Jen’s Story: Stay or Go, Part 3

I am delighted to have Jen Oshman share her story here today! Talk about a lot of ups and downs in the following! Maybe hearing Jen’s story is just what we need to prepare our hearts for the unexpected.

What a great question she asks: “Who are we and who is God?” I find that whenever I think I know the answer to that little gem, God stretches my understanding once more. I also appreciate Jen’s heart for her family. God’s best for us is never going to contradict His best for our kids and spouses–somehow His intricate plan is the best of all possible worlds.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jen’s blog, check out the link at the bottom of the page. So many wise words of encouragement live there. By the way, did you miss the first installment of this series? Check out the Gospel Coalition article here

Friends, meet Jen.

June 12, 2018.  Describe a time in your life when you have had to wrestle with competing values in determining whether to stay put or move on. What swung you towards staying or going?

My husband and I have each experienced one of our parents being diagnosed with a terminal illness while we were serving overseas. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gherig’s disease), which we knew would likely end her life within about three years. At that time we were in the midst of a three-year arduous journey of adopting our Thai daughter and bringing her home to Japan. The US immigration laws then made it impossible for us to move home. It was very sad. We did not have the option to return and be at my mother-in-law’s side as ALS slowly took her away. However, we took comfort in knowing that we did not have a choice. God’s call on us to our child trumped our desire (and calling) to honor my husband’s mom in those years. We took turns traveling back for visits but she ultimately passed away while we were still in Japan.

Following a decade of ministry in Japan, we relocated to be church planters in the Czech Republic. Just two years in to our journey there, my dad took a turn for the worse in his battle against Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I had, for about a year, gone back and forth from Czech Republic to Colorado, taking care of his needs and moving him in to a nursing home. But as his condition worsened, we realized that he was very much alone. He did not have anyone visiting him or caring for him in tangible ways. We felt like we were the only ones who could see and meet his needs. Additionally, he was not a believer and we wanted to continue sharing and living out the gospel on his behalf. We made the very difficult decision to leave the mission field to be near my dad in his final years.

Our relocation to Colorado was tough. Our kids had never lived stateside and they had already adjusted to life on two other continents. We had invested deeply in the Czech Republic and would not be allowed to see the payoff. The departure felt premature and abrupt. But we were certain it was the right thing to do, even if we did it a bit begrudgingly. My father passed away two weeks ago today. My grief is greatly alleviated by my knowledge that I did all I could. I can look back and say my family gave him everything we had for the last two and a half years of his life. As far as I know, my dad never accepted Christ, which is my greatest heartbreak. But, I have no regrets in the decisions we made. As painful as the move was, being a support for him trumped our investment in our Czech church plant.

If a younger Christian asked your advice about where, geographically, to begin a career, what factors would you encourage them to consider?

There’s an adage in the missions world that goes like this: My family will make sacrifices for the mission, but we will not sacrifice our family. Making a move, whether it’s across town or across the world, is a very complicated decision. Each person, couple, or family needs to count the cost and weigh carefully if their family is up for paying it. The Lord absolutely asks all of us to sacrificially serve him, but he does not ask us to forsake our families in the process. Discerning his call is very important, as is obeying it.

Do you think twenty-somethings find it harder to stay or go these days? Do you think this changes over the decades?

Gosh, I have no idea on this. I know so many examples of twenty-somethings on all sides of this question. I know goers who want to return and be stayers, but God has said no. I know stayers who wish they could go, but haven’t sensed God’s call. I know both goers and stayers who are in their sweet spot and goers and stayers who are languishing. I also know many goers who are older, who went out to embark on a second career on the mission field. There must be metrics on this, but I don’t know what they are. I have seen great diversity on the field and it’s a joy.

Let’s say you’ve followed God’s directives to the best of your abilities and landed in a specific place or vocational context, but some time later find yourself feeling good and properly stuck. Ever been there? What are some helpful questions in deciding when and where to move on?

As with all steps in the Christian walk, examining one’s heart is of utmost importance in this scenario. Whether we have stayed or gone, and whether we are thriving or languishing, we must ask ourselves repeatedly, who are we and who is God? Our true position and identity in him is the only foundation from which we can serve. He calls us to be faithful to him, but only he can grow the fruit from our labors. We do not win converts, he does. Questions of identity, worth, and motive must be regularly visited (like, daily). These questions are best pondered in community, especially with the friendship of an older, more experienced believer who has traversed myriad seasons of ministry.

Do you think it’s possible to lay out a one-size-fits-all prescription for sorting out the geographical piece of calling?

No, definitely not. God’s calls on our lives are as diverse as we are. So many things intersect when discerning where the Lord may be asking us to go—gifting, skills, passions, spouse, parents, kids, schooling, health, laws, finances, sending and receiving agencies and churches, just to name a few. Sorting out one’s call is best done in community, as I said above, and again, with other more mature believers who can help provide insight. So many things need to be considered, such as scripture, counsel from church leaders, agreements in marriage or amongst teammates, one’s leading from the Holy Spirit, the community’s leading from the Holy Spirit, and various circumstances. These are tough decisions, which are best answered in the setting of the body of Christ.

How have the decision-making moments in your life affected your view of God or your relationship with Him? What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the stay-or-go seasons?

We must remember that the Lord uses us in spite of ourselves. If we are abiding in the Lord Jesus, we won’t make a bad decision—meaning, he will use us no matter where we go. We cannot thwart God’s plans. If our decisions are not made from sinful motives (as best we know and are able with the Spirit’s help), then we can rest. Again, we must rest in who he is and who we are (and who we are not!) and serve him in full awareness of his goodness and sovereignty.

Any writers or thinkers who have helped you wade through these issues?

Mature believers who are about 10-20 years ahead of me, who have walked the walk and have experienced all the highs and lows that come with life and ministry in various settings—these friends are invaluable to us in every decision we make.

 

Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado, where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes about that at www.jenoshman.com.

 

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