Why Go Overseas if There Are So Many Lost People Here?

Why Go Overseas if There Are So Many Lost People Here?

“There’s no need to go on and risk your neck being a missionary. There are plenty of lost people here!”

I’ve heard that comment more times and in more places than I can count. I heard it first from the pew of the sleepy Southern Baptist Church I grew up in and continued to hear it even in my college years as I’d sit around with friends on broken furniture chugging coffee.

That question, “why go overseas when there are lost people in our own backyard?” has reared its head throughout my time in ministry. I even continued to hear it when I was overseas in 2015 and Muslim immigrants began to flood into western countries. “Come back!”, people would say, “The Muslims have come to us, you can reach them here.”

I’d simply turn my head sideways in confusion, did they not get it? Did I not get it? Being overseas as someone in their early 20’s to be part of God’s global plan seemed clearly better. But obviously, it wasn’t clear to everybody, so what do we do with that?

Why should we go overseas in an age when America is increasingly drifting from Christianity, and globalization is putting us ever more into contact with people from other countries? Well, the answer is a bit multi-faceted and involves everything from checking your heart to taking a good long look at your 20s and how God wants to use them.

Here are three things to consider when facing the question of, “Why should I go overseas when there are lost people here?”

 

1) Examine your heart 

First thing first, examine your heart.

When I was first gearing up to go overseas, raising awareness, and mobilizing the team of stellar human beings that were going to be supporting me financially and prayerfully to do ministry, I’d get the ‘but there are lost people here’ push back fairly often.

I’m not going to lie, I’d do a bit of a jump stop when I’d hear it. There’d be a bit of hesitation in my stomach like I was passing through a metal detector and wasn’t sure if my belt was going to set it off or not.

After all, these people weren’t necessarily wrong. There are lost people here. Shouldn’t we reach them?

However, I realized, when it came to that question, I needed to reexamine my heart and the question entirely. Where does the question even come from? And why does my heart gravitate towards it?

The first thing I realized when entertaining the questions was that it did NOT come from a place of compassion and desire for the lost in my own backyard. In fact, there was often something a bit more dangerous and sinister at play: complacency.

While the thought that we shouldn’t go overseas because there are lost people here may sound quite missional at first, I realized for me, and most of the people I knew entertaining that idea, there were actually two, unnamed realities underlying the question: comfort and fear. 

You see, we often buy into a Christianity in America that allows us to be very comfortable. We can drive nice cars, have big houses, and go to comfy churches with coffee in the foyer, and that Christianity would never ask us to give any of those things up because, after all, there are lost people here. We can live our lives uninterrupted because we have coworkers who don’t know Jesus and eventually we’ll try to strike up a conversation about Jesus with them.

So, while there is the reality that lost people live around us, that reality seldom drives us to give up our comforts to be missional. Instead, it usually has the opposite effect on us. 

So, while there is the reality that lost people live around us, that reality seldom drives us to give up our comforts to be missional. Instead, it usually has the opposite effect on us. 

For me, I realized there’s this reality that I don’t really want to give things up. Couple that with a fear of the unknown of life and ministry overseas, and I’m all too quick to use the fact that there are lost people in the US and use it as a fire extinguisher to put out any spark of desire to do ministry overseas.

When doing ministry here instead of overseas is just a facade to cling to our own comfort, we’re being no more missional than a bumper sticker, both here and abroad. 

 

2) What if God wants to Form Something In You?

“God is never so much interested in our results as much as he is in our character.”

A worker from my sending organization told me this six months after I first arrived on the field. I was feeling dejected at the amount of culture shock and failure I was experiencing. After all, I had told people I was coming overseas to do great things, and so far I was still struggling just to remember vegetable names in Arabic.

But my coworker’s words stuck with me for the next two years of my placement in the Middle East. Looking back, I see what he said as unequivocally true. 

God has something he wants to do in us that, quite frankly, is basically impossible so long as we opt for the ordinary instead of going beyond it.

