Megacity Missionaries: Undermanned and Overwhelmed


Sao-Paulo2My burning passion is missions.  But the truth is, I’m tired.  Living in the city grates on you, and this city is huge.  It is impossible to get a handle on every detail regarding such a sprawling 29,000,000 person metroplex.  Greater Sao Paulo is about 3,000 square miles of urban spaghetti, or at least that’s what it looks like when you’re flying in at night.

There are parts of the city that would require a full day just to get there and back… not to mention, having time to do something while there.

The Changing Face of Missions Leaves Us with More Demands and Less Time

The changing face of missions calls for us to spend more time strategizing and less time on the ground.  For those of us that feel the need to do both, the challenge can be overwhelming.  The task is too immense for so few.  Many think the city is reached. The reality is much different. We are probably at 8% evangelized overall, AND much closer to only 2% evangelized in the upper classes.  These new changes, along with the perception that Sao Paulo is already evangelized, have also left us undermanned.  In fact, at present, we have no team.*

Undermanned and Overwhelmed

Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone (sorry for the pun).  I’m sure there are many around the world in megacities that share the feeling of being undermanned and overwhelmed.  With the new face of missions, this might be more common than you think. So how do missionaries and people in ministry handle something like this?

7 Ways for Missionaries to Remain Effective in Tough Times:


  • #1 Stay close to God.

    I can hear the “duh.” But while this should be a given, it is not always easy in the city’s hustle and bustle. Daily prayer and devotions are vital. These times with the Lord will assure that everything else stays in proper perspective. Through these times God will remind you that you’re never alone. He’ll be with you no matter what. He’ll also remind that there are other co-laborers, even if they do live in other cities or happen to be from other ministries. And during these times, He’ll reveal to you a strategy for what He wants you to do.

  • #2 Take care of your family.

    Remember, your family is going through the same things you are. Be sensitive to that. Spend time with them.  Don’t get so caught up in ministry that your family is neglected. Make plans for breaks and then commit to follow through on your plans. Everything is competing for your attention. You will be tempted to break these commitments to your family.  Just one word… Don’t!  Requests will be endless. Don’t fall prey to thinking that you’re indispensable!

  • #3 Build a team of nationals.

    There are very few Lone Rangers on the mission field that are effective. Besides, it’s a huge blessing to work with our national counterparts. Always keep in mind, they will be here long after we’re gone. Connect with them.  Work with them.  Pray with them.  And empower them.  Make sure their focus is always on the Lord and not on you. In that way, you will assure that what you’ve done is not in vain.

  • #4 Go where the people are!

    Again, this sounds like a given.  But you would be surprised at how many live in a bubble of English speaking churches, schools, and friends.  Ok, within reason, there are benefits in some of these relationships. But, if they are keeping you from learning the language and meeting new people in the country you are serving, then you need to rethink what you’re doing. When you can speak the language and communicate doors will open that you never imagined would… and watch the Lord work!

  • #5 Encourage others to get involved.

    Part of our strategy is to find areas of the city that have the most need and to connect churches that wants to help meet that need. This is the ultimate “win/win” situation! We recently had a church come on a vision trip and when they saw an area of the city with 220,000 lost souls, they immediately adopted it and have entered into a long-term partnership to reach this area for Christ!

  • #6 Learn to relax.

    When I first came to the field I had a DayTimer and a list of what I would accomplish.  I was immediately frustrated.  The meaning of “time” in my worldview did not match the meaning in the worldview in which I was now serving.  It wasn’t until a veteran missionary told me that he considered it a good day if he could accomplish just “one” major thing per day.  I have since developed a system of “time blocks” in may calendar and can get a lot more done per day than I used to.  Before, I was fighting my new culture.  Now, I have learned to accept it and actually make it work for me for the sake of the gospel. The result is that I have been able to relax and enjoy my ministry so much more than before.

  • #7 Continue to dream.

    Finally, God is at work! Remember that he brought you to where you are for a purpose. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). What do you see with your eyes of faith? Dream, and dream big!

This is far from being a “negative” post.  God is in charge.  He knows what He is doing.  He is the provider and sustainer.  Trust in Him, He’ll meet all of your needs… spiritual, physical, and emotional. He wants to see people come to him more than you do!

Continue to dream big, because you have a big God!

Discussion Question:

What are some other ways you’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed in ministry?

* Thankfully, we do have two Hands On missionary interns that can come for three and half month periods. We praise the Lord for them!

8 comments to Megacity Missionaries: Undermanned and Overwhelmed

  • jane hawkins  says:

    Very wise and practical counsel Steve, shared honestly. Indeed, Sao Paulo is overwhelming and we MUST have that non-negotiable time with God for orientation, direction, and connection to the source of our identity. Pleasing him is the goal, and a day lived with him is a victorious day–regardless of “how much we got done” or how many souls we led to Jesus. I hope this article goes out to many missionaries!

    • Steve Marlin  says:

      That’s so true. No matter where we are on God’s beautiful planet, we need that non-negotiable time with Him. That goes for the “Lamenting Jeremiah” with nay a soul to show, as well as “Preaching Peter” seeing thousands come to the Lord. We all work in fields of varying levels of difficulty, but daily time with God is that one non-negotiable “must.”

  • jane hawkins  says:

    PS Are you familiar with Ray Bakke? I did my doctorate at Bakke Graduate University, where we visited major cities in South America and the Middle East and studied their ministries and leaders. It was an epic experience and I was almost sad when I finished lol. (Almost.) Anyway Ray is singing your song. He’s THE megacities guy.

    • Steve Marlin  says:

      Yes! I have two of his books on my Kindle… “A Theology as Big as the City” and “The Urban Christian,” both of which are fantastic! I didn’t realize your doctorate was from BGU. Visiting all of those major cities truly must have been an epic experience!

  • big city view | becca's brasilian blog  says:

    […] is still so much to do.  Our host dad, Steve, explains this incredibly well in his latest post here.  Those of us here would really appreciate your prayers as the work […]

  • big city view by Becca Wiegman | AMP Students  says:

    […] is still so much to do.  Our host dad, Steve, explains this incredibly well in his latest post here.  Those of us here would really appreciate your prayers as the work […]

  • Jonathan Mathews  says:

    You are spot on! Life in the city grinds you down, and you need to continually sharpen the saw. Although there are conveniences in SP that are not available in much of the interior of the country, the quality of life in much of the interior is much greater than in SP. The future of humanity will be (is) played out in the world’s cities which grow every year, that is why urban missions is so important and vital to the mission.

    • Steve Marlin  says:

      I totally agree with you! I would really like to find ways to lessen the attrition of urban missionaries, especially here where we work. There are pressures that most people don’t see their entire lifetimes until they are thrown into a major urban setting, and unless they can adjust quickly and effectively, we’ll continue to lose good people. Like you said, “urban missions is so important and vital to the mission!” Keep up the great work brother!!!

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