In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series III

How can I become a long-term missionary?

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Long and Short-Term Missions

RTE: Can you tell us what it takes to be a long-term missionary? You’ve spoken of the beginning stages, how about later?

FR. LUKE: Archbishop Anastasios has good advice for people thinking of going into the mission field: “It’s always better to say you are going for one year and stay for ten, than to say, ‘I am going for ten years,’ and after the initial enthusiasm fades away, you realize you can’t handle it.” There is wisdom in this: go step-by-stepand God will give you grace and strength.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture

In my early 20’s, when I attended Pennsylvania State University, I contemplated entering the Peace Corps. When I learned more about it though, I was afraid, because I wasn’t sure I could handle the two-year commitment to leave my country and live in an impoverished third-world village. I turned down the opportunity, but God in His own way took me step-by step. He didn’t reveal to me, “In the future you will spend ten years in Albania.” No. First, I went on a short-term mission team for one month to Kenya. The following year I returned for a six-month commitment, and these six months turned into a year of service. After returning to Africa three times over the next four years, I began looking at Albania as a place where I could serve as a long-term missionary. I suggested to my wife, “Let’s make a three year commitment, and then see.” God took us through those three years and gave us the strength we needed. Those three years turned into five years, seven years, a decade. We might have been frightened, had we known at the beginning that we would serve in Albania for ten years, but God took us by the hand and led us.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Don’t frighten yourself by thinking, “How can I become a missionary and live in another culture for so many years?” Just go, make the sign of the cross, and start working. Be open and willing to stay for longer, but tell yourself, “I am going for one year or for two years, and see how it works.” But keep praying, “Lord, if You give me the grace, I will stay as long as You want me here.”

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

RTE: You mentioned the short-term mission teams of two or three weeks. I imagine that it’s helpful for people in a foreign country to feel that others appreciate them enough to come, but what are the real benefits of this short-term experience?

FR. LUKE: One has to be very clear about the purpose of missions. The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture. If one is going to serve in a place that isn’t yet Christian, this will take many years and involve great effort, sacrifice, and struggle. To achieve anything, the missionary must commit himself to living among the people long-term and learning the language and culture.

With the ease of travel and technology, a new phenomenon has arisen in the past thirty years in the mission field – “short-term mission teams” – which send people for a week or two, or a month, to a certain area. They often have a specific project: to build a church, run a catechetical program, etc.

Orhtodoxy missionary work

There is value in these short-term projects, and the first and greatest value is for those who are going. It exposes them to a different culture, a different people. For westerners it is often the first time they’ve seen a third-world country up close, with of all its poverty and hardship. It’s an eye-opening experience. For many, this initial experience is an exciting adventure, and although these short-termers go with the intention of offering something, they receive much more than they can offer, and usually return to their home country full of enthusiasm. They often become ambassadors for the missionary movement; they speak in churches and their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s great for them and for the church that sent them.

But what did they really offer for the week, or month, or two months they were in the mission field? They offered something. Perhaps they built a building – but I’m sure the indigenous people could have built the building themselves if they’d had the money. Perhaps they created some nice friendships, and that’s important to encourage people, but they have to realize that what they offered was very limited.

It is not going to transform, convert, and change people’s lives. At best it is going to complement the work that’s already being done by the long-term missionaries and the local Christians who live there. Some churches are now sending many short-term teams; you can get the people, they’re enthusiastic, it motivates people back home. But people are still afraid to go into long-term mission and this “short-term” trend can create a great danger for the future.

Short-term teams are not the goal of missions, but they can support the overall effort, and short-termers need to be challenged as to where they are going to take this experience when they return home. In any group of twenty short-term missionaries who go somewhere for a month, my goal would be that at least one or two of them seriously consider long-term mission work.

Orthodoxy missionary work

For others, hopefully, this incredible experience will help to transform them into more serious Christians. Lord willing, they will use this experience as a stepping stone in their own spiritual journey. Perhaps they won’t become long-term missionaries, but they will be more dedicated Christians in whatever they do. Hopefully, the majority of people who go will at least understand missions in a new way, and even if they never become long-term missionaries, they will become supporters and partners of those in long-term missions.

There are two results we don’t want from short-term missions. First, we don’t want these participants to think that they are missionaries who have fulfilled their responsibility in missions. They are not missionaries, but members of a missions team. They now have a responsibility to use the experience they’ve received for the glory of God and to spread the spirit of missions in the Church.

The second danger is that we don’t want short-term participants to return home and, after an initial month of excitement, put the experience away as a great adventure and go on with their life as they lived it before. We would consider both of these results as a failure in our short-term strategy.

