Now there’s another question that keeps us awake at three in the morning. God might be leading us to serve cross-culturally in the third world… but what about our careers? In going overseas, are we throwing away everything we studied and worked for? How will we keep up-to-date while we’re serving in the Ice Valley of Tajikistan or in Outer Mongolia or in Northern Iraq? And what will happen after we return to Australia? What if we can’t find work again… and then how will we pay off the mortgage or provide for our families?
And as we lie awake in bed we think about the precautions we would need to take if we move to those places. We could read journals on the internet, attend courses in the capital and maintain membership with our professional association. But as our imaginations conjure up the stresses of doing that, we try to reassure ourselves by thinking of other returned missionaries and noting the way God has provided for them. There seem to be those who re-find work in their chosen profession quite easily. Their employees even appreciate the depth of what they have gleaned and experienced overseas. Others seem to be led into new areas, finding work in mission societies or development agencies. After having lived with a broader understanding of the world and its needs, they no longer seem content with their previous occupations. Still others seem to embark on completely new careers, somehow utilizing skills or language that they used overseas. But as the possibilities excite us, they also worry us. What about the missionaries who spend years looking for work again? How will I cope if that’s me?
Wherever we are, we yearn for security and some kind of certainty. We want to know that the decisions we make now will enhance our way of life, not endanger it. And so as we consider serving overseas, we begin to pore over verses like Matt 10:29-30, thinking that it’s the spiritual equivalent of life insurance. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, ‘No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”
And the verses are reassuring but also confusing. How does Jesus speak of the present age and the one to come in the same breath? Is the triumph of eternity so real to him that he sees and imagines both at once? And on top of that, how does he speak of fields and persecution in the same breath? Does he truly know that fellowship and growth and salvation occur most profoundly amidst suffering? But yes, he seems to and he assures his disciples that right now its okay – its promise and persecution, its blessing and suffering… then in the age to come, its eternal life.
And as we sigh and ponder the reassurance, we realise we can’t guarantee what will happen after we return to Australia. We don’t know whether we’ll find work quickly or slowly, or what that work will look like. But we can guarantee that whatever it is – he’ll be with us and at work within it – to grow us more like him, to bring glory to himself and then – to prepare us for eternity. And not only is that the best guarantee we’ll ever find, it also reminds us of the reason we go in the first place… so that others will hear it. And with a certainty that’s as new as it is compelling, we leap out of bed and fumble in the dark for our passport forms…
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.