8 Ideas learned in the South African military that apply to African missions

1. Buddy PT

Army PT, aka physical training, or as it’s more commonly known, physical torture, always carried interesting life lessons such as Never be first home after a run, you’d be made to do more torturous exercises while waiting for the rest of the platoon to arrive.

If you are small and light in stature, then hook up with the biggest man in the platoon and he will carry you the whole time during Buddy PT. This is clearly a win-win strategy. You never have to carry anyone, and your buddy carries the lightest weight available.

In missions, always keep fit; you never know when you might need to escape a difficult situation and your only method might be your feet.

Never be overenthusiastic. Someone, usually an African bureaucrat, will feel it their calling to dampen your spirits – guaranteed!

Travel light. You might need to leave a lot behind if you don’t, and African border officials love discovering items to tax!

“But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

2. New family

Your fellow troopers are your new family and your rifle is your wife! (Or so we were told.)

You may not particularly like some of your fellow platoon members, but you all really dislike the platoon sergeant, so set aside your differences and focus your efforts on overcoming the obstacles he puts before you during training.

In missions we have to keep the main thing the main thing. All too often patience and forbearance are set aside for our personal comfort or to have our ego stroked. Instead of serving, ministry members become entangled in their own little worlds. This must never happen.

As my friend says: Africa isn’t Facebook!

We, Christian family, have a common enemy – he is not our friend or family member, but a very astute enemy. He often acts as an angel of light.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21

3. Dress code

No military allows sloppiness in dress. Yet, tattooed young people, boys with long hair and girls wearing miniskirts frequent the African mission field. These are extremely offensive to certain cultural and tribal groups.

Girls showing their thighs in some areas will be considered porn models; they might as well be a prostitute. Yet, if an unmarried girl went topless in a rural area, locals wouldn’t blink an eye.

You might not like or believe the same as those whom you are serving, but it’s not about you!

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6: 19-21

4. Sense of urgency

During army basic training you always have to look busy.  There’s never a shortage of something important to do such as polishing your boots for the 100th time in a day or polishing your dormitory floor because some dust might have blown in. You may need to re-square the bed you’ve never slept in or shave for the second time today!

With what matter of urgency do we deal with the Gospel of the Kingdom?  Do we redeem our time?

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

5. Discipline

No army can function without discipline; neither can a mission group!

I had a very interesting conversation with a businessman. He looked at me with a serious face and said that it must be great being a missionary because you don’t have any goals or deadlines!

Hmmm, should I bother commenting?

“But I discipline my body…” 1 Corinthians 9:27

6. Logistics

Excellent logistics is paramount to the functioning of soldiers in the field.

This is by no means the strong point in the African Church and so you need to show much grace. The funds you sent your local contact to repair his car might have been used for some other emergency. The vehicle will break down on your mission outreach or state officials might like to annex it.

You’ll definitely have a police officer trying to fine you for something that isn’t fair or identify some violation on your vehicle even if nothing is wrong with it. While he is busy with you, another local—with a clearly unroadworthy car—will drive right past and wave at the cop who will return the friendly gesture!

It is best if you can oversee the logistics yourself but beware, western missionaries are considered cannon fodder when it comes to pricing, so don’t be surprised if your bill is 400% more than what the locals pay for the same goods or services.

“Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3

7. Planning

Thinking ahead or planning is critical for a defense force; so too in missions.

In African animist society this is a foreign concept. People live just for the moment. If you pay someone too much, you might not have them return to work the next day. They will rather laze around at home until the funds have dried up and will then return to work.

Plan ahead with multiple worse-case scenarios accounted for. A friend asked short-term missionaries on their way to Zimbabwe what they would do if they were captured by the police. The young missionaries laughed at the idea.

They ended up having to leave their vehicle behind and flee the country.

“A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” 1 Peter 1:13

8. Tenacity

Perseverance is the name of the game. The military knows no other culture.

Short-term missionaries have taken the first flight out of South Africa after the orphanage they were working at was burgled.

Others vowed never to return to Africa after being bombed by the Northern Islamic Government of Sudan! Really? What were they expecting?

A young American girl came to South Africa to “help the poor.” She has had a gun shoved in her face and been mugged multiple times.

Missionary friends have asked me how they can encourage new missionaries who want to leave the mission field after just two months?

Don’t declare defeat. Remember, Jesus has already won the fight!

 “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.“ Romans 8:25

And on that friendly note – do your homework and prepare!

This entry was posted in Ministry newsletters. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 8 Ideas learned in the South African military that apply to African missions

  1. Barbara Muna says:

    Very good advice. Maybe Hudson Taylor’s biography should be mandatory reading for young people wanting to enter the missionary service. He over came incredible hurdles to found The China Inland Mission – all for the Love of Christ & taking His gospel to the Chinese.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s