After having served in missions for almost 15 years, and spending a year in Brazil and then 7 years in Southern Africa, we have become cautious in sharing our stories. We learned that when we did, we received one of two responses, from Christians and from non-Christians.
The first response is that the conversation is changed immediately. And I mean fast. They don’t want to know what country, how long or what ‘religion’. It is like, ‘oh, that’s nice. What did you have for lunch today?’ This response makes me smile slightly. These individuals do not want to talk about God, discomfort, service or anything related to missions. They make assumptions as to who we serve and why we serve, and they are either truly not interested or they are running from God. I say a small prayer for them and allow them to move on.
The second response we receive, again from Christians and non-Christians, does not make me smile. It saddens me. This response is more along the lines of praise for our sacrifice, admiration for our ‘heroism’, putting us on a pedestal, etc. While we appreciate the ‘support’ intended by some of these statements, we are also saddened that these individuals do not see God for who He truly is. We are not special. Neither are any other missionaries we met along the way. We have simply chosen to follow God’s path as He set it before us. We trust in God and His love for us and His direction. We trust in the fact that He has prepared us for anything and everything we may encounter along the way. We trust that He has gone before us and prepared the way. But God does this for each of us if we are able to open our heart and minds completely to His leading and His sovereignty.
I personally was 13 years old and at the alter in front of our church when I heard God’s call to Africa. It was as if a human being was standing before me talking out lout to me. It was clear. It was loving. And it scared me to death I did not immediately set out on a path to make it happen. I kept it to myself for years. And I watched and I waited. I grew up. I learned many lessons about life and about God. I went to college and got married and had kids. And then one day my husband came home from school (he was working on his masters) and told me God had called him to serve abroad in missions. He didn’t know exactly what or where, but he thought it was probably China or Africa. I cried as I marveled at God’s infinite love for me and His hand upon our lives throughout our lives. At the time, I had a 5 year old and a 16 year old! We had a mortgage and school bills. But you know what? After I encouraged and loved on my husband and told him that I would follow him wherever God took him, I again put it to the back of my heart and went on as I knew how. Long story short, over the next few years, I watched God prepare my husband. I watched him as we made trips to Haiti and Nicaragua and El Salvador. I watched as my secure heart began to let go of ‘things’ and people. My home became a house with furnishings I cared about. My car became a vehicle to get me where I needed to go. With my family and friends, while always precious, I began to feel a distancing. I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart, and a depth of love for Christ that surpassed what I had experienced before. I cried a lot! I was surrendering and I was grieving. I was letting go of the things that held me here and I was submitting. I knew the time to leave was close and that God was doing a work in me, as He was in every member of our immediate family. My husband changed. My son changed. My daughter changed.
Even after all of this, leaving the United States, family and friends almost took me to my knees, literally. But I could do nothing else. You see, my love for Christ and my belief in His sovereignty kept me going, because to not do so would be denying who He is and what He has done for me. It is like the saying, ‘when the rubber meets the road, what do you really believe?’. You can choose to turn away from who He is or to put one foot in front of the other and continue on, being confident that He will not give me more than you can handle, even as tears are flowing down your face.
It was not easy, but it was awesome. I continually marveled at how God had prepared me in so many ways for this. As I looked back over the years since I was 13, I see Him working in the background. My point with this post is to say, first of all, to God be the glory. And to say again that we are not special. We listened and we followed and we trusted. And He did all the work, beforehand and day by day. He didn’t do anything for us that He wouldn’t do for anyone who surrendered their heart to Him. It is all about him, not us, regardless of where He has us serving. It is His timing and His power that makes it happen, not anything we do.
So next time you meet a missionary, ask where they served. Ask to hear their story if the situation allows. And thank them for listening and trusting. And walk even closer to God than you did before, knowing how trustworthy He is.