I was 22 and freshly graduated from university when I was hired by a large international relief and development organization. I had a bit of real-life experience from my college internships and a confident desire that I wanted to start a career in the nonprofit sector. When I got that job, I had no idea it would involve overseas travel so often—it was a welcome addition to my job description. Being able to travel and see our work in the field, as well as show it off to others, quickly became my favorite part of my job.
As my Facebook travel photo albums increased, I began to get a lot of questions from my network of friends and family about how they can get a job like that.
How do I get a job where I can serve Jesus and travel all the time for free and have loads of cool experiences and help people in need?
In many ways it’s flattering, but when you’re living it day-to-day, you know there is so much more to the lifestyle than meets the eye. So, I put together some recommendations to share with people who are looking to get started on a career path in international ministry, missions, relief and development, or something similar.
1. Study something in university that gives you a tangible skill.
If you want to work in international ministry, think about what skills are needed and where those skills intersect with your passions. Find something to study that you are good at and enjoy doing that will give you an actual skill to be able to offer the world when you’re done. What I mean is: psychology, sociology and the like are fun to study—but, if you’re interested in overseas ministry as your future job, what are you going to do with your degree when you’re done? That degree won’t necessarily help people who are dying from malaria. A medical degree will. A history degree is interesting, but it won’t help people get clean water—an engineering degree will. Get trained in something that can help the people you desire to serve. Be sure that when you graduate you’re trained and equipped to add value to the people you want to serve.
2. Start preparing and serving now.
Don’t waste any time. If you believe God is calling you to serve others through international ministry, what are you engaging in now to confirm that calling and prepare yourself for the future? Participating in and leading local volunteer efforts is a great place to start. Take mission trips as often as you can, to as many different places as you can. Study abroad. Go on vacations. Learn a new language. Make yourself more global. Go and see what it means to serve and live overseas and use this time before your real career starts to discern if God is calling you there for the long haul.
3. Know that it’s not as great as it looks.
Living and serving others in a culture other than our own has its thrilling qualities, but it’s also a huge sacrifice you need to be sure you are ready to make. For myself, traveling overseas and domestically so often took a significant toll on my personal life. It was hard for me to put down roots in my community. I couldn’t commit to things on a weekly basis, like serving at church. I missed major events in my friends’ and family’s lives. I was tired and jet-lagged often. I spent my life on the road, my whole 20s and my life was my work—it defined me. There were amazingly good and beautiful things that I got to do, and I would not trade those experiences for anything, but you need to also consider the things you’ll be giving up. It’s not as glamorous and wholly fulfilling as it might appear to be if there are other things you desire and are prioritizing for your life.
4. Start small, but don’t allow yourself to get stuck.
It would be rare, unwise and, in fact, dangerous to send a young person who lacks experience and skill into a cross-cultural situation in a leadership capacity. Look for a job that is entry-level but on the path you want to be on. There is something to be said about getting your foot in the door, but I also want to caution you not to get stuck in one role when you have the capacity to do so much more. Serve your time, but if you’re continuously overlooked for promotions, or to take on new challenges—take time to examine why. Be sure you are continuously proving yourself trustworthy, capable and able to excel at the tasks entrusted to you.
5. Where to look.
For the most job options, look to the large organizations that work on multimillion-dollar budgets. These organizations will have job openings because they have more money to be able to specialize in more areas, therefore creating more jobs. However, smaller organizations might be more open to allowing a younger, less-experienced person to have more responsibility, but you’ll likely be paid less and do more work.
When I was searching for a job, I looked at several ministry web sites every day to see what was newly posted. Consider subscribing to the RSS feed of employment pages. Even if they don’t have something that looks just right, just yet—many of them allow you to submit a general application to have on file. This is good practice to go through—filling out the applications gives you a sense of what qualifications they’re looking for in employees. Two other sites I frequent for job listings and international relief and developments updates are Devex.com and ReliefWeb.int.
I hope these tips help frame up some ideas and action steps for any young person thinking about entering full-time overseas ministry for a career. My words and suggestions are by no means black and white—you’ve got to leave room for the holy spirit to move and speak to you when you’re setting out your life to serve Him and His children. And maybe one day your friends and family will start asking you how you got your job.