Missionaries Need Mentors Too

Mentoring others is a discipline, much like prayer, daily worship, Bible study, and memorizing Scripture. If we are not deliberate, mentoring gets left by the wayside in the rush of our daily lives.

To form others for mission service, we have to seek them out and ask the Father to send them to us. When we step out in missions, we step toward people on the mission field, but we must also match stride with missionaries-in-the-making whom we bring along. Part of being a missionary is mentoring other missionaries—helping them learn how to live and minister cross-culturally.

Mentoring shapes thriving ministers. The book of Acts records examples of relationships that resemble what many think of today as mentoring—teaching someone skills and giving guidance. I am especially encouraged by Barnabas’s relationship with John Mark. In Acts 13, John Mark bailed on his team during their first mission. In Acts 15, Paul refused to work with him again.

“Part of being a missionary is mentoring other missionaries—helping them learn how to live and minister cross-culturally.”

But John Mark’s cousin Barnabas invited him on another missionary journey, providing the opportunity for continued mentoring and missions experience. Later on, when Paul wrote to the church at Colossae from prison, where Mark accompanied him, Paul told the Colossians to welcome Mark if he came to the church (Col. 4). It seems Barnabas’s mentorship helped Mark grow into a reliable Christian man and better missionary.

Present-Day Mentors

Like the relationship between Barnabas and Mark, I’ve seen present-day examples of how missionaries mentor other missionaries.

I think of Teresa, who spends a month or so each year visiting a town near the Andes Mountains. She mentors Melodee, who is from Teresa’s sending church, First Baptist of Sherman, Texas. Teresa brought Melodee along on a mission trip the year before last to teach her about building relationships and sharing the gospel in this remote mountain town. Teresa continues to encourage her and to seek opportunities to develop Melodee as a cross-cultural minister.

Melodee is one of several workers who Teresa has brought along to learn from her through a missions journey. In this way, Teresa develops missionaries. She is the first to admit she still has much to learn about missionary service. But she already knows a lot after seven years of coming to the village to teach Bible stories and share the gospel of Christ. The Lord has taught Teresa about love, faithfulness, obedience, and persistence. He has given her courage, cultural insight, people skills, and a strategy for building relationships.

Teresa doesn’t keep this knowledge to herself. By mentoring others, she invests what the Lord has given her, multiplying laborers to serve the Lord in that same mountain village and elsewhere. As for Melodee, Teresa has given her the opportunity to put her lessons into practice, all the while benefiting from Teresa’s example of how the Lord uses a woman, like herself, to advance his gospel.

Practicing What I Preach

I, too, have had the opportunity to mentor a new missionary. Amy was eighteen months into her first term of missionary service when she asked me to teach her to walk with Christ on the mission field. I teach her missionary skills such as how to learn the worldview of others, how to identify barriers and bridges to the gospel, how to read a community for entry points into peoples’ lives, how to get to the gospel in a conversation, and how to make a disciple.

But there’s more. I also teach her the nitty gritty—how to deal with temptation and sin, how I snag my own mind in a headlock and drag it back to Jesus, how not to despair, how to savor a decades-long marriage, how to pour into one’s child, how to extend grace to colleagues and to self, how all this plays out in the desert of overseas living, and, most importantly, that worshiping the Lord is the best we can do.

“You can show someone else how to serve the Lord right where you are, in the phase of life you are going through.”

In a reciprocal way, Amy speaks into my life with insight, pointing me to Christ. I pray she thrives in the Lord on the mission field and mentors mission workers who will do the same.

You Can Mentor Too

God is teaching you about cross-cultural ministry. Even if he is just now opening your heart to his love for the nations, that is insight you can already pour into someone else. Maybe you are planning another mission trip with your church. Who should you bring along? Think of all you do to prepare for cross-cultural missions. There are potential mission workers who should benefit from those exercises. Ask the Lord who he wants you to mentor.

And for the new missionary: if your current ministry scenario is not what you pictured when you made that drastic move to the mission field, pray for another person to invite into the mess. That mess is verdant with lessons and the cultivation of character and strength. You can show someone else how to serve the Lord right where you are, in the phase of life you are going through. Mentoring doesn’t have to be tidy. The person you invite into your mess may be someone whom the Lord is preparing to cross cultures as you have. The Lord often works our relationships that way. We only have to be willing to seek them out and do the hard work of mentorship.

Jennifer Waldrep is an IMB missionary in Lima, Peru.