Life as a Missionary in a First-World Nation


What does it mean to you? Immediately, images come to mind of a woman in a long skirt bending down, looking compassionately at a small African child with a distended stomach, or of a man building houses for those who have none in South America, or of a family learning a new language and working with children in an orphanage in China.

Being a missionary does look like all of these things, but it also looks much bigger and much more diverse than it used to. Modern innovations such as new technology, social media, and modes of transportation make it possible to go further and faster than ever before. It’s a blessing, but it has also changed how the modern missionary functions within the world and society. This can be an interesting and possibly difficult thing to come to terms with.

There has also been a realization that the nations that have had Christianity for centuries, but have drifted away thanks to nominalism, religious wars, or harsh “Christian” regimes, need to be introduced to the love of Jesus again. First-world nations, particularly in Europe, are the main protagonist in this story and this is how mine coincides with theirs.

My Story

I went on my first mission trip when I was 12 years old. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but my friends were going, it was with my youth group, and it was to Spain, so why not? I was completely unaware of the impact that the trip was going to make on me. It changed my life.

Looking back, my parents were possibly more than a little bit crazy to let me go at such a young age, but throughout the years my mom has never failed to remind me of that moment when she had to decide. She said, “Jesus, I don’t want to let her go.” He replied, “Is she yours, or is she Mine?” Of course, my mother—being the incredible mom that she is—said, “She’s yours”, and I am oh so glad that she did. She was right.

My heart lit on fire with a passion for the lost during that trip. That same year, a fascination that I had previously had for Ireland, which developed more fully when I researched the history of the land for a school project, exploded into a deep, resounding love in my heart that only God could give.

I had always found the Irish culture and stereotypes amusing and interesting for as long as I can remember, but God began to speak to me in profound ways as a 12-year-old kid about His love for this nation and the destiny that He had for it.

I had been taught by people who prayed with a specific focus on nations, people groups, or social justice issues, that to research the history and listen closely to God was the best way to learn how to pray for this place that I was falling in love with without ever even having been there.

So began the journey and beautiful partnership of interceding and making steps towards going to Ireland. I spent many hours researching, learning, praying, and weeping over these people and land. I learned that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were, in fact, quite different, and that Christians had a hard time getting along—to put it lightly—especially in Northern Ireland.

I learned about the time of war called The Troubles that plagued many Catholic and Protestant families in the 80’s, that still reverberates within the walls of this island, continuing to cause fear, division, and even violence to this day.

God spoke to me about His deep desire to see the Church in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to be unified once again; that prayer would be restored and that missionaries would once again go into the nations from Ireland. I didn’t know what my part was in seeing that dream come into existence was, but I wanted to do everything He needed and wanted me to do to help it move forward.

Being a missionary to Northern Ireland

Now, here I am, nearly 9 years later, living as a missionary in Northern Ireland. I have been here for a little over a year and my heart has grown more and more fond of this island and its people. I’ve learned more about the internal conflict and pain of this country than I ever thought possible, and I’ve also learned so much more about myself and my abilities as a leader and a person than I ever thought I would. Even in the midst of the very obvious tension, it is so easy to see the redemption and power of God present in this land.

I work with a mission organization called Youth With A Mission or YWAM, which is one of the largest international mission organizations in the world. It has over 200 locations throughout the world and has trained over two million young people in their six-month entry level school called a Discipleship Training School (DTS). They currently have around 80,000 staff around the world, working to train other young people to be missionaries, provide aid in the areas that most need it, and to share the Gospel throughout the world.

After I went on my first mission trip to Spain with my youth group, I went on two other mission trips with YWAM to the Dominican Republic and to Ukraine. That’s where I learned about this school, DTS, and decided that I was going to do one in Ireland after I graduated high school. I graduated in the beginning of 2014, went home for a year, and then joined YWAM Ireland as a full-time staff member in February 2015.

When I first told people that I was going to be a missionary in Northern Ireland I got comments such as, “Oh, poor you. Suffering for Christ.” Or, “wow, that’s a nice place to be a missionary.” I take these comments in stride because I know that these people don’t know what it’s like, but it says something to the condition of our minds towards missionaries in first-world countries.

I have even caught myself thinking these things about other people who are missionaries in first-world countries. It’s so easy to slip into the mindset that the place where someone is a missionary needs to be physically challenging for it to be a true mission field. This is just not true.

Being a missionary in a pre-evangelized, first-world nation

Being a missionary in a pre-evangelized nation is also very challenging. Living in Northern Ireland may not be as physically challenging as living in Uganda, though it does have its quirks, but spiritually, it is like trying to break through a wooden door that just won’t budge.

This island’s history is riddled with painful encounters with those claiming to be followers of Jesus that have left the majority of those practising religion in this country nominal at best. This is a war-torn country that still has huge walls with razor-wire on top, dividing protestant from Catholic and murals depicting men with black masks holding machine guns as propaganda in its capital city, Belfast. Bomb threats or threats of paramilitary activity are still present today.

They’re comfortable in their pain and ease, and they don’t want anything to do with Christians. This is common in many first world nations, including America and Canada. You don’t recognize your need when you have relatively everything you want.

Learning how to show someone their need for a Jesus who is a loving, kind, generous, close, and personal God without pushing the button that causes them instant alarm that makes them shut down is tricky, especially when you’re someone like me that LOVES gentle and loving, but direct, evangelism.

Relationships are KEY in places like this, which means you have to be way more intentional about talking with people and connecting on a friendship level. Being okay with a slow pace is essential to seeing fruit in a nation that has been so deeply wounded by the Church.

Getting connected with other good ministries is also very important when it comes to doing ministry on this island. Lack of unity within the churches is a big problem, so doing the opposite and trying to work together with other ministries is such a great way to combat that issue.

I do a lot of networking and building relationships within the local community and I pray and worship on my own frequently for this island and its people. I love what I’m doing here and I see God moving in unprecedented ways all the time.

Where does the church come in?

We, as the body of Christ, should trust that if God is calling one of our brothers or sisters to the mission field, no matter where it is or what it looks like, that it is where they’re suppose to be. Even if we don’t see the whole picture, we should support and bless them, and be their biggest fans, because that’s our role as co-laborers in Christ, even if our labor looks different than theirs.

We all play a part, and we, as missionaries, are the hands and feet of those who are not able to go. We were told to make disciples of all nations, so let’s do it together!

Every nation needs Jesus.

Every nation needs a missionary.

~ By Rachelle Butow

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  1. Reply
    Bob Wilmott says

    I go to Ethiopia and work there short term and I have come to love these people AMEN

    • Reply
      Rachelle says

      That’s wonderful, Bob! I’ve always wanted to go to Ethiopia, and I still hope to visit someday. I did some work with some refugees in Wales back in July and met an Ethiopian and LOADS of Eritreans, most of which were Christians, which I thought was fantastic!

  2. Reply
    Peter g Singletary, Jr says

    I believe God is leading me to Jamacia. He has revealed it to me in a dream and I keep seeing symbols of Jamacia come up. I’ve seen the flag at several locations, even watching a movie one night it was hanging from a ceiling in someone’s business. I still praying for discernment and ears to hear.

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