The unlikely missionary
|Date||20 May, 2016|
For the longest time, I was pretty set on not being a missionary.
I knew the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19–20 – the deep call to go and make disciples everywhere, which is so basic to our faith. But it was the portability of that call which made me so uncomfortable. It drew a strange divide in my world between places we ‘are’ and places we could ‘go’ and invited me to cross between them in Jesus’ name. I largely knew those places through the television news, and it was not pretty: scud missiles in the Arab Gulf, thick concrete walls dividing Berlin, tanks rolling across Tiananmen Square, and planes crashing through American skyscrapers. These other places were not hospitable, so I resolved fairly early in life that I was going to stay put.
It was six months after my wedding that I ventured beyond my border to South Asia for a short-term exposure trip. That was when God did His work. The experience wasn’t always pleasant – beyond the usual linguistic and cultural confusions, we were battered daily by appalling human need. What was compelling, though, was God’s people. The local church, loving the same Jesus I did, saw those human needs and met them as best they could, in the face of very real dangers, in the name of Jesus. I returned to Australia battered by a sense that my life is genuinely owned by Another, and I should be available to Him without condition.
We had no voice-from-the-sky moment about what cross-cultural work would look like for us, but we knew we wanted to do it. Our imaginations were captured by the idea of working alongside local believers, doing whole-of-life discipleship with them in a hard place. We prayed and planned and studied and talked, trying to work out how our personalities and skills could intersect with a church and a city somewhere out there. Things narrowed. A placement in the Middle East began to emerge. So when God put the brakes on and caused us to wait, to say we were frustrated would be an understatement. Months and years had gone into our preparations, only to now drift in the doldrums and wonder why the Sender Himself would blindside us like this.
It was a hard lesson in our Father’s logistics. Disappointment and confusion – yes, and anger – are natural reactions when we lose a sense of where God is taking us. Those feelings, however, should never blind us to possibilities He is opening up elsewhere. We changed plans for a time and joined an Interserve CultureConnect team serving ethnic minorities in Australia. We started working among people seeking asylum in Sydney’s northwest – people who live daily with a deeper uncertainty than we may ever know. Drinking tea, celebrating birthdays, laughing and crying and praying with them, we pondered the courageous faith Jesus commends in the face of anxiety (Matthew 6:25–34). We don’t always know the way, but our Father does, and He is never less powerful or less worthy of our trust because of it.
The delay turned out to be temporary. These days, our family is preparing to join the refugee-welcoming church in West Asia. I still glimpse the place we will go to in television-news images – bomb blasts, leaky boats and, above all, masses of people crossing borders, a river which stretches to the horizons of belief. Those pictures are still bewildering to me. They no longer frighten me, though, because they’re part of the same basic script our Father has always given to us: those old imperatives to go and to make disciples, to bind up broken hearts, and to set captives free.
Joel* (a social worker) is preparing to serve in West Asia alongside people seeking asylum.
*Names have been changed.