by Jim Armstrong & Rupert Abbott, Echoes International General & Missions Directors
Someone once said, ‘One of the reasons unreached people groups are unreached is because they are in difficult parts of the world to reach.’ Perhaps this is, in some respects, a simplistic analysis of the challenge of mission in the 21st century but there are some elements of truth to it.
In this complex world of geopolitical tensions and a variety of religious world views, where there is open animosity to the gospel and political ideologies oppose ‘religion’ – how easy is it to go where God wants us to be?
Today, going out as a ‘traditional’ mission partner can be very complicated – in some countries it is almost impossible. However, there are other approaches to mission that result in the gospel being taken to those who have little or no contact with Christians and have not heard of Jesus Christ and all He has done on the Cross. This article brings some of these different approaches to the attention of those praying to the Lord of the harvest for more labourers. Some of these options are not new but they are effective for those willing to approach mission with a different mind-set to follow their Saviour wherever He asks them to go.
Volunteering Your Skills
Stuart and Jess Fergusson served short term at Chitokoloki Mission Hospital in Zambia in 2021.1 Stuart is a general surgeon and Jess is a GP. Although their journeys into mission differ, they were both involved with medical work in sub-Saharan Africa before they were married. Stuart entered university inspired by the faith and the example of medical missionaries past and present. He wanted to invest at least part of his career in an underserved part of the world. His choice of speciality was general surgery: this held personal appeal but he also felt it would give him a broad skill set relevant to the low-resource settings found in many developing parts of the world. After commencing training as a GP, Jess was offered the possibility of taking a year out of her programme to do hospital work in Zambia. She had a brilliant year and came back to the UK with an unexpected but strong sense that she had not yet finished serving in medical work in Africa. After a further two years in Zambia, Jess was recruited to the island of Islay, Scotland, where her broad and challenging Zambian experiences proved useful.
Stuart and Jess have structured their career choices around where their hearts lie. Based in Scotland, they are intentionally pursuing bi-vocational medical careers, through appropriate training and by applying for jobs that will give them time each year to serve overseas. Stuart’s contract allows him to volunteer his medical skills abroad for ten weeks a year. Jess is looking for a GP appointment with a similar arrangement. They prioritise their desire to serve, making sure their day jobs allow them to take up appropriate opportunities to serve each year.
This type of approach to service can apply to all sorts of careers, such as teaching and engineering or associated medical professions like physical or occupational therapy. In fact there are many large corporations that encourage their staff to have working arrangements in place to allow a better work-life balance.
There are numerous examples of this approach, where professionals in the UK have given of their time and skills to serve in mission. They have structured their career and schedule around time spent serving. Many professionals do just this working alongside Dr David McAdam and the team at Chitokoloki in Zambia.
Eunice Jones tells of a doctor who used to visit Multan, Pakistan, for a fortnight every couple of years and update the staff in ultrasonography. As a result of these visits, staff at the Women’s Christian Hospital were fantastically skilled – above their pay grades. The Gilgit Eye Hospital (GEH) benefitted from experienced ophthalmic surgeons who visited regularly to serve. The GEH team would schedule surgeries whenever these highly experienced surgeons were visiting. Through watching them at work and doing the operations together, local teams were equipped ‘on the job’. They were able to restore sight and bring relief to the people of northern Pakistan in a wonderful expression of our Christian calling ‘…to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound’ (Is. 61:1).
They prioritise their desire to serve, making sure their day jobs allow them to take up appropriate opportunities to serve each year.
There are numerous similar examples in accounting, business administration, social media and website development, teaching, training, engineering and other roles. The possibilities are endless and all are useful in equipping local brothers and sisters as they serve the Lord in mission.
Working in Hard-to-Reach Areas
Another way to serve is to work in a full-time professional role in a particular country overseas.2 Some people have served in mission by lecturing in universities, including some on the Echoes International Daily Prayer Guide. Their everyday lives serve as a witness in their place of work and community, often in hard-to-reach areas, where they are ambassadors for Christ. However, relatively few have taken this route to service.
There are regions of the world that are looking for experienced professionals and encouraging them to come to their country to work. God is using these secular invitations to bring people to serve in countries that are often hostile to believers, to be a witness for Him.
Echoes International has connections with an agency called Scatter Global, which is in effect an employment agency looking to place believers into countries where they can be a witness and obey the command to go. Brothers and sisters are serving in hard-to-reach areas of this world, using their profession to reach those who need Christ.
A brother from the UK served for years building dams in Brazil. James Crawford noted that although this man was in the country working as a civil engineer, he was seen by the local believers as a missionary.
By exemplifying a bi-vocational approach to Christian service, many people could play a vital role in supporting and equipping the work of mission and encourage indigenous believers to do the same. The Apostle Paul wrote: ‘We work hard with our own hands’ (1 Cor. 4:12), ‘…and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked…’ (Ac. 18:3). Paul worked hard and demonstrated tentmaking as a perfectly authentic approach to mission and ministry.
Counting the Cost
It is right and scriptural that we should work hard and be good employees, wherever God has placed us. However, sometimes it is hard to model this: our careers can become all encompassing; we can end up giving our best to our earthly masters and neglecting what should be our priority.
The examples of bi-vocationalism in this article demonstrate how we can put God and our service for Him first. There may, of course, be a sacrifice in terms of career success but we need to view this from God’s eternal perspective. How many people setting out on a career pathway, do so with intentionality and consider how they could organise their life and work to play a vital role in supporting and equipping God’s people? How many people are aware they possess skills that could be used for God in the building of His church?
If you think God is asking you to step out and use the skills He has given you for His work, please get in touch. Perhaps you would like to know more about how to use your professional skills for mission or you feel you could volunteer and be a help to those serving in difficult parts of the world. Echoes International can help to link up those willing to serve with those looking for help. ‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”’ (Lk. 9:23-24).