“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And He healed every kind of disease and illness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.’” – Matthew 9:35-38
It has really been on my heart lately to write about what it is like to be a 40/40 missionary with Extreme Nazarene Ministries. Recruiters do the best that they can do, but if they have never been in the position themselves, it is hard for them to explain to those they are trying to recruit exactly what it is they are signing up for. It is also hard for new 40/40s to explain well to their sponsors what they will be doing. For anyone who is considering missions as a career or believes that they have a calling to any length of missions, I would love to share with you my perspective and some of my experience.
What is a call to missions?
We are all called by God to be a part of His plan to make His Kingdom come alive on earth as it is in heaven. Each one of us has a Divine purpose for our lives. The calling to live and work internationally is one of these callings, but it is not for everyone.
Some, like me, have known of their calling since childhood. Other missionaries would say, “I never saw myself doing this!” Each person’s story looks different, but there is one thing that is the same in every situation. The closer a person draws to God, the stronger the passion grows. In fact, it grows to the point where a decision has to be made: obey God or not obey God. My decision to join Extreme Nazarene Ministries was that simple.
I used to be so afraid of missing God’s calling, but then I came to understand more about God’s character. Our God is love, and He is passionate about His people. He is truth and He never changes. More than anything, God does not hide from us. The Bible makes it clear that if we ask for wisdom, He will gladly give it to us. If we desire to know Him and we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). When we seek to be transformed into His likeness, we will know His perfect will (Romans 12:1-2). He desires that everyone would come to know Him and have a relationship with Him (1 Timothy 2:4). God SO LOVED the world that He sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16). God is passionate about the world, and He will not hide His plan from those He has called. When God has a plan for your life, it will be impossible to miss if you are seeking Him with an open heart. The answer may not always come the moment we desire it, but God’s timing is never early nor is it late. When the assurance comes, there will be no question that the timing was precise.
Talk about the ultimate missionary. Jesus left heaven and came to earth to tell us of God’s love. He came and found us where we were and loved us before we cared anything about Him (Romans 5:8). As missionaries, we have a unique opportunity to identify with Jesus in that way. I may be a little biased, but I believe that being called to cross-cultural ministry is one of the greatest privileges that a follower of Christ can have.
What is Extreme Nazarene Ministries and what sets it apart?
Extreme Nazarene Ministries is an organization that works in partnership with and under the Church of the Nazarene and has the same purpose: to make disciples. There are other organizations that work to save people, and while this is important, focusing on this alone is a short-sighted vision. Extreme seeks to develop leaders, who will develop leaders, who will develop leaders. As missionaries with Extreme, we have the vision that everyone can be a leader in the Kingdom, and we walk with people from the moment we meet them to the moment that they become a disciple-maker.
We follow the Master’s Plan of ministry, which means that our model is based around Home Bible Studies and training leaders for long-term service. We meet with people in their homes where it is more comfortable for them to invite friends and family to hear the Word of God. In those studies, we identify people that are ready to accept the challenge of leadership and grow in this role and we begin to grow a relationship with them. We invite them to an Encounter weekend, where they can shut off the demands of daily life and focus on the plan that God has for them. After this, we take them through leadership classes for several months where they learn about who we are as Christians, and we work with them on a personal level in their relationship with Christ and teach them how to be a leader. Like Jesus had disciples that experienced life with Him, our disciples spend time with us and learn from us and eventually they will do the same with others.
What does a 40/40 do?
Extreme has a very detailed explanation of what is involved in being a 40/40 on this website: http://www.extremenazarene.org/FortyFortyOverview.aspx.
From the perspective of a 40/40 and summing it up in a nutshell, we follow the example of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 10 by going out two-by-two to do ministry. Every 40/40 missionary has a partner (North Americans have a South American partner and vice versa). We lead Bible Studies, we disciple people, we plan events, and so much more. We also work as a team to plant a church. We have a national pastor’s family that is in charge of the church and who signs a longer contract to stay after we leave, and we have a cluster support family from the United States that handles logistics and housing. It is a system that actually works really well.
We have an endless list of possibilities as far as ways that we can reach people, and we can use our creativity and skills to make it happen. A really cool thing about working on a team is that each person brings something unique to the table in their toolbox of talents. I am an idea person, and I am always thinking about things we can do. My partner Nancy is an implementation person, who can take an idea and think of the details of how to make it happen. Some on the team will have skills in fixing things, others in writing choreography, others in administration, others in art…who knows who will be on your team? It is exciting to see how you FIT in the group, and you will be amazed at how every person is divinely placed on your team. Ultimately it is a picture of the Kingdom of God. We were not called to save the world by ourselves. We were called to do so together as the Body of Christ and through the power of God. It is exciting to celebrate together the victories; like this past week, two of the guys on our team had their first home Bible study and everyone was saved! Nancy and I had the opportunity to lead seven people to Christ in two days this past week. It was a joy for the whole team to experience these things. It is true that we have our moments of difficulties, and though living in close quarters with the same people we work with is a challenge, we recognize that we are a family and that we are all here for the same important purpose. This keeps us respecting each other. For some more insights on what it is like living and working in a team, see my blog titled “15 Mirrors”.
In my job, I have the opportunity to do everything that I love to do and so much more. I can plan events, write about experiences, take lots of pictures, design web pages, talk to people about Jesus, play the piano at church, sing, play with kids, eat ice cream with people we are discipling (I love any excuse to eat ice cream, so I always suggest this), and I could continue forever with this list. We are on the front lines of spiritual battle, and we all experience attacks. However, together we fight these attacks, we push through, and we continue advancing the Kingdom of God. No matter what, and at all times.
