Wholesome Words Home
Worldwide Missions

Biblical Missions: Practical & Technical Considerations:
On the Field

by Roy F. Dearmore
(Part 2)

Red arrowThe following is quoted from Part 3, Chapter 2 of Biblical Missions: History, Principles, Practice by Roy F. Dearmore. Garland, Tex.: Rodgers Baptist Church, ©1997. Used with the author's permission.

Contents to Consider
First Arrival
Lodging and Food
Special Equipment
Ministry on the Field
Family Life

The field, in relation to God's work, is beyond question the entire globe with every living human upon it. For purposes of this chapter, I will consider it to be that portion of the above to which God has given you (or me) a special call. I strenuously object to the way many people refer to a change from "foreign" to "home" missions as "coming off the field!" The field is the world and the rigid distinction between "home" and "foreign" is artificial and harmful. I have vocally held this position from "day one" (forty-nine years ago when I surrendered to preach). By the way, God changed the "field" for Paul and many others, and does so today. (Agreed, many people "yo-yo" around without God's leadership in the change.)

One practical difference in mission work in your country of birth as opposed to "foreign" missions, is the ability to be gainfully employed to supplement support ("tent making"). (This necessity frequently hinders "home" missions.) Some countries prohibit or greatly restrict gainful employment of resident aliens. However, the need, church authority, three fold commission, and importance of Bible principles, are the same at home and abroad. A large portion of the financial support for mission work comes from the U.S. and if new churches are not started, support for increasing missions will wane and millions will die in a "Christian" nation without hearing the true gospel, as well as "overseas."

First Arrival

It is a big advantage to have been able to visit your field of labor before your definitive move to it. Many times this is not practical, so our information must be gained from the best sources available (missionaries and businessmen who have recently made prolonged stays there, if possible).

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the benefits of fluency in the official language of a country upon first arrival. This cannot be achieved through high school, college, or tape studies. New, interactive on computer, language conversation courses are a big help but the most effective method is through a good language school (Berlitz, Inlingua, etc.) with an intensive conversational course, one on one, with a person whose mother tongue is the one you are studying. This is expensive but it is not economical to maintain a missionary family one to two years before they can even begin to be significantly effective. Frequently, $3-4,000 is a very prudent investment if you can walk off the airplane able to function reasonably in your new language. Phrase books will not "hack it." Preaching and working through an interpreter is never a permanent solution. More weird and erroneous "theology" has been taught through interpreters than the world imagines.

There are security considerations for you and your family when you arrive in a strange country. If there is a missionary guest house, it is usually a good choice. Cheap hotels are often a real security risk. Decent hotels in third world capitals are usually very expensive.

Be very cautious at airports because there are frequently con men posing as "government security" who will harass you, threaten you, and extort money from you. (These same con artists may accost you on the street). Demand firmly but politely to be taken to the U.S. Embassy. If they are legitimate, they will take you there. Usually they will back down unless you have inadvertently broken some law and they are with the government, in which case, they should take you to the Embassy or call an agent of our Embassy to their office. If at all possible, arrange to be met by an experienced missionary or expatriate travel agent with transportation. (Irregular "taxis" are another real danger!) From three to ten people will examine your documents at least once. Customs can be a real "bowl of worms" but smile a lot and be patient. If someone is "reading" your documents while holding them upside down, please do not be "gauche" enough to mention it to them. If there is someone experienced with you, let them handle it. If some doubt these allegations, try visiting Zaire, Africa. Knowing the language when you arrive helps lessen the risks and problems.

Register with the American Embassy as soon as possible, making sure they have the name, Passport No., picture, and address (both in the capital and in the interior) of yourself and everyone with you. They sometimes have a reasonably priced guest house with good security.

