Ten Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

by Jonathan


10. You’ll get to try new things, like typhoid fever and amoebas.

No worries. Even if you’re the most vaccinated person you know, you just might get sick.  On the bright side, most of the time your illnesses will sound cool. And cool illnesses make people pray more.

But note: ulcers are not cool. If you get an ulcer, don’t tell anyone. Ulcers are too American.

Oh, and make sure your kids know how great all these new things are too. I was hanging out at an international high school once and overheard a kid say something about a student who was absent. He nonchalantly said, “Oh, he’s not here; he has an amoeba.” I wanted to grab the kid by the collar and say, “You know that’s not a normal sentence, right?”


9. Your kids will have friends from countries you didn’t know existed.

And they’ll speak like them too. Our little girl loves the story of the “Ten Leopards.” You know, the one where Jesus healed ten leopards, but only one came back to say “thank you”? Thank you, you wonderful world of missions, for giving our children such a linguistic advantage and wide worldview. A worldview in which Jesus cares so much about jungle animals, he sometimes heals ten at a time.

8. Your driving skills will “improve.”

Lights on for safety, or lights off to keep the evil spirits from seeing you? Even at night? Or lights on during the day because you really were wanting to impersonate a VIP and get pulled over by the police?

I mean, who knew driving 20mph (or 32kph for those of you who don’t know how to measure stuff correctly) could be so exhilarating. And when the door falls off of your ancient Toyota, just hold on to it and keep moving. And sometimes, cars on the mission field actually get younger, with fewer miles on them than when they were imported. What a cool perk.

7. You’ll learn to be grateful for the little things, like cheese and toilet paper.

Despite YouTube tutorials aplenty, how exactly billions of people lived (and still live) without toilet paper remains a mystery. Be grateful, people.

Older missionaries in my part of the world remember when cheese came to town. Cheese and stop lights apparently arrived at the same time. So if you’re in a part of the world without cheese, extra points for you. And may I recommend you start praying for a stop light?

(I was going to include bacon in this section, but then I remembered we were talking about “the little things.”)

6. Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.

This becomes necessary if #4 doesn’t work. Life’s simpler here, really. The police don’t want to write you a ticket, and you don’t really want to pay a ticket. And everyone knows you didn’t really violate a law anyway. Some officers are harder than others, requiring rare delicacies from the West. One time, a pot-bellied officer demanded beer money. I offered Twizzlers. He pondered for a second and counter-offered with four fingers. I complied and drove off. In my rearview mirror I saw him and three buddies chowing down. Apparently, Twizzlers make mouths (and cops) happy.

5. Your children will learn how to whine in multiple languages.

The ability to whine, out loud, in front of other people, without them knowing, is the gift of a lifetime. Just be sure to teach your kids to do a quick perimeter check for possible same-language listeners within earshot.

A hotel worker didn’t do a proper perimeter check once, and I clearly heard him complaining about some rude tourists, “Sure, why don’t they just go sunbathe by the pool. I hope a massive rock falls off the building and smashes their heads.” Oops. I made a mental note to self: speak extra nice to that employee.

Your new language will also allow your family to share bodily function jokes all throughout furlough. Very bonding, really. And if your kids aren’t learning the local language, may I at least suggest your family learns the words and/or euphemisms for passing gas. Especially if you have boys. Their childhood will be grossly enhanced.

4. You’ll always be able to use the excuse, “I’m not from around here.”

When you need to explain why your family wears clothes, or why you don’t really care much for fried spiders or bony duck embryos, simply state “I’m not from around here.”

Really though, this one’s most useful during furlough. Can’t figure out the ATM? or the drive through? or Wal-Mart? Just smile, mumble something in another language about massive rocks smashing things, and say “I’m not from around here.” But don’t forget your perimeter check.

3. Fashion rules will no longer apply.

You ever seen a missionary? Yeah.

2. You’ll get to report to hundreds of people, every month, details about your work, your family, and how you spend your money.

Who needs Dave Ramsey when you have the entire deacon board of multiple churches analyzing your finances? It’s accountability on huge quantities of steroids.

They may ask why you need so much, or why you have to pay for your kids’ education, or why you save for retirement, but at the end of the day, they are paying you to do this thing we call missions. It’s an honor to serve, even when the reports are due, the power’s out, it’s hot season, the spreadsheet’s rebelling, and you can’t figure out how to get that docx into a pdf into an html into a mobile-friendly, print-friendly, e-mail-friendly format. But hey, at least you don’t have to use envelopes.

1. You’ll get to experience the raw joy of crossing language barriers, cultural barriers, time zones and comfort zones, simply to invite someone to follow Jesus.

Maybe you preach the gospel straight up, street-corner style. Maybe you serve the sickest and the poorest, touching the folks no one else wants to touch. Maybe you teach English or a vocation, aiming to empower. Maybe you do a thousand things for economies or community health or justice. But there is one Love that draws us together and pushes us out the door. Every day.

His name is Jesus, and at the end of the day, He is worth.it.all.


Ten Reasons You Should Be a Missionary


An updated version of this article appeared on A Life Overseas in May 2014.

If you liked this, check out More Reasons You Should Be a Missionary.                       

