I don't have the final answer, but I've asked some missionaries what moved them to do what they do. I am interested, in part, because understanding motivations will be the key to recruiting the next generation of cross-cultural ambassadors for Jesus. So, here are a few of my ideas about why people might choose to be missionaries:
- God told them to go. Almost everyone I talked with cited some sort of call of God on their life as formative in their decision to go on the mission field. Several didn't even know where they wanted to go, but that God wanted them to go.
- Expectation of a heightened walk with God. (i.e. – John Paton, Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd or Jim Elliot). Read one biography of the men listed above and you are ready to sign up. Read more than one and someone will have to restrain you from going because of the dynamic nature of their spiritual experience.
- Opportunity to invest your life in a way that will make a difference. I remember stories of missionaries who have gone for a variety of reasons, and God used them to open up entire countries to the gospel. Others left a legacy of hundreds of churches. Others have given their lives to fields that required sacrifice and their blood, sweat and tears won only a handful of converts in a hard field.
- Be part of the action. This is closely akin to #3. It’s more fruitful in some places than it is at home. There is more opportunity for service in places no one wants to go than there is at home. Missions offers opportunities to be in the fray where it may feel more like the sidelines at home.
- Love for a certain group of people motivates missionary service. Some missionaries speak of an overwhelming compassion for the plight of a certain people group. Others find themselves mysteriously drawn to the lifestyle in a culture not their own.
- Ability to relate unusually to a certain group of people. For some it is similar to #5. They have an unusual ability to identify needs and speak to spiritual issues in a group of people. This and #5 are often ways that the call of God (#1) looks to people when they are in the process of decision making.