If you have a resident visa when you arrive, register with immigration and apply for the documents for a resident alien (usually a sort of I.D. Card). It will probably be necessary to register again with the local authorities in the section of the city where you live or the interior, as the case may be. Photos, and fees are always required and sometimes ten or fifteen visits to the office. Often additional money is required which is not a legitimate fee. My ethical position on these "bribes" is as follows. I will never pay someone to do something illegal. I will only give them a "gift" to do that for which I have met the conditions and paid the legitimate fees, if they demand it, which they frequently do. The amount is usually negotiable and maybe 1/10th of what they initially demand. Most lower level, third world, government employees are not paid a living wage and that may be six months late. Living in the capital is expensive. All this does not make it right but it does make it more understandable and bearable.

Lodging and Food

Hopefully you brought enough clothing to last you a while, so lodging and food are your immediate concerns. I will assume you have finished your legal obligations of arrival and are seeking permanent housing, either in the capital or "up country." Incidentally, much more missionary work needs to be done in third world capitals than is being done. It is usually very expensive in the capital. What would be an ordinary house in the U.S. May be $1,000 to 1,500 per month to rent and $200-300,000 to buy. This varies enormously from country to country.

Commonly in primitive countries you will have to build your own house in the interior. Look at the best house in the village. Find out what kind of poles, mud, grass, vines, etc. were used and who built it. Insist on a good overhang of the grass roof to protect the mud walls from the heavy rains and keep the house cool... Hire several experienced men to help you. Do not pay above the local going rate (which will seem absurdly low to you) for labor, materials, or food. (Learn and obey the labor laws of the country.) ...

Wooden houses, although used a lot in the Amazon rain forest and parts of Asia, are not used in the African jungle, primarily because of termites and the laborious hand sawing of lumber. Steel molds can be bought to hand make hollow cement blocks or a lever press (Cinva-Ram) can be used to make pressed earth bricks. If the right kind of clay is available, you may be able to hand make bricks (fired or unfired.) Tamped earth walls are a possibility, if they are made thick enough. Rocks make good foundations and walls if they are not crumbly sandstone. Books are available on these building techniques. I have used several of these methods and you will be surprised at the good results obtainable with care...

For cement block or brick houses, aluminum makes the best roof. If possible, frame the roof with sawed lumber (hand sawed, i.e. pit-sawed) although with great care it can be done with poles. Make your overlaps of the aluminum six inches at the ends and two full corrugations on each side. Galvanized roofing is too heavy and rusts. Use .021 aluminum or it will be susceptible to wind damage. Use aluminum nails. In most tropical countries, unless you use a transparent fiberglass row of roofing at the ridge row, bats and their accumulated droppings will be a serious nuisance... Ceilings are desirable and will greatly reduce insect problems but do not forget a row of transparent roofing each side of the ridge or your bat problems (noise, odor, droppings) will be significant. Bats carry rabies besides scaring your wife and daughters to death when they come down into the room.

A large clear area around the house, of bare ground or closely cut grass, is important to minimize snake risk and to be able to notice migrating ants which may swarm inside your house, especially at night. This can be very important in areas with a several month dry season in which the bush and Savannah are burned. Good screens, doors, and an "out house" with a wide clear path are obviously important. Incidentally, it is an excellent idea to build your house a few hundred yards from the village with a good fence because of noise, privacy, goats, pigs, etc. No, it will not offend them because some of them do the same thing. If you are the first "foreigner" in an area, you must expect to be a museum exhibit with people peeping in the windows for the first few months. Exercise prayerful patience when you ask them to stop and be polite (at least for the first ten times.)

"Utilities" are a real problem in the interior of underdeveloped countries. You normally must furnish your own lighting, heating, cooking, and "plumbing" (frequently a "path" to a pit privy). I comment on wells, springs and outdoor toilets in Chapter Three in the section on hygiene. It is a tremendous blessing if you can arrange indoor plumbing. This can often be done if you have a well or a cistern...

