Big Small Things

I was startled by the question: “Are you going to be a missionary when you grow up?” I couldn’t seem to make sense of it—What did they think a “missionary” was? Was I not already a missionary?

I grew up at a self-supporting institution where I heard about foreign missions all the time. At the same time, I was also told that we were missionaries wherever we were—that our first mission field is our home. Yes, we happened to live in the United States of America, but to my understanding we lived there as missionaries. When my parents moved back to their home country to pioneer another institution, were they suddenly not missionaries because they were back home? And my serving and working alongside my parents in the ministry—was that not being a missionary?

Most people consider a missionary someone who is sent to a foreign country by a religious organization to teach the people about Jesus, and maybe, hopefully, minister to their physical needs. While that definition is true to a degree, it is extremely limited. It limits the number of people who can call themselves missionaries, it limits the mission field, and it limits the people reached. I was and still am troubled by this common view of what or who a missionary is.

The Merriam-Webster’s definition has a clearer perspective of what a missionary is: “a person undertaking a mission and especially a religious mission”.[1] As Christians we have all been given the great commission of taking the gospel to all the world.[2] Unfortunately, “Many suppose that the missionary spirit, the qualification for missionary work, is a special gift or endowment bestowed upon the ministers and a few members of the church and that all others are to be mere spectators. Never was there a greater mistake. Every true Christian will possess a missionary spirit, for to be a Christian is to be Christlike.”[3] It’s simple: If you are a true Christian, you possess a missionary spirit; if you don’t, you aren’t a Christian.

As a Christian, you are part of the mission of taking the gospel to all the world. It would not be all the world if the part of the world in front of you was not included. If you possess a missionary spirit—if you are a true Christian—you are doing mission work, wherever you are: “The missionary spirit is a spirit of personal sacrifice. We are to work anywhere and everywhere, to the utmost of our ability, for the cause of our Master.”[4] Whether you are out there in the so-called mission field (a term which also has no substantial definition in how we use it), at home, in school, or in a nine-to-five job, it doesn’t matter. You don’t stop your mission based on your location. Wherever you are is the mission field. It’s not a question of, “Are you going to be a missionary?” but rather a question of “Are you being a Christian?” If you are a true Christian, you cannot escape mission work, because it is the practical demonstration of your Christianity.

You don’t stop your mission based on your location. Wherever you are is the mission field.

I am not saying this to disregard foreign mission work: I love foreign missions; I love ministries. I love traveling and getting to know different places and their work. I have lived most of my life in self-supporting institutions, where people came to learn about mission work and where we got to practice it. I believe in missions wholeheartedly, and have always been the friend that encourages others to go on mission trips.

I was blessed to be taught to see mission work as a part of my Christian life and duty. Granted, growing up, my family was not living as rural as other missionaries who had no running water, electricity, or internet. We didn’t have to hike miles to arrive at home, and we didn’t have to eat the same thing every day. But regardless, having a car, house, and washer and dryer didn’t make us any less missionaries. There were personal sacrifices that had to be made day in and day out; and these weren’t the apparent “big” sacrifices of selling all that you have, packing all your belongings in a suitcase and moving across the world to a country where you don’t know the language, culture, beliefs, or the people. Instead, they were the hidden “small” things that had to be removed so that God could work through us in spreading the gospel wherever He had placed us. It was the sacrifice of “me, myself, and I”; surrendering wants and desires to God; giving up “my way or the highway”. It was through serving in housekeeping, cleaning rooms, offices, bathrooms, and hallways, that God worked to mold my character in willingness, humility, cheerfulness, and submission.

I have had a lot of different opportunities to serve: At home, at church, at a school, at lifestyle centers, at a clinic, at evangelism campaigns, and at churches doing Bible work. Each time I am immersed in a new place with new people, a new culture, and new rules, I realize time and time again how the years of mission work at home molded my ability to adapt, be flexible and useful: When something goes wrong in the mission, you don’t simply give up on the mission, you need to find a different way. Most recently I went to an Asian country, and although I was super excited and optimistic, it wasn’t long before I realized just how different their culture and people were from mine. Some of my expectations and beliefs about ministry and mission work were tested. Although I was frustrated at first, I remembered the lessons I had learned through simple service at home: to be willing to change, to work cheerfully, and to be humble to follow their instructions even when they didn’t make any sense to me, making me more able to submit to their system. The irony is that as I changed and adapted to their culture and way, the greater my influence was upon those I ministered to.

So, I am not degrading the value of foreign missions. But serving starts today, anywhere and everywhere you are. Christ’s method of reaching people is so simple and applicable to where you are now, and it is the only method that gives true success. “The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”[5] Mingle with the people around you, learn about them—their likes and dislikes, their struggles and strengths—desire their good; be sympathetic, serve them, and work alongside them. Small things make big impacts. It was in washing dishes and cleaning with the people in Asia that I gained their trust. It might sound funny, but the fact that I knew how to wash dishes, sweep and mop, hang laundry, and do the simple chores of life, gave them confidence in what I said when I preached. This made them willing to come and ask me for help and advice and to share their struggles, knowing and trusting that I would be leading them to Jesus.

We can only serve in a foreign field if we have first learned to live the life of personal surrender at home. That is the only way we will ever be prepared for service in a foreign field. I have often seen missionaries who struggle with their work simply because they had lived a life of “respectable conventionality.”[6] Their daily lives were filled with more self-fulfillments than self-sacrifices, living their own plans and aspirations while placing the name “Christian” before it. With a life lived out for self, it is no surprise that it was difficult for them to live for others. For these, the mission work is harmful; from them, it is harmed.

So, serve where you are. Leave behind your personal agenda and live for God’s agenda, whatever that may be. If you live for God, you will find that the mission field is right beneath your feet.

[1] “Missionary Definition & Meaning,” Merriam-Webster, accessed April 23, 2024,
[2] Matt. 28:18–20; Rev. 14:6
[3] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1889), 385.
[4] Ibid, 386.
[5] Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), 143.
[6] Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 264.

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