60 thoughts on “Ten Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

  1. We’ve enjoyed Phnom Penh as well, and I especially love the point about “fashion”, because it is so liberating here in Cambodia! ha! One of the things that concerns me the most about returning to the States is learning how to coordinate again! We’re flying out on the 21st – wish I would have come across your info before, perhaps we could have had coffee. Your name sounds familiar though. Maybe if we are able to return some day we can look you up for connection. God bless you in your ministry and thank you for loving these beautiful people in the Kingdom of Cambodia!

    • Hey there, Mark! I’m so glad someone else appreciates the glory of living free of fashion. : ) I saw on your blog that you used to be involved with youth ministry. Me too. Perhaps that explains the kindred spirit thing. Anyway, yeah, if you find yourself on this side of the planet again, let me know and we’ll catch up over some coffee or something.
      all for ONE,

  2. yeah…ok…kinda offended by #3…but b/c of #1, i’ll overlook it. At least I don’t wear my pajamas in public. You always have a way w/ words Jonathan. 🙂

  3. Came to read this from a friend’s FB link, and want to reinforce that all these things are also true in Tanzania! We live in a town without cheese still (although it’s only 4 hours away, which isn’t too bad), so I’ll be praying for a stoplight, which will, of course, be completely ignored by everyone in town anyway.

    • Four hours from cheese?! That’s intense. I’m not sure obedience to the stop light matters; it’s just the presence of the stop light itself. : ) Thanks for stopping by, Leisha! God bless. — Jonathan

      • Love this! But we drive 10 hrs and around The Gambia to get to the capital here in Senegal to get cheese….and Dr Pepper, and Root Beer. SOOOOO worth it, as long as our deep freeze will freeze it! As a matter of fact we are making that trek up in a few weeks.

  4. Great post, Jonathan. I chuckled at the bit about how much Jesus cares about jungle animals. 🙂 I so appreciate the approach you and Elizabeth have had with this whole thing: relaxed combined with realistic. Seems like the only way to survive, really.


  5. I LOVE this! My family and I are missionaries in Ecuador, South America. I LOVE the positive spin on everything-even the amoebas because that is exactly how we look at parasites and amoebas! Thank you for answering the call to missions and for sharing your sweet humor! Blessings on your ministries!

    • Hey, thanks Kim! My dad always said, “Well, if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.” Now, I’m not opposed to crying (in fact, I engage in said activity often enough), but I also think that it wouldn’t hurt for missionaries to laugh a bit more… : )

      Thanks for stopping by, and may God fill your family and your ministries with joy and laughter. — Jonathan

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  7. Thanks for this! #6 was spot on but #2 confused me… you guys save for something called “retirement”? We do have cheese here in Zambia but most of the traffic lights (called robots) are usually broken – which actually makes the traffic work better – so we got it all!

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  9. Total accuracy. We had 4 years in Thailand (and several jaunts over into Poi Pet before our long-term visas came in!), had our first kid over there, and can totally identify with all of this. After being back in the States for a year now, I still have to catch myself when recalling certain things, and realize like in #1 that no, that is not normal, and the fact that I am talking about that one time I had Dengue or that one time I had to eat charcoal for a stomach bug or that one time I took our annual 6 month de-wormers a week late is probably totally freaking people out. 🙂

  10. Loved it! So many funny kids stories too. One of our funniest was the first furlough when our 2 and 4 year olds slipped off their shoes before getting onto an elevator.

  11. Short term ‘visits’ I guess I call it but whatever you call it, I understand honking, lack of traffic lights or robots, electricity,,,what is that?, one cup of water per bath; who needs cutlery anyway; A blow wave means standing facing into the wind; I will eat most anything but not those little fishes with the big eyes! Thanks Jonathan for a great laugh!

  12. Fabulous! Pretty sure these are all true of mission work in the Philippines as well. If you get the urge add to your list, be sure to add “You will learn many invaluable uses for the humble motorcycle”. I’m SURE you know what I mean!

  13. Thanks for sharing. Most items apply here in Mexico too, although we do have Wal-Mart. We just sent a bottle of grasshopper hot sauce back to the States with a friend. I think that might apply to the eating something strange department. Keep up the good work.

  14. Hey… just found your blog after joining/looking at the ICA Facebook page. Great thoughts… can totally relate to this list even though I’ve only been here two months! (actually, today is our 2-month anniversary)
    One of the biggest adjustments so far: the traffic. I will need to send the video to my friends and family back home to give them a visual of what it’s like. However, if you are WALKING in the middle of it – your perspective changes. : )

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  17. Just came across this after spending time in Phnom Pehn on a mission trip this past summer. Love your post and the video of the traffic. “Synchronized chaos” is how one local missionary described it.

  18. Pingback: Today’s Links // Enough Sleep?, Missions in Ecuador, Non-Christian Morality, Marriage and Eternity, John Frame | Word + Life | KevinHalloran.net

  19. Wow! This is so great! I am an MK, my family was in Chad, Africa. I lived there for all my primary years.
    I love #2 – there is nothing like putting your financial life in other people’s hands and hope they don’t judge you for what you are doing.
    This is a great list – I wish I could have come across it sooner. God bless your work!

  20. Doing missionary work in different places certainly expands your perceptions on life. It allows you to see the world from different perspectives. It gives you a wider view of things, both good and bad.

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