An Answer to the Call

This week, I read an article entitled, “Four Misconceptions of the Missionary Call“, which of course peaked my interest.  I agreed with about 80-85% of it, and the final 15-20%… well, I get what he’s trying to say.

But obviously, I have something to say too.

What a very American statement, huh.

First of all, the article begins with the misconception that missionaries are some spiritual model in the line of Superman or perhaps an odd nut that fell off the tree.  No, we’re not. A vast majority of us are very normal.  We have faults, we get irritated, there are many things we don’t know how to do, we prefer chocolate to whatever weird insect is being fried up.  Our hindsight is 20-20, our foresight… not always. We’re learning, we’re growing, we survive by God’s grace.  Weird note, I absolutely do not like eggs.  Is there any country in the world that doesn’t use eggs as a main staple?? You’re supposed to eat whatever is served before you (eggs can be served in a variety of ways) and yet, this is the one thing I don’t like. Seriously??? I’ve always felt that liking eggs would make me a much better missionary.

Anyway, yes, we’re normal.  I’ll leave it there.

The article then goes on to talk about the “call”.  The author brings up a lot of good points.  However, I think maybe there’s a little caveat that needs to be added about obedience to Matthew 28:18-20.

First of all, a missionary should “go” because of Matthew 28:18-20.  We ALL should “go” because of Matthew 28:18-20 (from here, shortened to M28).  That is the ultimate basis for action because the Word of God is our foundation for living.  

Because all nations [peoples] is specified, this verse should make every Christian ask themselves, “Lord, are you calling me to make disciples overseas?  In which nation do you want me to make disciples?”

Let me share the conclusion and then backtrack:

We need to seek the Lord’s guidance on the question of where to make disciples.

1- We are called to make disciples of all nations. Yes.  Period.  Right? Yes.  But, guess what? Your home nation is a nation included in that list too.  This does not mean that it is God’s will that every Christian should go overseas to work and make disciples in a foreign country.  If you want to get technical about the verse, I’m pretty sure you cannot physically in your lifetime go to all nations and make disciples and so obey that verse to last point.  We need to be strategically placed, according to the Lord’s strategy, not our own strategy or our own preferences.

It was the Lord’s strategy in Acts 13:1-4 to send Barnabas and Saul out for a specific task the Lord had for them.  It wasn’t a haphazard or whimsical thing.  It happened because of the Lord’s clear guiding.  It was the Lord who sent them out, and then the church; not Barnabas and Saul who sent themselves out.

The danger I feel that this article presents in saying that M28 is sufficient by itself for missionary service is that people who are merely interested in another country, culture or language, whatever, can feel confident to say without waiting for the Lord, “Oh, I’m just going to obey this verse, and head over to Thailand to make disciples because this verse is sufficient enough to go. Thailand has always called my attention, and so I’m going”.  Who is doing the sending out here? M28 is the absolutely the foundation of the “going”, but then again, perhaps it’s the Lord’s will that said person makes disciples in his home nation.  Anyway, this leads me to…

2.  “The Call”- Many people think that there is a special, mystical “call” or experience or voice from heaven that people have that lead them to missions.  The “M28 call” is a church-wide call that we all have to make disciples.  As far as missions goes, though, God leads and sometimes we begin with desire/interest and sometimes it’s developed/revealed with time and opportunity.  But what I do think that there needs to be is personal confirmation.  I think this looks different for every person.  Some people do have “experiences”.  Some people have deep conviction and peace.  Some have a Scripture that they hold onto that the Lord spoke in a specific moment. Some have all of the above.  It’s similar to our testimony of how we met the Lord– some people, it’s an action-packed, dramatic conversion.  Some people begin walking with the Lord when they’re young and have a different kind of testimony. It’s different for each person.

The point is that we are walking with the Lord and being led by the Spirit. And this leading to a “missionary call” is just another step like everyone else takes on their own path.

I do think that it’s essential to have this confirmation– both personal and from leadership who can recognize it as well.  See Acts 13 if you’d like me to back that up.  But why do I say this?  Because missions will affect and probably change every area of your life- areas you didn’t even know you had.  And because sometimes it’s hard on the field.  Remember, we’re normal, right?  Well, sometimes it’s extremely stressful, sometimes we have way too much on our plates, sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we’re afraid, sometimes we miss home, and there’s always pressure from every side.  There’s a spiritual battle going on that is always intense.

And when it’s dark all around you and you’re not even sure what you’re doing and how you’re going to make it through and if you can even do this, you can go back to– “you know what, I know that I know that I know that the Lord led me here.  I know it.  [insert a grunt and thumping of the chest here]. And so I’m going to hang out and wait on the Lord.”

It’s a lot easier to give up if that initial confirmation or firm persuasion from the Lord isn’t there.

3- Don’t write yourself off. Many people don’t even consider missions for themselves.  They don’t pray about it.  They don’t want to or are afraid to. Or they write themselves off due to whatever excuse that makes things impossible. But I’ve met many types of missionaries, with many personalities, with a variety issues, with many strengths, with many visions. Praise God! We are not one set mold.

M28 should push us toward complete surrender (no matter the conclusion to the question of where) and it should push us toward strategic focus.  We need to look at the task we’ve been given as a church, we need to pray intensely to the Lord about what He wants each of us to do (and not be idle in the meantime) and we need to make sure the job gets done.  I feel like there are definitely aspects of this that we can look at logically and go, “this is my personality and my giftings, this makes sense for me”.  But we should not let our logic and human thinking have the final say.  The Lord should have that. We shouldn’t say, “Oh, I could never be a missionary because I could never leave my family.”  Yes, you could.  If the Lord called you to and you were committed to obedience, you could.  The question is, are you willing to if He so asks?

