My Advice for Those Preparing to Serve Overseas

My first summer at SWO was in 2006. I was new in my desire to pursue Christ and ready to spend a summer on servant team. I couldn’t wait to get out of school for the summer, but the second I stepped foot on the property, I remember being overwhelmed with how little I knew of Jesus. 2006 ended up being one of the best summer’s I’ve ever experienced. I remember walking away and thinking, “This must be a taste of what heaven is like!” I had never experienced a body of believers who were so single-minded in their commitment to the Gospel. People from all different walks of life and personalities and backgrounds—yet all passionate about Jesus and His name being made great among all people.

For me, desiring mission work and pursuing Christ were almost simultaneous. I was around 15 years old when I realized that there wasn’t anything else to do with Jesus than just believe in Him. When I first came to SWO as a camper, I began to realize that submitting to Christ was a daily, moment by moment thing—I didn’t just walk the aisle and forget about it. As I began to realize the cost of discipleship, I also had my eyes opened to the world and the darkness that the Light had yet to penetrate. Millions upon millions of people went to sleep each night without any hope of knowing the One True God and my heart ached to go. I worked each summer from 2006-2011 (with the exception of 2010) at SWO and I can honestly say that it prepared me more than any other experience in life for ministry overseas.

I spent a week in Hungary during my sophomore year of college. Immediately following, I spent 2 weeks in China over Christmas. The next summer, I spent 2 months in Peru. After my senior year of college, I packed everything I could into 2 suitcases (and one carry-on) and moved to India for 2 years. I believe that Snowbird prepared me more than any other experience for those 2 years overseas.

Did you know that the International Mission Board states that the number one reason why missionaries leave the field is because of conflicts with other personnel? That’s right, other missionaries. More missionaries leave the field every year because they can’t get along with their team members than for any other reason.

With my job here at SWO, I talk to a LOT of college-aged students. Each summer, we hire around 115 college-aged students to work with and share the Gospel with the 5,000 teenagers that come through the doors of SWO—many of them eventually wanting to do ministry overseas. My number one piece of advice for them wanting to work in an overseas missionary capacity? Spend a summer at SWO. Here’s why:

  1. Working at SWO, I learned to intensely love and depend on the Word of the Lord to sustain, equip, nourish, and encourage me.
  2. I was confronted with the fact that it was Christ’s bride, the Church, that was THE plan for the salvation of the world—not me or you singular. If I was going to be a missionary, it HAD to be under the umbrella of the Church.
  3. I learned what it was like to pursue my students through intense exhaustion, sickness, and even when I just didn’t feel like it—but I learned the joy that comes through having good ministry work ethic.
  4. I learned to value unity in the body of Christ above all—knowing that what Christ said is true, “They will know Me by your love for one another.” If we are to preach Christ in our words, then our love for one another must be evident.
  5. I learned to form lasting, godly relationships that are based on a love of the Savior and not temporary things. Some of my best friends to this day are girls that I worked with that summer of 2006.
  6. Biblical manhood and womanhood are not only taught but also encouraged and exemplified. If there’s one thing that’s true of all cultures (apart from their innate need for Jesus) it’s that they’re aching for true examples of what it means to be a man or woman of God.
  7. I learned to humble myself before the Lord and confess my sin.
  8. I learned to appreciate how differently God made each of us and how much we’re all needed in the body of Christ.
  9. I was challenged to become a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord—dying to myself and my wants/preferences for the sake of the Gospel.
  10. I learned that the personal struggles turned into eternal victories when I submitted them to the sanctifying gaze of the Savior.

Living and working overseas isn’t easy—it’s really, really hard. You learn to die to parts of yourself that you didn’t even know existed as you’re squeezed out of any and everything that is familiar. It’s not easy leaving your family or friends or Starbucks or Target. But Jesus is WORTHY, and if He’s worthy, then He’s worth your preparation. Spend at least one summer at SWO. I promise you won’t regret it.

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Caroline Ellis