Lighting can be from Coleman lanterns, Aladdin lamps, a generator, or solar panels and batteries, with fluorescent lights... Cooking can be on a wood, kerosene, or propane stove. Propane is usually available in the capital city, even of primitive countries. Propane is not efficient for light and electricity is not efficient for cooking. If very much heating of the house is required, it will probably be best to use wood (or in a few places coal or peat). Generators should always be diesel for durability and fuel economy. I would recommend 4 cycle, air-cooled, with electric start but a decompress feature for easy manual cranking when the battery is down... Residential (not industrial) noise suppressing mufflers are desirable.

If acceptable food can be bought locally, or at least within the country, it is usually cheaper (although not always). Nonperishable foods can be bought at wholesalers in the U.S. or the nearest country with suitable, reasonably priced foods available and shipped in by ocean freight. It may be possible to raise a garden. The soil in much of the tropics is not fertile and requires fertilizer (natural or commercial). It is frequently necessary to grow your garden in elevated boxes because of insects and "varmints". Bananas, papayas, and pineapples usually do well in the tropics. Use your imagination to get variety and fresh things in your diet and you will stay healthier and happier. It may be necessary to raise chickens, goats, pigs, cows, etc. Do not go totally "native" in your eating. Diet is important to physical and emotional health (morale). Preservation of food is a problem. Canning, smoking, drying, or salting may be used as appropriate. Kerosene refrigerators work well. Kerosene deep-freezes work poorly... If propane is readily available in transportable tanks, propane refrigerators and freezers work well. There is an electric deep-freezer available from South Africa, called Minus Forty with super insulation and a "cold bank" which keeps things nicely frozen on two or three hours of electricity in twenty-four hours. Its wattage draw is supported easily by a 3 kw generator.


Unless you are in a highly developed country such as Japan or a European country, owning your own reliable transportation is almost essential. Decisions about means of transportation must take into consideration distances, roads, availability of vehicles and fuels, as well as available finances.

If you are working in a city with good roads and available vehicles and fuels, decisions are easier and less critical. Some of the factors I will mention probably sound like a "profound grasp of the obvious," but you would be astounded by the financially and functionally catastrophic decisions about transportation that I have seen made by American missionaries. The size and type of your vehicle, if you are on good roads, should be largely determined by the number of people and amount of cargo you will usually be hauling. Fuel economy and durability are much better with diesel engines. Avoid air cooled or two stroke diesels like the plague (especially in hot countries). You can achieve enormous fuel economies with small engines and five speed manual transmissions. Since, in almost all countries, fuel is much more expensive than in the U.S., this frequently becomes very important.

Do not buy a "clunker" unless you are a good mechanic, parts are readily available, and you can't afford anything better. This is not true economy. You were not sent to spend most of your time working on a vehicle. Buying new or almost new is frequently a wise investment. In most cities of any size, motorcycles and bicycles are far too dangerous to consider.

In the interior with bad roads and the necessity of hauling your own supplies, a diesel vehicle with strong springs and frame (preferably with riveted doublers), 12" road clearance, four wheel drive, a 5-6 speed transmission and a transfer case, with a large diameter clutch, and a power take off winch, would be my choice. Electric winches are toys for the States...

Trail bikes and bicycles are frequently useful in the interior. Boats have tremendous potential in areas with navigable streams or large lakes with villages on or near the shores...

Airplanes are only practical if you are a good pilot with instrument capabilities, you have a licensed in-house airplane mechanic, airstrips or safe water landing sites are available or feasible to prepare, and there is no satisfactory aviation service available such as MAF or JAARS...

To get reasonable utility and durability from any vehicles or equipment that you operate in the interior of primitive countries, you must have, not just operating manuals, but factory overhaul manuals and parts catalogs... You should keep a scrupulous hour and maintenance log on any boat motor and a careful mileage and maintenance log on each vehicle or motorcycle. I do not doubt that many who have read this far are thinking that this type of maintenance is a huge waste of money and time. Just the opposite is true. A system like this will ultimately save time and money and triple the life, usability, and reliability of your equipment...


