas, agendas, or to save money.
There’s an estimated 60,000+ participants in short term mission trips each year within NAD. When they return, communities receive them with a hero’s welcome…and I agree. Today’s generation loves heroes, as any social media can confirm. The experience of a short-term trip can be very rewarding for a young person. These trips lead to longer term assignments and ultimately leadership positions in the local church’s mission program and evangelistic efforts (again, the reflex influence).
Missionary volunteers thrive when they are in healthy relationships. A primary reason they leave the mission field or are un-recruitable is when they see an organization that is in conflicts or disorganized. On the other hand, missionary volunteers can thrive even in the most difficult situations when they feel supported by their church family. This support can come via letters, prayers, care packages and financial support. In addition, churches that are engaged in supporting a missionary can develop a passion for missions that can ignite outreach programs in the local community. This is also part of the reflex influence.
Today’s missionary volunteers desire to deepen their skills and spiritual walk with God. Long term commitments do not work well with them. They’re looking for service that is short term or episodic (two months, six months or one year). When given these options they usually stay for longer terms.
If we hope to finish the work of Christ on earth the local church will need to understand the reflex influence. With 60 million immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and Canada alone, today’s end time events are quickly bringing the world into our backyard. Using returned missionary volunteers is an important key to reaching out to the foreigner in your communities. Notice E.G. White’s counsel: “…if we were quick to discern the opening providence of God, we should be able to see… opportunities to reach many foreigners in America a divinely appointed means of rapidly extending the third angel’s message into all the nations of the earth…Review and Herald, Oct. 29, 1914.
With a good solid mission program and the strength of our youth, God has made it possible for any local church to recruit missionary volunteers and become global minded. “Missionary Volunteers ARE Needed to experience what it’s like to be God’s modern-day heroes around the world, even, right in our own backyard --going and making “disciples of all nations.”
Ernest Hernandez oversees the Office of Volunteer Ministries of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist as the Director.