What to Expect and What Not to Expect as a Missions Intern

I’ve been on many service trips throughout high school and college and have learned a great deal through them. Last summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern for the support staff of a missions agency. I wrote feature descriptions about various ministries and short stories for the children’s curriculum. If you are interested in being an intern for the support staff, here are some expectations you should have and others you should forget.

1) Expect to be stretched. Whether you’re digging through a website for information or sending plenty of emails, you will be taking on many tasks. It may not be easy, and your supervisor may push you to work harder. Working as an intern is different than working as a college student. You have less of a choice in the types of tasks that you do. You’ll learn to assist the goals of an organization rather than only your personal goals. This will prepare you for a job after graduation.

2) Don’t expect to “change the world.” It didn’t feel like my work was creating a monumental difference in someone’s life, though I was recording the stories of those who were serving in a more direct capacity. People often romanticize missions jobs, but I felt that I was working a normal, everyday job— which I was. You may have to clarify this distinction with those close to you. As my internship was in an office rather than on the mission field, I worked as a member of a media team as I would in a secular organization. Most people do not have a romantic view of everyday jobs.  

3) Expect to learn many stories and facts about missionaries and your agency. In my work, I would describe each ministry’s particular functions and also include quotes about its purpose. This gave my supervisor the time to work on her own projects, as I carried some of her load. While collecting and summarizing information, I became more aware of what God was doing in countries that I’d never visited. I was able to show the agency’s supporters the changes and growth that took place on the mission field. I even had the opportunity to talk with a couple of missionaries in person and enjoyed hearing about their passions. I learned about new ways that missionaries can serve, such as providing products to women for personal hygiene. Through these interactions, you may even be inspired to serve cross-culturally yourself!

4) Don’t expect to love every minute of your work. You may find some of your tasks to be quite frustrating, such as looking through old journals for information or summarizing current articles for a future article. This relates to your internship being similar to a normal job; you will like some of what you do and not like other parts. You will learn to push through the tasks that you do not enjoy. This will give you endurance, as you will encounter this experience in the workplace.

5) Don’t expect the missionaries to be perfect. Their congregations could consider them to be spiritual superiors, but even missionaries need people to provide assistance and care for them through the ups and downs of life. Your internship can help fulfill that role for them. The other staffers will most likely have a lot of affection for the missionaries, and you could learn about their personal lives in your department meetings. This will give you a fuller picture of who missionaries are.

6) Expect to develop an understanding of the processes that the staff work through to assist and promote missionaries. Though support staff members are not closely connected with needy people in other countries, they assist those who are. I attended many meetings, which means I was able to offer suggestions and witness my colleagues make decisions. I was able to see the behind-the-scenes work that many donors and church members are unaware of. This gave me a deeper insight into the daily functions of a missions agency. I learned about many aspects of being part of a support staff that I did not know before. This has given me valuable information as I consider whether or not I would like to work as a member of a support staff in the future.

I relate to both missionaries and staff members at a missions agency on a more personal level now than I did before this internship. I am grateful for both the professional experience and personal connections that this internship gave me. If you are at all interested in missions, I would recommend an internship with the support staff of an agency to learn as much as you can about what it takes to work in this area of ministry. I hope these expectations will help you as you consider internships and future careers.

 

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By Mary Helen Thompson

Mary Helen Thompson is a senior English major with a concentration in Literature and a minor in Intercultural Studies/Missions at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She is currently a team member with Love Thy Neighborhood and an intern with Timothy Paul Jones. She hopes to have a career in Christian editing.