Fantastic strides are being made, almost monthly, in instant communications. Where telephones and Internet service providers are available, E-mail is a great blessing. The ability to fax documents and reports is very helpful. With voice modems at each end, long distance telephone communication (voice) is already available with no long distance phone bills! Of course, this requires a computer and the ability to operate it. Ham radio is a great blessing but is not permitted in all countries. Unfortunately, in the interior of many underdeveloped countries, telephones do not exist. In these cases, ham radio with phone patches in the U.S. become important to missionaries who have a ham license in their country of labor or live near someone who does...

International cell phone service, based on satellite technology, is becoming more available but is still very expensive (both equipment and air time). It may be be possible for missionaries to share the expense and I expect prices to come down substantially as availability and competition increase.

Ordinary mail service is extremely slow and unreliable in many countries. Stealing packages or checks is often a major problem. (I do not recommend sending checks by mail to most third world countries, even blank, unsigned ones.) Express Mail and the special courier services are much faster and more reliable, where they are available. Sending mail with missionaries "going and coming" is the most reliable mail. We always took U.S. stamps so we could have it all ready to drop in the nearest mail box when they got to the States. Be considerate about weight and volume. Pay any excess baggage or customs charged related to your items.


Prices for powerful computers have dropped so much that they are affordable to almost anyone. They are tremendous time savers and for your "technophobes", they are not that hard to learn to operate (frustrating at times, yes; hard to operate, no)... Good software is as important to a computer as blood is to the human body. The amount and type of software you will need depends largely on what you will be doing with your computer... By the way, a good UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is essential to protect your computer from power surges and brownouts. A surge strip is not, I repeat, not sufficient!!

A good scanner (with good OCR software) and a good color, bubble-jet printer have great potential to help you produce attractive study materials, reports, etc. Importation of computer equipment to some countries is difficult but worth it unless you can get decent quality equipment locally at a bearable price.

Special Equipment

Audiovisual aids including slide, movie, and overhead projectors, VCR's (and possibly a video projector), may be useful if you have electricity. Audio tapes and tape players are useful in evangelism and training. Tape players can now be purchased that are electric but operate with a hand crank that generates electricity to play cassettes. I have found tape players to be much better than tape recorder-players because there is less to wear out and it is less likely to be used inappropriately or sold or stolen. Battery operated public address systems and keyboards are frequently of significant help.

Unless you have no electricity available, I consider typewriters, mimeographs, and spirit duplicators (not to mention hectographs) as obsolete. You can do a much better job more quickly and more easily with a computer, scanner, printer, and copier. If printing is available in the capital, you can give them camera ready copy. Anything more than a few hundred copies should be done by lithograph. It is too expensive to produce large numbers on a computer printer or copier...


Bookkeeping can be a nightmare because of changes in the exchange rate. In Zaire, I have seen the exchange rate change drastically overnight and maybe 2-3 times in a week. You must adopt an average exchange rate for a month. Keep a paper trail of every purchase and every expense with the date and exchange rate written on the same bill or note paper as the amount and purpose. Computers are a great help in keeping financial records but remember they can crash so do backups often and keep the papers. There is a practical and ethical problem with exchange rates. In countries with a weak currency and a high rate of inflation, there is almost always a bank rate and a parallel rate (sometimes called the black market rate). I do not use "parallel rate" as a euphemism to avoid saying "black market" because, frequently the parallel rate is perfectly legal. Obviously, it sometimes is not. This is where ethical problems arise. Prices in countries with severe inflation problems are usually very high and based on the parallel rate. When I arrived in Zaire, the bank rate was 50 francs to the dollar, while the parallel rate was 300 francs to the dollar. Prices on most items were 2-4 times the U.S. price based on the parallel rate. If I exchanged at the bank, prices would be 12-24 times the U.S. price. To further complicate matters, if I exchanged dollars at the bank, employees of the bank would replace the francs given to me out of their own pockets and exchange the dollar on the street at the parallel rate! Go figure! I exchanged at the parallel rate even though it was not technically legal. If you cannot in good conscience do this, a field with high inflation and two rates will be a financial nightmare for you. In such countries you should keep as little funds as possible in the local currency, whether in a bank account or in cash. It is sometimes necessary in the interior to keep most of your operating reserve in a commodity such as salt, soap, or kerosene which you can sell at a fair price as cash as needed. This frequently is a needed and appreciated service to the local people while preventing inflation from destroying your cash reserves.