What are some challenges that you have experienced as a 40/40?
I heard a lot of things going into the field; that being a 40/40 would be the hardest thing that I have ever done and that I would never be the same. I would have to say that those are the two biggest understatements of my life. Being a 40/40 is, in my opinion, tough for three reasons: the challenge of leadership, spiritual accountability, and spiritual warfare.
I grew up being a leader in the church. I was on local and state missions and youth boards, and even traveled to South Africa as a representative for my country for the Church of the Nazarene. I have had experience planning several different kinds of events and was always recognized as someone of leadership. However, coming into the position of 40/40, I realized that I knew virtually nothing about leadership. There is nothing like working 8-12 hours a day talking to people about Christ (leading them to Him and discipling them), directing Bible Studies, planning and running events, organizing and leading church services, keeping track of administration materials, keeping up with sponsors, and much, much more every week and sometimes every day. 40/40 ministry requires creativity and excellence. It is the ultimate growth experience just to handle these aspects of ministry on top of living with a team and handling the dynamics of several levels of leadership above us and doing the best that we can do with what they give us.
Also, after the language school experience, we came together as a team and began to grow together spiritually. Our team from the beginning made prayer the number one priority, and nearly everyone gets up at some point in the middle of the night or early morning to spend very focused time with God. Many of our conversations are focused on how we are growing spiritually and what God is teaching us. At any point during the day, I know that literally anyone on my team can ask me about my time with God. I don’t seek Him because I know that someone will ask, but the fleeting doubts or excuses that come to mind as I come to my prayer time are easier to overcome when I know that I am among many people who are seeking God with just as much passion as I am.
Finally, being a 40/40 puts us on the front lines of spiritual warfare. There is nothing that Satan hates more than God’s servants taking back His children from bondage into a place of salvation. Every day we are sharing the simple truth about Christ: that He came to earth, died, and rose again for each and every person on earth. We are telling people that God has a big plan for their lives, and if they give their lives to Him, He will not only give them freedom but also freedom to those around them. We are not only leading people to Christ one by one, but we are also teaching people how to lead others to Christ and to be change agents in their families, neighborhoods, and city. I grew up with a strong understanding and experience with spiritual warfare, but nothing I had been through before coming to the field can compare to the level of warfare that I have experienced while being here. However, nothing can compare to the level of blessing and outpouring of the Holy Spirit that I have seen on the field either. One thing that spiritual warfare does for those of us who are leaders: it gives us a choice. We choose to either give in to the pressure and back down, or to claim God’s victory, even when emotions try to convince us otherwise, and experience the outpouring of God’s blessing in our personal lives and ministry. We can choose to fall or we can choose seek God more than ever and rise to a level of intimacy with Him that we never imagined reaching. Once someone has experienced the supernatural, it is impossible to ever be the same.
What are the challenges of having a partner?
My partner and I often refer to our relationship like a marriage. We live together. We do ministry together. We often have our days off together. There is rarely a time when we are not together, and when we are not with our partner, we are with someone else from the team. That knowledge was terrifying to me going into the position because I grew up as an only child and am (well, used to be) very introverted. While the specific challenges vary as much as there are unique individuals in the world, it is crazy to expect partnership to not be challenging at least a lot of the time.
Everyone going into a position with Extreme will have some experience with ministry, and also ideas of how ministry should be done. Doing ministry with a partner requires great communication on expectations, a willingness to submit to the other’s ideas, and the ability to go with the flow. It is also the convergence of two cultures, and both have to decide to see this as an advantage instead of a disadvantage. As a North American, it is really easy to feel inferior to my partner and less able to handle the every day tasks of ministry because it is in her language and done in a different way than feels natural to me. I have to remind myself every day that I need to be very brave and to always choose to step up and give it my best shot. I have found that my “best” improves each time that I make that decision. Ultimately, I believe that it has made me a better leader because of the extra effort this situation brings.
Also, working with a partner is in fact working with another human being who has feelings, preferences, history, and desires. I grew up with a messy bedroom. My partner greatly values organization, so I have had to learn to be more organized. Everyone has good days and bad days, and no human being can meet every expectation. Working with a partner full-time for two years means that we both see the good, the bad, and the ugly of each other whether we want to or not. It is very humbling, challenging, and eye opening. However, because I have been blessed with a partner that is willing to take the time to do things right and well in ministry and personal life, it has been one of the most enriching experiences I have ever had. Perhaps everyone will walk away with a different experience or set of challenges. However, if God has chosen you to be a 40/40, He has also chosen your partner, and you can trust Him to have picked the best for His Kingdom.
Why should I choose to be a 40/40?
If I had to make the choice to be a 40/40 all over again, I would ABSOLUTELY do it. I wake up in the morning every single day excited to conquer the tasks and see what God will do. Our job is super hard. We work long hours. We are tired A LOT. However, as someone who is called to do mission work, it is a great place to prepare for future work while doing the most important work of all: winning souls for Christ.
Think you might be called? Feel free to talk to me, and I will answer any questions you might have! I would love to encourage you in your calling. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
May God bless you as you follow Him! 2 Peter 1:3 says, “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence.” He has given you everything you need to follow His calling and do His will. NOW DO IT!