Yes, God wants to use us, and yes, God is at work overseas and is inviting us to come along; but even more so, God has something he wants to do in us that, quite frankly, is basically impossible so long as we opt for the ordinary instead of going beyond it.

There’s an intimacy with Jesus that we’re invited into by obeying the Great Commission, and I’ve come to believe it’s the #1 reason why Jesus invites us to be on mission at all. At the end of the day, he wants us to have more of Him. It’s actually written smack dab at the end of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, we just kind of gloss over it. 

Jesus says we are to go into the world, make disciples, teach them to obey Jesus, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I’m not insinuating that Jesus abandons those that stay in the US, but the fact of the matter is that there’s a depth of intimacy with Jesus that comes when we opt for following him into strange places. That’s because doing so is almost always going to include sacrifice and suffering, and in that self-denial, Jesus meets us with open arms, embraces us, and reminds us that he is enough. He always has been, it’s just hard to actually experience that reality fending for ourselves in our own backyards. 

My favorite example of this at work comes from the story when Jesus first calls his disciple, Peter, to follow him in Luke 5. After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus tells Peter to cast his net and Peter ends up catching this miraculously huge haul of fish. At that moment, there’s actually no better gig for Peter to be pursuing than fishing. His nets are full to the point of breaking, and he’s about to make a killing selling it all off. But what happens? Scripture tells us that, “When they came to land with their boats, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

So what’s the point I’m getting at? It’s this. Jesus gave Peter the fish. Fish are good. But ultimately, Jesus was extending something far greater than fish to Peter, and Peter chose it. 

The many things God has blessed you with in this life are also good. But staying in our proverbial boats indefinitely could mean missing out on a chance to follow Jesus and know him intimately in a way that is just more difficult to do when we stay in the same town we’ve always been in, hanging out with the same people who are just like us, enjoying God’s blessings, but missing out on the joy of laying them all down.

I learned the joy of laying it all down was an ongoing process and still is, in my own time overseas. I think I initially signed up because I was zealous, and wanted to see amazing things happen on the mission field. And I did! I saw miracles and the impossible happen. I saw Muslims put their faith in Jesus and start to follow Him.

But to be honest, those miracles and conversion stories aren’t the first things I talk about when I talk about my time overseas. Instead, I talk about how I learned to follow and trust Jesus in a way that would have been impossible had I stayed in the suburbs of Texas. I talk about how my view of the world, ministry, Jesus, and what it means to follow Him have changed dramatically. I tell people how I basically got to relearn what it means to follow Jesus because he allowed me an opportunity to lay down everything, even doing “effective ministry”, and he filled the gaps with Himself.

And that’s another reason why you should go overseas even though we have lost people here.

 

3) Going Overseas Will Teach You How to Live Here

Finally, I have a confession to make. I’m not overseas anymore.

I know what you’re thinking. David. You just spent the last few minutes telling us how we need to be overseas, even though there are lost people here, and instead, you’re probably writing this from a hot tub somewhere.

Let me explain.

First, I don’t have a hot tub. And second, even though I live back in the US now, I’m actually 1500+ miles from where I grew up living in one of the biggest cities in the country ministering to a migrant population who immigrated from the very part of the world I did my Goer placement in.

Why am I doing that? You guessed it, because I went overseas.

To be honest, going overseas is like the advent of WiFi. It will change you forever. It will alter the way you see the world, including your own country, and what it means to do ministry as you walk internationally in your community. 

Once you’ve lived as a stranger in another country, struggled to learn a foreign language, and adapt to a new culture, you’ll find yourself able to sympathize with and support those who are walking that same path in your own country.

For a lot of Goers, myself included, it drastically changes how you see and relate to the immigrant in your midst. Once you’ve lived as a stranger in another country, struggled to learn a foreign language, and adapt to a new culture, you’ll find yourself able to sympathize with and support those who are walking that same path in your own country.