A nonprofit status in a foreign country is frequently necessary to have the freedom you need to operate legally without having to pay taxes, customs, and exorbitant fees that are frequently charged for expatriate commercial enterprises. Nonprofit does not mean (in the U.S. or abroad) that no fees can be charged (e.g. hospitals or schools). It simply means that any revenue in excess of reasonable expenses and salaries must be reapplied for the stated religious, educational, or benevolent purposes that justify the granting of nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Getting such status in most foreign countries requires nothing that would involve compromise of church authority or doctrinal soundness. It does not necessitate the acceptance of government subsidies which should be avoided like the plague that they are.

A nonprofit status frequently facilitates holding definitive title to land on which you are building permanent structures.

Your U.S. tax liability on your salary continues while abroad but the exemption on income earned abroad is so large ($70,000 at last count) that although you must file (including Form 2555 for foreign earned income) you will owe no income tax in the U.S. Most countries do not charge income tax to missionaries in their country. In all these matters, check with your CPA and local "veteran" missionaries or the U.S. Embassy.

Ministry on the Field

Be honest and ethical in your relations with nationals, other missionaries, businessmen, and the government. Do not badmouth the government or try to change it. Do not get involved in politics. It is not your country. Surely, crooks and thieves are frequently running the country but that is not your problem. Remember why you are there. Do not be a "sheep stealer". Avoid paying nationals for religious work. Do not create hirelings. Many missionaries have hired nationals to do their spiritual work for them.

One aspect of ministry on the field that I have not really covered above and do not have time and space to cover here, is translation of the scriptures and teaching aids into the local language or languages. Let me warn you that to translate the New Testament, even if you have good mastery of the language, is a full time job for several years. If there is a fairly decent translation even into a trade language that is understood by those who know how to read and write, you may need to use it and explain some areas that are not translated very well. If you must translate, get a good computer with appropriate software but do not think the computer can translate. It can not! Do as literal a translation as possible to literally transmit what the scripture says without editorializing. Do not use dynamic or cultural equivalency as recommended by the "experts". Almost without exception they are modernists and sometimes atheists.

Family Life

The most important advice I can give you is, "Don't go native!" It is important for the mental and emotional health of your family (and yourself) to maintain an oasis of American culture in your home where English is spoken and where your own cultural norms of conduct, courtesy, and civility are observed. Do not rob your children of their cultural and linguistic heritage. Do not make your children oddballs speaking pidgin English when they return to the States.

Maintain a decent standard of living as regards clothing, food, and housing, within your financial means. Observe American holidays as a family. If possible have a VCR and TV with some good clean videos. Maintain a subscription to several good American magazines. Have a decent stock of good books in English. Buy a good 12 band short wave radio and keep up with the news. Remember your wife's and children's birthdays, even if the presents are homemade. Bring your wife wild flowers frequently (bought ones if you can). To sum up, you are still a husband and father. Be a loving, Christian one.

Some missionaries have the "corn pone and fatback" mentality. To a son of the South, this is easily understood to mean the idea that it is sinful to buy more than the cheapest, secondhand equipment and supplies and the bare necessities in food and clothing. My God is ready, willing, and able to supply His servants' needs bountifully, both spiritually and materially. The other extreme is the false idea that a missionary should live in luxury because of the "great sacrifices?" he is making. We might call this the "fat cat mentality". Both are equally wrong!

From Biblical Missions: History, Principles, Practice by Roy F. Dearmore. Garland, Tex.: Rodgers Baptist Church, ©1997. (Part 3, Chapter 2). Used with the author's permission.

>> Part 1– Going and Coming

about | contact | terms of use | store

©1996-2024 WholesomeWords.org
"...to the glory of God."