When I wrote some advice for missionaries, the real assignment on the missionary-blogs site had been to write advice for those still in the "before" stage, to help them in making decisions and becoming prepared.
When I face a question like What basic advice would you give to someone just starting out ? I draw a blank. How can I tell someone else how to live his life? Can you really break down your life into a set of instructions? I certainly can't do that by drawing on my experiences. It would seem very amusing and frustrating for someone else to try to mimic the path that I have taken.
Here are just some of the questions that are up for debate: Should a missionary have formal Bible training? What about cultural training? Is it necessary to hold a college degree? Is it better to go alone, or with a team? Single, or married? With a missions organization or independently? Should a missionary plan to stay his whole life, or plan to train others to replace him? Show me a rule, and I can find you an exception. Missionaries sometimes act non-conventionally out of unleashed passion for the Gospel. Along the way, they learn discipline, and this is sometimes even the first lesson, leading to growth.
But you cannot train missionaries by telling them to go out recklessly and make big mistakes in order to learn discipline. That would be a strange piece of advice. An example of a non- conventional approach is Bruchko, the story of an extraordinary missionary to South America. Would I take advice from him? Yes and no. I was dismayed by his seemingly irresponsible actions in the beginning: leaving on his own, disagreeing with missionaries who had more experience, and not having any reliable financial support. Yet his devotion was deep, and his ministry bore much fruit.
I’m not always good at encouraging potential missionaries. This is partly because missionaries in different stages of adaptation don’t always see eye-to-eye. I found an article a few years ago that I enjoy concerning these different stages. You can see how easy it would be for a missionary in the romantic visionary stage to meet with the missionary in the tired, disillusioned stage and come to a point of conflict. On the other hand, a new missionary can bring fresh energy, while a more seasoned one brings wisdom and discernment. So they can certainly complement each other.
The single most reliable principle I can think of is trusting God to lead and correct. Sometimes I am completely unwilling to change my plans until I receive a clear sign. I am unwilling to give up on a plan until there is a clear obstacle, and I'm unwillingly to move forward until I sense a nudging. Of course I make mistakes and don't always see the signs right away, but I pray, "Lord, if that was a sign, I didn't get it. I need something more obvious." For example, "Lord, I'm going to the orphanage today unless the counselor calls me or the metro stops running."
This helps in pursuing your life's calling, or your calling for a particular season. The seed of an idea begins to form, and you start to act on it, and then you take another step in another direction and get feedback, and all the time you are checking in with God, looking for His blessing and discipline. You can't learn that in a class, and you won't find a complete plan in the Bible, since God doesn't reveal everything all at once. The answers only come from continual fellowship with Him.