I’ve got one last story for you today! This one is from a sweet friend whose staying and going has had huge personal impact on our family, on our church. Although they are momentarily unable to go back overseas as they’d like, in their staying they are hard at work raising up other go-ers. How cool is that?
I find it very interesting to consider that in God’s Big Projects, there are key people at all different stages of the work. To use a medical analogy, there are surgeons, up to their elbows in messy work. There are nurses, handing over scalpels and monitoring vitals, pharmacists and anesthetists getting dosages just so. Then there are the geniuses who upgrade and improve on medical machinery, research disease or develop new treatments. Finally, not to be forgotten, there are the architects, construction workers, and miracle-working donors, without whom hospitals wouldn’t exist at all.
My dear friend is like a doctor on leave who nevertheless found a hammer to swing, adding a new wing to the building while she waits for her next shift. In her own words, here is her story.
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 actually faced this several times in our marriage. We were on staff with a thriving and growing college ministry after we graduated from college and really saw God moving in big ways. We had felt called to missions and an opportunity came up to move to South Asia to an unreached, majority Muslim, third world country. So we had to decide, do we stay where we are comfortable and really see God working or do we go to a place that is only .5% Christian and share the good news of Jesus. Probably the final swing towards going was thinking about looking back on our life and regretting not going because we were scared or just wanted to stay comfortable. So we went and discovered this was God’s call on our life to live amongst the unreached and share the gospel with them.
We again had a situation just a year ago trying to decide if we should move to work in our current ministry setting. Our final decision came down to what would glorify God more, us staying or going? For us it was going, because we knew He was going to have to provide in HUGE ways and so He would get the glory. We didn’t want to not go simply out of fear or lack of faith. The most amazing part — God did provide and continues to in our life. For us going was the way for God to get the most glory and that’s what we want our life to be about.
If a younger Christian asked your advice about where, geographically, to begin a career, what factors would you encourage them to consider?
I would encourage a young Christian to begin a career somewhere they will be trained and discipled, and where there is need that they can meet. Often times it’s one or the other. Go somewhere just because of a great church or friends—or—go somewhere because you want to reach the place, but do it totally on your own. So I would highly advise if at all possible go where you have like-minded believers to teach and encourage you AND where you can serve Jesus where He is not being named and be a blessing to others.
Sometimes we think that if we just have community we love around us that is sufficient. However, community that doesn’t push you towards Jesus or serving Him isn’t actually community. It is a hindrance, often keeping us in a Christian bubble and not reaching the lost. But on the other hand, pride is often a reason we go to a place without community, thinking we don’t need other people and we can just do it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and He Himself lives in eternal community with the Father and Holy Spirit. I think God wants us also to live with, learn from, and serve Him with others. Now I understand this isn’t always possible, but I highly recommend you be go to a place where you can grow in your walk with God because of your community and a place where you can serve and meet a need that isn’t being met, particularly where the gospel needs to be preached.
Do you think it’s possible to lay out a one-size-fits-all prescription for sorting out the geographical piece of calling?
No … unfortunately. My husband has wisely said, “Where you are doesn’t matter as much as who you are and what you are doing.” And I 100% agree. Nonetheless there are countless places on earth that have not heard the beautiful news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection or what that means for those who would believe in Him. We must always keep in mind what our purpose is—to glorify God and to make Him known. Are you able to do that where you are? Is it to people that have or haven’t yet heard the gospel?
Maybe because I am called to live cross-culturally, I am biased, but I once heard a pastor say, “Too often our default is to stay. What if our default was to go?” Honestly, I think the American Church is just waiting for some miraculous event before they would even consider going to the nations—nations where thousands a day are dying into a Christ-less eternity. So why not pursue going until God clearly says no? All too often I think we do it the other way around, resulting in 95% of seminary graduates serving amongst the 5% of the world’s population in the most reached places, while millions around the world never hear the Good News of Jesus. My husband just preached an amazing sermon (I’m definitely not biased ;)) on Psalm 67 emphasizing that God wants not just all people, but all peoples of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Some argue, “well, I can just do that by staying.” Yes, maybe, but God’s heart isn’t just for any people to be saved, but EVERY people. You can listen to the sermon here. So although this isn’t a one-size-fits-all, I guess it’s more of a challenge—Would you at least consider going to a place where people don’t know about Jesus before you consider staying?
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?
I have definitely learned God is faithful. In those decision-making moments, it’s so scary, and everything feels unknown, but after the decision is made and you can look back with some hindsight, you see God was in control the whole time.
Here’s one example from our life. We do foster care and our first son had visits with his biological mom twice a week an hour away. So I spent 7 hours a weeks just traveling and waiting through visits. Then we found out his mom was pregnant again and there was a possibility that we could get this child, too. Amidst all this we felt God leading us to live in a new city to reach internationals living there and training up missionaries. One month after being in our new city, we got a phone call asking us to take this little boy into our home. However, this time, the visits were literally 5 minutes from our house. I mean come on … Wow, God. He is so faithful. Right now we live by faith and not by sight, but God in His grace shows us later how He had it all in the bag beforehand. Psalm 139:16 – “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Any writers or thinkers who have helped you wade through these issues?
Back in college, my husband and I read Is God Calling Me? by Jeff Iorg. I think this could be a helpful book for someone who is unsure if they are called to missions. I think my husband and I knew the answer before we read it, but for people unsure I think it can be very insightful. We also love David Platt, John Piper, and Tony Merida because they are Great Commission-focused and have been huge influencers (next to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God) that have given us a heart for the nations to know Christ. Particularly a sermon that David Platt gave at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary about his journey to become the IMB president was very helpful for us. You can watch it here.