Remember, the Lord’s grace is abundant and rich and sufficient for us.

4.  Lastly, a challenge. M28 is your call. No matter what, you are to go, leave the proverbial four walls of your church, and make disciples.  You are a part of making sure that the task is completed.

M28 should inspire us with a bigger vision than just ourselves.  It should inspire us to make sure the job is getting done.  And many people do make sure the big picture is getting done, by sending, praying, supporting, assisting, etc.  Those possibilities go on and on and that is SO exciting!

The challenge?  To learn: what specific parts of the task are not yet complete?  (this is a loaded, oversimplified question) Where are the needs? What has the Lord gifted you with?  I love the question the author of that article poses: “How can I best serve in this Kingdom, with the ultimate purpose of seeing the nations saved?”  Think!  God gave us a brain, and I believe the Lord is pleased when we, with passionate and compassionate hearts, seriously consider and dream up and strategize.

BUT. Pray and seek.  Ultimately, they are HIS plans. His Will.  We do His bidding, He does not follow our whims.  We submit our plans to HIM and do not lean on our own understanding.  “Lord, I will obey you now and make disciples here and now.  But would you also have me to go overseas to accomplish the task?  Is your will for me to stay and make disciples in my home nation? Would you have me to go to the [insert ethnic district in your city] and focus on making disciples?  Would you have me to focus on the field of the moms in the PTA group?  Would you have me praying intensely for my coworkers in the surrounding cubicles as my disciple-making field?”

And wherever it is, whether you have an adventurous personality and are itching to go or you love the comforts of your familiar hometown and accessibility of cheese and ranch dressing, will you be willing to surrender your desires and be led by the Spirit?

I think if we are all doing this, so many of the misconceptions about missions will begin to be cleared up.  We’re all working to accomplish one task: make disciples (which is a life-long process- a whole separate blog). We are all part of one body, no part is greater, we have different functions, different strengths, different vulnerabilities.  All parts are vital.  But it’s all of our jobs to listen to the Head, to cooperate and work together, hold each other up, and make sure we obey our Lord.

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The Silver Lining

Well, I wasn’t kidding with my last post.  It’s been awhile and it’ll probably be awhile yet again.  But I’ll do what I can, if only because this is something I enjoy.

Our little one stayed in the hospital a week, suddenly making rapid progress 24 hours after vomiting clear across the room with surprising force.  I doubt I’ll forget that moment or the night that followed.  Anyhow, oddly enough, she actually seems to like nurses these days.

Since then, my schedule has been full of researching hospital bill payments, city hall procedures, baby appointments, getting our daughter enrolled in a pre-preschool program, helping out and meeting with our interns, and trying to keep up with household work, financial reports, correspondence and a million other things.

One thing that has been really really cool about this whole process is that we’ve made relationships with our neighbors soooo much closer.  During April, my neighbor had her second baby via c-section, which of course I experienced in February.  Both sets of grandparents being far away, she was alone to take care of her kids most of the day (though the older goes to preschool).  Knowing how hard it was for me, I had a lot of compassion for her! When I went to visit her in the hospital, I didn’t bother asking but informed her that I planned to make her meals when she got home.  She was so surprised but grateful, wanting help but unable to ask for it.  Not uncommon here.  So, I made a few meals for her on the day she got home and then one the day that I left to take our baby to the doctor… of course ending up in the hospital that night.  Earlier that week, we had gone grocery shopping and I picked up some goodies for her– healthy things specifically for momma and snacks and dropped them off on the spur of the moment.

She answered the door and cried.

Of course, I cried too, because… well… hormones.  I’m sure it’s probably mostly that for her too, but Japanese don’t cry.  So, we had a bonding moment.

Naturally, she was looking for a way to repay me– because it’s considered obligation in Japan to return the favor.  Not wanting that, I asked for help in a different direction– making a phone call to the hospital payment center for me and later casually asking for help with preschool info.

Dingdingding.  This has been the key.  On the day she made the call, I awkwardly told her she didn’t need to use polite language with me anymore. She was SO excited and told me she was trying to figure out the right timing to “become friends”.  I’d tried making the switch informally a number of times, but she always continued using polite form language.  Inevitably, I’d go back to polite form, trying to figure out if she wanted to keep me at a distance or what.

It seems there might be a specific transition moment to make the change.  I’ll ask around, but this is the second time having this conversation with someone.  So, I might be on to sometime. Timing.

Anyway, since then we message back and forth through our shared wall frequently.  She sends incredibly long messages (for me, at least), so it takes a bit of concentration to focus on what she’s saying and then to come up with a decent response.  And not surprisingly, a few of our messages have taken place at 4am.

In the almost month since then, we’ve hung out at each others’ houses, been invited to use nicknames, gone to a local event as families, and she’s helped me out and even walked me to the preschool the first day. Next week, we’re going to a preschool event together, though I don’t think her son is going.  And apparently we’re going to do some traditional meal together to celebrate our kids’ 100th day (well, sometime in the middle).  I expect I’ll have more to say about that after it happens.

So, for all the challenge that the hospital was, it’s produced some good things out of it- the two neighbors we have connections with have grown a lot closer.  Doors have opened.  And I’ve learned more about a new section of Japanese health care and procedures and what is and is not covered (all said, it’s light years cheaper than the US).

Well, I’m off to wash bottles and then head to bed.  I expect in the near-ish future, there might be a post about pre-preschools and that whole realm for me.  Let’s just say that momma was more nervous on “our” first day than my own 3 year old was.  But we’ll get to that later.