What to Know Before Becoming a Missionary in South Asia - Radical

What to Know Before Becoming a Missionary in South Asia

South Asia is an incredible region of the world with unimaginable diversity in geography, food, and people. For example, India is home to the world’s largest country by population and the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

This region is home to three of the four largest Muslim populations and accounts for over 30% of the world’s Muslim population. The gospel need in the region is absolutely staggering. I pray that many more people would move to South Asia to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

This region is home to three of the four largest Muslim populations and accounts for over 30% of the world’s Muslim population.

What Every Missionary Should Know

Whether you serve in South Asia or in another region, every missionary should know and love the gospel. Missionaries are heralds of a message. They are ambassadors. It’s not ours to change the message but to faithfully proclaim it. Any prospective missionary should have a deep grasp of the good news, how Scripture points to the gospel, and how the gospel relates to every aspect of life.

Every missionary should love and serve the church. Missionaries are not rogue agents called to do things independently, but servants of the church. Where there are existing churches, it is often best to work alongside the church, not work around the church. In most places in South Asia where a foreigner could reach and live, there is already some Christian presence. Love and serve them at every opportunity.

Elders in a pioneer mission context must be able to faithfully teach sound doctrine and be able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Missionaries should have a deep grasp of biblical doctrine, as well as discernment to see where questions and issues come from and where they are leading.

Missionaries should know where they fit before they go.

Missionaries should know where they fit before they go. God has given us all different gifts and strengths, and there is a need for all kinds of people to serve for the sake of the gospel in South Asia. However, along with the elders of your sending church, it is worth carefully considering how you can fit in and what gifts the Lord has given you.

Visas are Hard

In most South Asian countries, accessing a visa is a brutal reality of life in the 21st century. It is difficult to get and maintain visas long term for residence in these countries. Consider what you will do and what is needed for successful residence in this country. This may often include running a profitable business at a substantial scale or something similar.

Take the Long View

When we think about the unreached, there is a reason why they are still unreached by the gospel. There are significant geographical, linguistic, cultural, or geopolitical factors that present a barrier to the unreached hearing and believing the gospel. Short-term thinking, quick fixes, and “silver bullet” techniques are insufficient to meaningfully engage the unreached with the gospel. If the Lord allows, commit to long-term service and wait on him to work. 

We can see from Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians that there were people in his time who wanted something more impressive than the faithful and diligent proclamation of the gospel. He even says that this God-appointed method of preaching and proclaiming is foolishness to the world. I had a professor in seminary who used to say “Most missionaries drastically overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Work hard and think long-term.

Cultivate a Healthy Respect for Language

Due to the historical influence of the British in South Asia, you can go nearly anywhere and find someone who can speak some English. It is the only language that spans the subcontinent. However, you will find with few exceptions that it is seldom sufficient to communicate deeply with a large number of people. 

Long-term thinking in South Asia will almost always mean pursuing fluency in at least one local language and likely more. A tourist can easily get by in South Asia with only English, and a businessperson could happily get by long-term with only a few local phrases. However, if you want to serve as a missionary, you need to be able to engage with Scripture deeply in the local languages and be able to speak and teach with theological precision. 

Learn to Have a Healthy Respect for the Culture

Language is also inextricably related to culture. You can’t fully learn the culture without learning some language, and neither can you learn the language without learning some culture. The missionary must be able to anticipate and answer the objections and challenges that will arise. This can only be done well when we understand the culture and whence a particular objection or question comes. 

This is when it is important to have a healthy respect for language and culture. Culture is not ultimate nor neutral. Every culture is affected by sin and has inherent barriers to biblical teaching and discipleship. A healthy respect for culture means that we can affirm common grace that is present while also correcting areas where it is contrary to Scripture. This requires great humility and love. If we come in aggressively attacking the local culture in our first several years, we are unlikely to endear ourselves to people. But if we patiently love and care for people and work hard to learn their language and adapt to their culture, we are likely to be taken seriously when we point out biblical correction. 

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would send more workers to South Asia.

Clyde and his wife have been serving in church planting and theological education among unreached peoples in South Asia since the beginning of 2015 and are parents to three wonderful boys.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!