What you see here is the result of getting a little New Year’s gift in the form of head shampoo massages. For a mere $4 we were treated to this for a half hour. It was really awesome, but for some reason out of the six of us who did it, I am the only one who also got “styled”. The guy who did it spent a good 15 minutes blow drying it into a bouffant, then meticulously placing every hair exactly where he wanted. I was sure my team put him up to it, but they assure me they did not. That hair was an immovable mountain! Haha!
Well, after our journey out to our family’s city, we returned to base camp and debriefed. Our three days there still require processing to this day. But in this we are sure. We are called to this place and these people to partner in the disciple-making efforts going on. This leads to the question: how can we do so?
The first and foremost need is prayer, immediately followed by feet on the ground. I quoted Romans 10:13-15 in a previous post, and also when I spoke to my church. These verses came to the forefront of all our minds. I said that if we start praying for the laborers of Matthew 9:37-38 we just might find that we are the laborers we’re praying for. This is where the Lord has led us. We asked R&J how we can be essential partners in the work to do here. My desire and hope is that we begin sending teams at least annually, maybe more often. Ultimately, I hope my church can be in a place financially and spiritually to support someone there full time. But while we are home and they are there, they need point people to keep the church mindful and prayerful for the gospel work being done. It is too easy to be out of sight, out of mind. They told us how they send out newsletters routinely and rarely hear anything back. How just a simple reply of “I’m praying for you” means so much! To receive packages that just remind them that they are not alone and that can bless them in some small, tangible way. To advocate for the cause of the unreached so that we no longer tolerate the existence of such a thing. For R, he particularly sought the raising of the next generation–including his own children–to be arrows shot into the darkness of the unreached places rather than being taught to grow up into the comforts and securities of the American Dream.
As I listened to these things, and understanding that God was possibly calling me to be in a season of sending, I was personally feeling affirmed in this choice, yet I struggled with it, as I’ll talk about in a bit. But I came to a firm agreement with God and the others on my team that this is where we are called to be, however that looks.
In the latter days of our time with them, we all had the opportunity to do a Reddit style “Ask Me Anything” of all the worker families. This was another very meaningful time. This is when I asked about how they keep fighting in the face of the pervasive darkness. Our pastor asked what message they would want him to go home and tell the church. The answer was simple: tell them God is worth it. (Watch his message by clicking this link.)
Another poignant moment was when R posed a question back to us. “Why not?” he asked, in response to going. It’s a good question. Why is our mentality stay unless called to go? That’s not what the commands of Christ say. We are told to go. So what reason do we have not to? Why can’t we, say, take what we do here and go do it there. Just changing the location but continuing to live life with the intention of reaching the unreached? Again, I’m not diminishing the importance of local evangelism, reaching our neighbors and coworkers, and discipling in our context. But we have access to the gospel here; they do not. We have virtually no barrier to bridge the gospel; they have almost every barrier. So what’s our excuse? They are doing it, and every single Christ-follower is called to no less. There are so few laborers; so why not?
As I continued to read “Let the Nations Be Glad” and experience all that God was giving me, I really started struggling with my path. It almost didn’t feel right that I felt called to send when I fully expected to be called to go long-term. Especially with the fears I have, I worried that maybe I was convincing myself it wasn’t for me, rather than it coming from God. In particular, Piper’s section on the sacrifices and struggles of obedience hit me hard. Staying home is certainly much easier. The Bible is clear that the more obedient we are to Christ, the more we will suffer for the gospel as He did. But I look at the workers and certainly didn’t see suffering. They certainly don’t feel like they’ve sacrificed anything. All that they have sacrificed was done so joyfully! I’m not trying to look for suffering by any means, but it seemed to me that the correct path would automatically be the one of greater sacrifice. So why was I feeling like I was being set on one with less sacrifice?
I got to meet with another worker, B, who has been on the field for over 6 years. And this conversation was the culmination of what God was teaching me about Himself and this mandate to mission. My desire is to obey Christ and therefore I can expect sacrifice and suffering. There is also a clear biblical teaching about those who do so more will receive a greater reward in heaven. This is getting pretty deep here, but my understanding of Scripture is that the reward of our salvation and obedience is God Himself. Therefore, the greater reward spoken about means that we will be able to enjoy God’s glory in some greater way in heaven for the suffering we endured in this life. Not that there will be any kind of jealousy or longing in those with a “lesser” reward. Every person will be fully satisfied in the presence of God! But I look at that and think–perhaps rather selfishly–I want to experience as much of God’s glory as I can. But if God’s will for my life is not that of greater suffering (e.g. even martyrdom), then am I destined to a lesser reward?
This bothered me and I talked through this with B, who I quickly found to be a man rooted very deeply in the Word. So I trusted his Spirit-led discernment in the matter. And he taught me that it’s not about different degrees of suffering as we perceive it, but rather obedience within our context. He encouraged me to seek the blank check, not suffering and sacrifice. If God has called me to stay and send, am I being obedient in that? What I am called to do, lay it all out there. Just as I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing as much by staying, he doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificed to go. So in the same way, maybe in someone else’s perspective, I’m sacrificing a lot, even though I don’t feel like I am. It’s my life willingly and joyfully given. It’s being obedient in my context.
Alongside with that, he said it was pretty easy to give up the externals, but what’s really difficult is getting rid of the hidden idols in our hearts. You better believe that the number one greatest challenge of being on mission is that Satan is going to attack right where we are most vulnerable. Those little issues that we keep tucked away are going to come raging in full force when we are on the front lines of gospel work. This spoke very much to my journey of the past year and why God had me deal with a major sin issue in my life before I could really start discerning His specific path for me. As He gave me victory in that place, I began earnestly seeking, and found myself in this place of doubt about the choice to actually stay!
I can’t get paralyzed by trying to narrow down God’s will to a pinpoint before I get in the game. Nor can I become immobilized by thinking I’m going to mess up God’s plan by making the wrong choice. Mine is to trust God to give me the right thoughts, to make good decisions, and to course-correct me when I don’t. There is confidence in knowing the One who makes all good decisions. Freedom to serve in obedience comes from trusting God and understanding I cannot mess up His plans.
I immediately started of thinking of ways I could be more intentional in my context. My mind kept returning to the IFO and the tremendous ministry to international students. From conversation club, to friendship partnering, to setting my spare room for incoming students who need a temporary place to stay, we can go right here and reach the nations. And if God wants me here as a sender, then I am going to be the leader and advocate my pastors need to direct our lives to obedience in fulfilling our mandate as the Church.
How God spoke to me is just filled with grace and love. I can summarize my thoughts from a passage we read on our first day. It really set the precedent for our entire time there. I committed it to memory and it speaks to our primary motivation. It’s Isaiah 6:1-8. And I’ll conclude my account of this journey with it in my next post.