You have just walked out of your pastor's office. Your head is spinning with a mix of excitement and apprehension. You asked for advice and confirmation regarding your call to missions, and the response was a resounding "Yes!" So what now? Obviously, between here and Timbuktu a lot of preparations need to be made.
The following is a practical list to help prospective missions prepare for the field.
Contact the ministry that you will be working with. They will most likely have an application process for you to go through. Maintain communication with them throughout all preparations.
Set a tentative date for departure. Then make a to-do list, consider how long it will take to complete it, and judge whether that departure date is realistic. For example, don't buy a ticket for next Friday if the whole trip is financially dependent on the sale of your car that has yet to appear in the For Sale section of the newspaper.
Before thinking about your needs on the mission field, tie up all loose ends at home. Pay off all outstanding debts if possible, or set up a plan to have them paid while you are away. Don't burn bridges at home even if you will be gone a long time. Put in a proper notice to your employer and landlord. Also, return that DVD you borrowed from a friend three years ago. (Remember, you will probably be asking these people for financial support soon.)
Study the culture. Read books and do lots of Google searches about the region and the surrounding areas. Start learning how to say basic phrases in their native language. By the time you arrive, you should know about their history, geography, climate, culture and customs (including local dos and don'ts), politics, laws, food, living conditions and dress code. As cool as your gigantic nose ring might be in America, if it is offensive to the locals of your destination, the face metal needs to go.
Find out what medical vaccinations are recommended for that region of the world well in advance, then have them done. (Otherwise you might get a free serving of Hepatitis with your street cart noodles.)
Get traveler's insurance, which includes emergency evacuation by airplane. Make copies of all medical records, passport, social security card, driver's license and other important documents. Take one set of copies with you, and leave a few sets with a relative or friend.
If you need financial support, now's the time to start schmoozing. Type up a respectable fundraising letter, then email it to every person on your contact list. Request permission to do a presentation for your church. If you think it will help, put on a clown suit and stand on the street corner while handing out fundraising letters.
Talk with the pastors or leaders of your mission field destination to find out what your monthly living expenses will be. You also need to be realistic about how much it will cost to get you there. Once you have these estimates, add a buffer to it because you are guaranteed to run into a lot of 'surprise' expenses.
Before leaving, try to replicate the living conditions on the mission field. For example, stop using the air conditioner, turn on your shower at 5 percent of its full capacity or wash clothes by hand. Quit Starbucks. If you're still in a good mood after a week of this, you should have no more doubt about your calling to missions. Also, you will have a much easier transition when you arrive.
Throw a great big going away party, with all your favorite foods. Take this opportunity to share with those close to you all the ways they are important and special in your life. Let everyone know how much you appreciate their support and prayers. Make sure to take lots of pictures, have everyone sign the guestbook and make sure to get their email addresses.
If your prayer life is even a tiny bit unstable or stagnant, now is the time to firm it up. Schedule a fast, pray and study God's word like you've never done before. You will need to be in top spiritual condition. Being on the mission field is far more draining spiritually than being in the comfort and constant support of your home church.
If you have any unresolved issues with someone, get them dealt with. Bitterness, unforgiveness and disunity all open you up to spiritual attacks that bring you down and hinder your fruitfulness. Who knows how long it will be before you have another chance to make things right with that person? Go ahead, humble yourself and seek to mend the rift.
Find out what kind of spiritual strongholds are in your destination country. What religion do they practice? What are the biggest social problems? You must be aware of the enemy's devices in that area so you can effectively cover yourself in prayer each day. Remember, as Ephesians 6:10-18 teaches, you don't fight against flesh and blood but against "principalities and powers in heavenly places." There are demonic forces operating in that area and you must be prepared to do spiritual warfare against a new enemy.
If there is any hidden sin in your life, deal with it now. Make a commitment to walk in transparency and accountability with your home church pastor. Make a plan to stay in touch with him/her on a regular basis through email, letters or phone calls. You will be in a much more vulnerable state spiritually, so close and lock every door to the enemy.
Be humble enough to ask for prayer when you need it. There will be times when you feel down, lonely, tempted and spiritually dry. Don't be a loner - speak up and let somebody help you.
Always remember that your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in your life. Interacting with Jesus is more important than staying busy with good works, more important than your ministry, and more important than worthy causes that keep you away from your prayer time. If you let your relationship with Him slide because of business with good works, it is like cutting off the water from the tree; all your good fruit will soon shrivel!
Do an honest heart check. Is Jesus your all in all? When you are far away from everything that is familiar, comfortable and meaningful to you -- when your family, friends, and everyone who knows you well and can comfort you, is on the opposite side of the world -- is Jesus enough to fill up the loneliness in your heart and be your strength and joy? Truly surrender your heart to Him, and trust that His grace is sufficient for you.