Orthodoxy missionary work

I have participated on five short-term mission teams, four times as a leader. I have also received five short-term teams while being a long-term missionary. So I’ve been exposed to this concept of missions from a variety of angles. These short-term experiences radically changed the direction of my life, so I’m very grateful for the experience. They exposed me to the reality of missions work and led me to longer stays in Africa. Such trips filled me with enthusiasm and zeal for missions, and led me to eventually study theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as to study missiology at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions.

orthodoxy missionary work

When I was a long-term missionary receiving missions teams, I did all the prep work for the teams, and it took a month out of my schedule each time to accommodate them. In certain cases it was worth it. Some teams did great and really complemented the ministries we were already doing. But to be honest, other teams were very demanding and in the end, the benefit that they offered was minimal. In those instances, it became a very time-consuming project that didn’t have a lot of value for our overall mission. Short-termers need to be aware of this, and when they go, to be humble about it.

RTE: I imagine they are more like pilgrims than missionaries, guests of Orthodox missions who may be able to help out in a small way.

FR. LUKE: Yes, I always tell the short-termers that they shouldn’t call themselves missionaries. They aren’t missionaries. They should think of themselves as visitors to a mission field. Some don’t like to hear this. They would like to think, “I’m following the path of the great missionaries; I’m a missionary now.” That’s quite naive.

Orthodoxy missionary work

To Be Continued …

Go here for Part I

Go here for Part II

In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series II

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit


II. Adapting to a New Culture — The Three Stages in a Missionary’s Life — Different Types of Missionaries

Adapting to a New Culture

FR. LUKE: Different people have different ideas of what mission is about. Some think that it is a romantic adventure, and it’s true that there is excitement and adventure to mission, especially in the initial stages. Once one enters the mission field and begins to live the daily life, trying to proclaim the gospel among people who aren’t always open or interested, the romanticism quickly disappears. This is a stage of frustration that many missionaries experience. The missionary has to work through this, but once he does, he is ready to begin serious missionary work. He understands that an authentic mission requires a commitment that is greater than any frustration or obstacle, a commitment that demands time, effort, and sacrificeIn Love, For Love, By Love

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

A Commitment that Demands Time, Effort, and Sacrifice

During our first years in Albania, the Church faced a major crisis. The government was trying to kick the archbishop out of the country and we were afraid that the foundation he had built for the Church’s work might be destroyed. When I voiced my worries, the archbishop said, “Fr. Luke, you have to remember something. Albania, under the worst form of communism and as the only totally atheistic state in the world, was a stronghold of Satan for almost fifty years. Now that democracy has come, don’t think that Satan is simply going to lie down and let the gospel be proclaimed. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of darkness, and this means that it’s going to be hard, that there is going to be suffering, that there are going to be casualties. We have to be ready for this.” If you want to follow the Christian life, it’s the same thing. Missionary life is a life of the Cross, a life of sacrifice, of humble service, and of not always being appreciated. The archbishop told me that the missionary must be ready to be crucified by the very people he is trying to help. We can’t be devastated when this happens.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

Missionary life is a life of the Cross, a life of sacrifice, of humble service, and of not always being appreciated

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

The missionary must be ready to be crucified by the very people he is trying to help

RTE: I imagine that the initial period of missionary enthusiasm is very similar to what new Christians go through. I remember once wishing aloud that a warmly enthusiastic new convert would come down to earth, but a Russian friend said, “Oh no. This is his spiritual childhood. Don’t deprive him of it. He will never be so innocently happy in his Christian life again. He will discover the difficulties and troubles of our earthly Church soon enough, but for now God has given him this heavenly joy. It will come to a natural end at the right time, and then he will struggle.” I think she was right. But once the struggle begins, how do you help new missionaries adapt?

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

The Three Stages in a Missionary’s Life

The Initial Excitement of Entering a New Culture

FR. LUKE: There is a typical pattern that missionaries go through. As I said, in the initial excitement of entering a new culture, seeing new people and new ways of doing things, there is warm enthusiasm, “Ah, these people are wonderful….” For example, on my own first short-term trip to Africa, I lived in a village for a month. I saw Kenyans walking an hour to church, and then sitting in church for four hours with no desire to leave quickly. To an outsider they seem so joyful and faithful that you generalize and say, “These people are just wonderful.” After you’ve been in the culture a little longer, however, you start to see the other side: “OK, some of these people are faithful, pious Christians … but there are also people hanging around to get something material from the church, who aren’t so honest or sincere.”

