I was an odd duck in high school. I didn't wear make-up, didn't want to go to prom and read missionary biographies for fun. In retrospect, I was the prime candidate to go overseas.
I remember talking to a friend in high school about missions. "I'll go if He really wants me to go, but I want to STAY," she said.
I answered with, "I'll stay if He wants me to stay, but I want to GO."
Once I had the opportunity to serve God in China as a 26-year-old, I never doubted my "call"--at least until I was called to leave.
But maybe you didn't always have the desire to go and now feel that niggling beginning of an urge. How do you know if you are being "called" to missions?
I remember talking with a friend serving in Tibet and he was agonizing over whether he should stay or not. "ANYONE could do the work I'm doing here [teaching English], while many of my gifts that would be more useful in America are going unused," he said.
I remember telling him, "Anyone can do the work--yes--but not just anyone does." Just having the willingness to go does count as something because most people are not scrambling to quit their jobs, sell their possessions and move abroad.
Willingness IS a viable first step.
God uses a multitude of ways to lead people into missions and I think it should be a combination of many of the following that add up to the large arrow pointing to "GO."
Here are 6 ways God can lead us to serve Him overseas:
1. The Bible. Surprisingly, I actually don't feel that this is the main or only signpost for whether or not a person should serve the Lord overseas because, like a fortune cookie, it can be manipulated to say what we want it to say. I love this tongue-in-cheek post by Rachel Pieh Jones, where she uses stories from the Bible such as being swallowed by a whale, hiding behind suitcases and laying out fleeces to remind us that we can't always directly apply every story in the Bible literally to our current situation. Yes, I believe God speaks to us through the Bible, but I believe He uses additional ways and means to show us His will.
2. Community. I always see red flags for people going overseas when they can't get along with the people in the church around them. How will you operate on a team if you can't humbly interact with others in your own church? Are you willing to submit to authority in your church? Are you able to deal with conflict in mature and healthy ways? People in your church community should be able to support and encourage your decision to go.
3. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. The Baader-WHAT? You know how when you want to buy a car, say a Toyota, you suddenly notice Toyotas EVERYWHERE? Or you get pregnant and it seems like every other lady (because that's what you become when you're pregnant--a pregnant "lady") is preggo? Well, my husband just informed me that this is a THING, called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. And this is exactly what God used in my life to lead me to China--China was everywhere! This alone is not enough to assume that God is leading you abroad, but in combination with other means, it can certainly be a way God puts a certain people or places on your Divine Radar.
4. Prayer. I believe God speaks to us in prayer. He gives us peace, pops phrases and images into our minds and brings verses and people to mind at uncanny times. But I also believe there is a danger in relying only on the statement "I just had a peace about it" as the sole reason for making a life-altering decision that will most likely have a ripple effect into your every relationship. Prayer should always be measured by Scripture and other brothers and sisters in Christ. "God told me to" should never be the ONLY reason that you go into missions.
5. The Cloud of Witnesses. God has used so many other Christians in my life over the years--living and dead--to guide me as I've made crucial life decisions. The biographies of Amy Carmichael, Jim & Elizabeth Elliot, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward and Bruce Olson fueled my desire to go to the nations. As I mentioned in my post about my calling to missions, the Lord used a quote from Oswald Chambers to influence my decision to move to a remote place in China. I'll repeat the quote below:
"We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do. God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might...' (Eccl. 9:10)." (April 23, My Utmost for His Highest)
God used this quote in combination with many of the above to lead me to China, but even this quote could be "fortune cookied" if needed to prove that I should have just stayed where I was in Chicago.
6. Open Doors. I'm someone that likes to pray for "open and closed doors." Sometimes all of the above may line up, but the doors just aren't opening for you. Maybe you have thousands of dollars in loans or the mission board didn't accept you. Maybe you have health issues or need to care for an elderly parent. I'm sure Paul wondered why God wouldn't want him to go to certain cities when it seemed like that would be best. God's will is mysterious at times and we need discernment as to whether we should keep moving forward when doors keep slamming shut. Timing is crucial when it comes to God's will, and His timing is always perfect.
None of the above should be taken in isolation, but if several of these line up, then maybe God IS leading you to serve Him overseas. When you think God might be calling you, I think the first step is to quiet your heart, possibly physically hold out your hands, palms up and say this simple prayer,
"Lord, I am willing. I will go if you want me to go and stay if you want me to stay. Please show me what you want me to do."
And then wait. You don't have to be especially gifted (look at the uneducated disciples) or a super Christian. You just need to be willing, humble and submitted to Christ. And if God wants you to go, he will pull you along in ways that are unmistakable.
In what ways has God used some of these ways in your life as you have sought His will?
This post is day 19 of the series "Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock," a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my previous posts:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected...
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You're Not the Only One Who's Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My "Call"
Day 17: Is Missions a "Higher Calling"?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)--a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)
Photo: By 2x1meter (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons