How do you decide where to go as a missionary? What criteria do you look at to figure out where to land? This process took a very long time for me. In fact, I had to be pushed out the door when I moved to Thailand. I first felt called into missions in 1997, but I didn't arrive in Thailand until 2007. Why did it take so long? Part of the reason was figuring out where God would have me go. Here are some of the steps I took in making this decision.
1) Prayer: God should be the first One we look to. He has insight into the unknown and helps to lead us by His Holy Spirit. I prayed for God to show me a specific country to go to for many years. I would love to tell you that I heard God audibly speak to me, "Go to Thailand!" I would love to tell you that I heard God inaudibly speak to me, "Go to Thailand!" Unfortunately, He did not. Yet I know today that Thailand is the place where God wanted me to go. I am certain of this because I did pray so much about it and God has opened doors for me and my family to be here. Prayer is vital.
2) Scripture: Yes, Thailand is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Yet, as I pursued this decision over a ten year period, I would often go to God's Word to seek answers. I would go to the great commission and realize that no country is off limits. I would go to the book of Acts and read about Paul's missionary journeys and the different cultures he brought the gospel to. This energized me in my times of need and doubt. Again, nowhere did I read in the Bible, "Go to Thailand!" Yet knowing the scriptures and seeing how God desires to bring His good news to all tribes and nations will help you to persevere in the midst of the unknown.
3) Mission Trips: I took a number of mission trips to different locations. This is a good way to get a hands on feel for different types of settings and distinct people groups. For example, I took a trip to Amsterdam. While I enjoyed being there, I had a hard time relating with the people. I never felt comfortable around them and I wasn't sure how I could be an effective witness to them. On a trip I took to Mexico, I had a better experience. Even though I couldn't speak Spanish, I felt akin to the people and saw how I could be a part of bringing the gospel to that culture.
4) Statistics: Maybe it is because I studied Engineering as an undergrad and I enjoy taking apart and analyzing everything, but I love looking at demographics. I love reading Operation World (OW) or going onto the Joshua Project website and seeing where the gospel is most needed. I consider how a General in the military would disperse his troops. I once took a year to pray through all the countries of the world. OW is a great resource for doing this. There are many different ways to look at statistics, but I personally desired to go to a country where a small minority (less than 10%) were Christians. Another stat to look at is the number of missionaries already serving in a certain country. This can also be a deciding factor in your choice. Also consider demographics within a country as well. For example, the population of Northern Thailand has a higher percentage of Christians than does Isaan (Eastern Thailand), yet there are more missionaries living in Northern Thailand. These are things you will want to look into once you narrow your search down to one country.
5) Getting Advice: I talked to my pastors about this decision and asked them to pray about it as well. I listened to their suggestions and prayed over the advice I received. I also sought out other missionaries. While pastors can give good Godly advice, missionaries can give great experiential advice. I would ask them about the country they served in and how they approach cross-cultural ministry. I would ask them, "If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?" Missionaries are the experts in the field, and most of them love to talk about the people they serve, so don't hesitate to ask.
6) Other Factors: Other things to consider are the location, the cost of living and the political situation of the country. How far away do you want to be from your native land? Can you live on the other side of the world? Would you rather be closer to family? How much does it cost to live in the country? Are you able to raise enough funds to support yourself and your family living in cities like Tokyo or Moscow? Can you live in a third world nation, living without electricity and running water? Finally, can you even enter into the country as a missionary? Will the government permit you to share the gospel? Are you willing to take your mission work underground? Will your life be at risk if you go there? How about your family's lives? These are some serious questions to consider. I desire the gospel to go out to all nations, but one really has to be certain of God's calling to enter into certain situations.
I'm sure there is more advice that I can't think of right now. If you are thinking about missions but not sure where to serve, then these six steps might be a good place to begin. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.