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

The Disillusionment by the Fifth or Sixth Month in the Mission

Usually by the fifth or sixth month in the mission field the pendulum starts to swing back and the missionary begins to see things with a negative eye. This is the most dangerous time. I’ve seen missionaries so disillusioned that they leave the mission field – or perhaps they don’t leave, but they allow their disillusionment to darken their entire experience. They view everything and everyone from a negative perspectiveIf this happens, it’s a tragedy, and it’s better for the missionary to leave than to offer such a distorted view of the gospel.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

The Third Stage in which the Missionary Sees Both Good and Bad Within the ‘New’ Culture

It is important to prepare missionaries for these two stages, and there is still another phase which any good missionary will eventually reach. In this third stage, the missionary sees both good and bad within the culture. In any culture, including our own, we realize that there are faithful, pious people, as well as con-artists and those who are insincere. There are also good people who are weak, and who may fall into temptation. This is the reality.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

RTE: Of life on earth.

When You Become a Missionary You Become a Person Without a Home

FR. LUKE: Exactly, of everywhere. We can’t go on mission expecting to find people open and ready to embrace the gospel. It is important to challenge the cross-cultural worker to adapt as soon as possible, but not to go native, not to give up his old culture in trying to blindly embrace the new. This is dangerous. When you become a missionary you become a person without a home. Although you have left your own culture, you will never fully adapt to the new. The indigenous people will never truly see you as one of themselves, no matter how hard you try. You become a third culture person.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

You Become a Third Culture Person

Another common mistake in the history of western Christians has been for the missionary to create a western compound, a small western society in the midst of a new culture. When you leave that compound in the morning you enter the local culture, but when you come back at night, everything is like it is at home. This should not be the goal. We must strive to live among the people, close to the people.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

Pulling Indigenous People Out of Their Cultural Setting or Leaving Neophyte Christians in Their Villages?

RTE: St. Macarius of Altai found that if he left the new Altai Christians in their villages, they would inevitably be drawn back into unchristian practices. The pull of society was just too great. So he created new Christian villages within the society, and asked the Christians he baptized to live there. The Spanish missionaries in California did the same thing. What do you think of this?

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

FR. LUKE: There are pros and cons to these different methods. There is validity to pulling people out of their culture and trying to create a village of new believers, and something positive in trying to avoid temptations which may be too strong for a neophyte Christian. A danger in pulling indigenous people out of their cultural setting is that they may also lose their connection with the people they left behind.

RTE: Also, I imagine that they would become dependent on the missionary who is the inspiration for the village.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

FR. LUKE: Yes, and to some degree they may be tempted to adopt the missionary’s cultural baggage, whether western or whatever, and then it is hard for them to be salt for their own society. Along the same line of thought, another danger that missionary agencies have realized for centuries is that if you take the indigenous Christian out of his home setting and send him to the missionary country for training or for seminary, after he has lived in another culture for four or five years, he adapts to that culture and can’t really fit into his own again. His own people will see him as a foreigner if he goes back – and many don’t return at all.

archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

Different Types of Missionaries: the Outreaching, the Itinerary and the Silent Witness

RTE: We are speaking of missionaries going into a new culture, but there are other types of missionaries as well – like the Greek St. Cosmas of Aitoliawho didn’t settle in any one place but traveled throughout Greece and modern-day Albania, preaching to both Christians and Moslems.

Another is St. Symeon the Stylite, who didn’t go anywhere. People came to him on his pillar from as far south as the Arabian peninsula – not only for spiritual help but for prayers for failed crops, for drastic weather. Arab tribes came to have him adjudicate their differences, and westerners came also, from Paris, Rome, and Britain.

st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit

st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit



In our Orthodox tradition we have the outward-reaching evangelical missionary efforts of St. Paul, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and St. Innocent of Alaska, but then we also have the example of monastics who settled in an area to cultivate their spiritual life, reached a high level of sanctity, and eventually shone forth and attracted people with a centrifugal force.

RTE: Like the candle in front of the icon – so bright that everyone came to see what it was.


st symeon stylites archbishop anastasios yannoulatos orthodox missions city hermit


LUKE: Yes. And both are necessary. One of the great dangers in our Church is that I sometimes hear people say, “This ideal of a holy man settling in an area and attracting people to himself – this is true Orthodoxy. This is our only form of mission.” This is totally inaccurate. Yes, one can certainly see the silent witnesses through the centuries, but simultaneously, we had missionaries consciously reaching out, crossing cultures, going to other places. From the fourth century on, we have numerous examples of monks not only going into the desert to retreat from society, but also settling close to pagan villages and purposefully joining other monastics in organized bands to proclaim the gospel.





Go here for Part I

To Be Continued …

Source: Everything in Love: The Making of a Missionary