Outside of just increasing your understanding, going overseas will also equip you to do ministry in America in new practical ways. You’ll develop boldness to talk to strangers and probably even fluency in a whole other language to build bridges with that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Take what I’m doing currently as a case in point. Thousands of people from one of the most unreached countries in the world have immigrated to my neighborhood, and the local Church had virtually no idea they were here, let alone how to engage them. Not only that, but as I’ve talked to and built friendships with Muslim immigrants here, I’ve learned that very few of them have ever been befriended by a Christian, even after living here for decades!

So what is one to do? Well, I began to do the same thing I did when I was overseas. I went into their shops, cafes, and restaurants, said a friendly Islamic greeting in Arabic, and began to ask them news of their homeland while telling them how I often prayed for their country and that the war going on there would end. By the time I’m done convincing them I’m not a spy, but am just a Texan who speaks Arabic and lived in the Middle East, I usually leave having gained a new friend and an opportunity to follow up, get tea, and even plug that new friend into social services or support they might need in adjusting to life in America.

I’ve also gotten to function as a bridge between the local Church and their Muslim neighbors. While these two communities often view each other with fear and suspicion, thanks to my time overseas, I’m just as comfortable striking up conversations in a mosque as I am in a church lobby. I’ve gotten to see Muslims and Christians sit down for meals together, talk faith, and open the scriptures together. 

I don’t say this to brag, because at the end of the day I’ve got a missionary grade of like C- at best. I’m only trying to show that my time overseas has been one of God’s biggest graces in my life, and a big part of that is because it has opened up doors for me to follow Him in my own backyard that would have been nonexistent before. 

The only reason I’ve been able to do ministry in America is because I learned how to do ministry in the Middle East. I learned what it was like to wake up desperate for Jesus every day, knowing that if he doesn’t come through then I was nothing and my time here was wasted. I learned what it meant to abide in him, and to make sitting in his presence the ultimate goal for the day and not just the things on my to-do list. And in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t until I started operating out of that framework that I really began to see any type of real ministry work happen.

When I eventually moved back to the states and decided to minister to Muslim immigrants in my current city, at first I was really scared. Not because the work was dangerous or anything, but because I had this underlying fear of, “What if God only moves in big ways overseas? What if ministry here is absent from the works of the Spirit I saw during my time in the Middle East?”

There was only one way to find out. I moved to this current city and began to do the same things I did overseas. I sat with God, abided in his presence, and leaned on Him in radical ways while asking for ministry opportunities much in the same way I did while I was overseas. And you know what? They happened!

I learned the God I encountered ministering in the Middle East, is the same God at work in this American mega-city. However, had I not followed Him to the Middle East and learned what it meant to do ministry with Him there, I never would have been able to do it here.

I learned the God I encountered ministering in the Middle East, is the same God at work in this American mega-city.

 

Is God Calling You to Stay?

I’ve just finished outlining three ways from my own journey as to why it was better for me to go overseas even when there are lost people here.

The final question I encourage everyone to wrestle with is this: Is God calling you to stay? 

I know we often frame ‘going’ as the calling, and staying as the default, but what if that framework were reversed and going was actually the norm? What reasons do you have for staying that make you sure that God isn’t calling you to follow him across cultures?

For a few of you, that answer may be yes. You have a clear sense of the specific calling and task God has designed for you that is keeping you in the United States. For most of us, however, the answer to that question probably looks more like the shrugging emoji. He might be calling you to stay, he might not. But we can be sure that he has commissioned us to go. It’s evident in Scripture that our God is cross-cultural, and has called us to be the same.

His invitation is for you to follow Him, and that could mean a season overseas serving God in a two-year placement with GoCorps. If you’d like to explore this further, take a minute and fill out this form.  One of the GoCorps mission coaches will reach out to talk one on one. But regardless of where it leads, the promise is that He will be with you, even to the end of the age.

David Gee

David is fluent in both Texan and Arabic, and likes to write about everything he has learned from those two worlds colliding. He’s a Goer alum that spent two years in the Middle East learning Arabic and working with Yemeni refugees, and continues to minister to immigrants in his community today. Catch him drinking coffee, riding a skateboard, or doing both at the same time.