4 Things to Do in College That Can Prepare You for Missions

4 Things to Do in College That Can Prepare You for Missions

Our society gets college so wrong. On its best days, it’s treated as a career stepping stone to launch young adults into the workplace. At its worse, it's treated as a type of cultural purgatory between adolescence and adulthood that we use to fend off the real world by stuffing it with as many parties and bad decisions as possible.

But what if God had a design for your time at college to be so much more than either of those things? What if He wanted to use these years to form you and prepare you to join Him in His global work in bringing redemption and salvation to the nations?

What if He wanted to use these years to form you and prepare you to join Him in His global work in bringing redemption and salvation to the nations?

We believe that’s exactly what God wants to do in believers during their college years. Sure, God isn’t against midnight taco bell runs, cross-country road trips, exam cramming, and many of the other things our time in university entails — but, in the midst of all the freedom and intellectual pursuits, his heart is to see his children equipped and prepared to join Him in what he’s doing around the globe.

Isaiah 49 prophesies this about Jesus: 
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

This verse reveals God’s enormous heart for the nations. He has resigned that simply saving the people of Israel isn’t enough — he has his eyes set on the WHOLE world. And from the time of the first Gentile believers joining the church in the book of Acts 2000 years ago to the new believers cropping up in Iran today, he’s been busy carrying out that task.

The joy of the believer is to join God in that task, and he’s eager to both prepare us and invite us, even during our college years.

We’ve got a handful of examples outlined below, and you’ll notice NONE of these options are isolated to specific majors, and certainly not just to ministry-related classes. Anyone with any major can use their college years to prepare to be a missionary, starting with the church you attend.

1) Attend a Missionally-Minded Church

College is a time of shifts, including a shift in what church we attend. For many of us, we’re leaving the comforts of the faith community that welcomed us and discipled us in our teenage years and choosing a new one, on our own, for the first time.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for the mission field in your college years is to attend a church that is passionate about its role in the Great Commission. This one will take some discernment though. 

Most churches talk about the great commission and the importance of missions, but not every church will center it as part of its foundational calling as a body of believers. So, as you’re navigating new churches with good-looking college worship bands and free coffee on Sunday, look for some of these key signs that the church is walking the walk when it comes to missions.

First, look at their budget. Jesus said where our treasure is our heart is also, and the same is true for a church. If local and global missions are absent from where the church is spending its finances, they’re probably not about it.

Second, pay attention to the preaching. Check to see if the congregation is being exhorted and discipled to have a global view of the faith that sees us as both the receivers and the sharers of the Good News with neighbors near and far. 

Third, are they sending? Missional churches send, well, missionaries. This was one of the key things about my church that captivated me during my college years. It felt like every few months a family was getting commissioned to go overseas, a short-term team was being sent out, or a local ministry was sharing how we could be involved in what they were doing. I could tell that the church cared about forming a missional culture.

Your church during your college years will be instrumental to the type of person you are after those four (or five!) years are done. Getting plugged into one that can further disciple and empower a missional calling is a game-changer.

2) Study Abroad

Your time in college doesn’t have to revolve around the same campus, food, and extracurriculars for the whole four years. Studying abroad is a must for getting out of your comfort zone and changing the scenery, and it has some unique ways it can help prepare you for the mission field.

While we’ve already written another post on why more Christians should study abroad, there’s more to be said for the particular value Study Abroad experiences can lend in getting Christians ready for missions.

For starters, it will hurl you headlong into a different culture, and usually, for a longer time than most Summer or Spring Break short-term mission trips allow for. This means that, when studying abroad, you’ll actually get to exercise your adjustment skills in acclimating to a foreign culture in a deeper way than if you were just coming in for a couple of weeks to help with a project and then leave.

This longer stay abroad allows you to establish ordinary day-to-day rhythms, and navigating the culture through the context of a student will bring you face to face with language barriers, cultural faux pas, and being on your own. These are all opportunities to gain experience in adjusting to a new home outside of the states, learning to appreciate a new culture, and building resilience when things feel lonely or difficult. These are all experiences and challenges one faces to a deeper degree when one goes overseas after college, which is why studying abroad is a great way to build the confidence and skillsets needed to thrive on mission.

3) Be a Resident Assistant (RA)

If you’ve got a passion for pouring into on-campus life, there are few things better suited to prepare you for missions and ministry after college than being an RA.

This one hits especially close to home because I served as an RA during my last two years of undergrad, after which I launched with GoCorps to the Middle East for two years. 

I distinctly remember looking back during my two years overseas and saying to myself, “You know, I really loved all my classes with professors. But the one thing that set me up to do this the most was being an RA.”

I know each campus approaches campus life a bit differently, but there were a few of the common threads within the RA role that I found helped prepare me for doing missions.

First off, it was almost a completely relational role — just like ministry. Sure, there were times I had to make bulletin boards or put in maintenance requests, but most of my job revolved around getting to know the guys on my floor, helping them thrive during the year they were with me, and fostering a deep sense of community they could feel they belonged to.

Similarly, doing missions has its fair share of project work, but at the end of the day, it’s all about people. Meeting people, loving people, introducing them to Jesus. Connecting with young men in the Middle East and inviting them to grab a coffee to hear about their lives reminded me so much of inviting residents to the dining hall it was scary. 

I remember phoning one of my old co-workers once I had been on the field for a while. He asked me how it felt being a missionary where I was, and I responded, “Dude, it’s like being an RA for an entire neighborhood instead of just a floor.” And I praised God for that!

Second, I remember being an RA stretched me in a certain way few other jobs could, and this in turn prepared me for life on the field. Part of this was learning to work within a team of other RAs, each being responsible for our own assignments, but simultaneously having to rely on each other for encouragement, accountability, and resources.

But even more so, being an RA required tons of self-discipline and intrinsic motivation that few other things did. Hall directors are rarely able to be peering over the shoulder of every RA to make sure they’re being intentional with their time and making themselves available to their residents. And similarly, on the mission field, nobody is necessarily making you go out into the community, sit on park benches, strike up conversations, and grow friendships. And while team accountability and vision do help, at the end of the day these ministry rhythms have to be prioritized and implemented personally, and being an RA is a great way to start practicing these disciplines.

4) Serve International Students  

Every year around one million international students come to study at US universities, and a majority of these come from countries where Christianity is not the primary religion. That means at any given university there are likely to be international students coming from abroad who have never known or had a legitimate friendship with a Jesus follower.

This is a unique opportunity for believing college students to walk out a missional life right then and there on campus instead of simply prioritizing it after college. The good news is that getting started is quite easy.

Many campuses already have ministries geared toward supporting international students, this is likely the easiest way to get involved. Additionally, getting involved in the international student orientation week or welcome group is another good in to make relationships with students from abroad.

At the end of the day, international students are just like regular students. They want to connect, study, and enjoy college. Taking the initiative to look for and approach international students and extend genuine friendship is the most impactful thing you can do. From there, it’s just making yourself available and enjoying them as your friends. You can offer rides to the grocery store or airport if they’re flying home for the holidays. Or better yet, invite them to your home for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter.

This practice of making space and inviting others in is really what missions and ministry boil down to

This practice of making space and inviting others in is really what missions and ministry boil down to, and the best way to get ready to practice it overseas is by making an effort to do it on our own campuses as well.

Conclusion

While your major can certainly impact which route you take and how you serve overseas after college, you can intentionally approach your time in college in a way that further prepares you for serving God and others overseas no matter what major you choose. Whether it’s the church you plug into or the job you decide to take, God’s heart is that you would use the opportunity to be better formed and equipped to join Him in what he’s already doing across the globe.

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.