In The Meantime

asian businesswoman sitting alone in a waiting room for an appointment

PREVIOUSLY: When You See It Coming

When it comes to missionary service, don’t wait for a “calling.” I know, this sounds contradictory to my insistence that our endeavors be Spirit-led, but the truth is that we are missionaries already. The call to follow Jesus is the call to incarnation of the gospel. We’re all missionaries.

Nevertheless, many of us have received “special instructions” from God about our service. For some, it’s to go to a place foreign to us to do the work of translating the gospel into another context. For others, it’s a move into an urban center. Some are called to entrepreneurship, sacrifice, church planting, and advocacy. But being called isn’t the same as being ready. Here’s what to when God has given you as sense of what to do, but has left the details a bit fuzzy.

In Acts 13, we read that the church in Antioch was in a time of worship and fasting. It was during that time that God spoke to the church, telling them to set Paul and Barnabas aside “for the work to which I have called them.” The use of the past tense makes it reasonable to assume that both Paul and Barnabas had already sensed their calling. God had already revealed (to Ananias in Acts 9) that Paul was chosen  We’re not sure how long it was, but there was clearly a “meantime” between their calling and the confirmation of that calling. Eventually, God spoke to the church to confirm this calling and to commission these men.

The meantime is vital to missions.

In the meantime, you must have your calling confirmed by your church. Not a member of a church? Stop. Join one and serve faithfully until they recognize and confirm your calling. This is a vital step toward accountability; like Paul and the church in Antioch, this is the context for affirmation and it is to this church that you will report. The church is God’s mechanism for sending and maintaining missionaries.

It’s quite possible that your church isn’t ready to send you. For many churches, missions isn’t even on their radar. In this case, you need to use your meantime to bring them along- train, encourage, and equip them as they develop their missiology. This is where many missionaries go wrong. They encounter reluctance (or worse still- indifference) on the part of their church and turn to google for support. A quick search for “Christian Missions agency” will turn up hundreds of parachurch organizations just waiting to help send you. But it is neither wise nor safe to proceed apart from your local church.

Let’s be honest: consulting with a missions sending organization about your call to missions is like asking a real estate agent whether you should buy a house or rent. Mobilizers, as they are called in the missions world, are not impartial. They all think we need more people on the mission field. Most of them measure their success by the number of warm bodies they get to commit to missionary service through their organizations. Most of those organizations raise money by taking a percentage of what they help their missionaries raise. It’s in their interest to make your meantime as short as possible. A recruiter is not impartial. He doesn’t know you. He is less likely to tell you honestly that you have no people skills, would fail miserably at acculturation, and have offensively bad breath. This is your church’s job.

I find it very interesting that, having heard clearly (and unanimously) from God regarding Paul and Barnabas, the Antioch church did not immediately act. Despite the urgency of the need, they didn’t send the men right away. Instead, the scriptures are careful to point out, the church continued fasting and praying before sending them out.

The example here is that we pray. Spend time asking for wisdom. If you are indeed called to another place, you’re going to need a strong relationship with God. That good relationship will allow you to hear clearly from the Spirit as He directs you on mission with vision, discernment, and supernatural insight. In the meantime, spend time reading Luke and Acts, the great missionary books of the Bible. This will help give you some perspective on what story you’re being called into.

NEXT: Ready, Set, Wait

When You See It Coming

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Hurricane Irene recently hit the East Coast. It isn’t often that a storm like this would travel so far north, so residents from Georgia to New England hunkered down. Fortunately, there was time to prepare. In fact, there was lots of time. It wasn’t until five days after the storm was identified that it made landfall in the Bahamas, and two days until it hit U.S. soil.  New York city was a ghost town for three days. There was time to stock up on food and drinking water. Time to board up windows and evacuate. Plenty of time. Maybe too much time.

Too much time to prepare can kill our readiness. We overthink things. We get distracted. We learn to live with the stress and quickly adjust to the anticipation as though it will be our new reality. Sometimes, the waiting ruins us.

I have a friend who is called to Haiti. She’s known for some time, now. After the earthquake there in early 2010, God gave her a clear sense that He wanted her to go. She immediately responded.

Right away, my friend joined a short-term medical trip and went. Over the course of those 10 days, God made it clear that yes, this is where He wanted her to live full-time. When she got home, she received news that her job at the hospital had been cut due to money shortages. She took that as another sign.

My friend started looking for opportunities in Haiti. An orphanage. A hospital. No doors were opened. She sold all of her “stuff” and moved in with friends to save on rent. She took EMT certification training and enrolled in French classes. She had prepared for what God had told her. That was over a year ago.

Since then, my friend has taken a job. She’s devoted her free time to learning about the Haitian people, making connections there, and preparing spiritually and mentally for the move. The hardest part, she says, is not becoming discouraged. The waiting can kill our preparedness.

Some of my missionary colleagues can relate to the waiting. I know people who’ve found themselves in a holding pattern for years before they every get to the field. A house that won’t sell, a child with special needs. Lack of funding. A visa. Medical clearance. Schooling. All of these things can keep an otherwise-ready missionary from doing what he’s been called to do.

Usually, they over-think: “Maybe I’m not ready.” “Is there sin in my life?” “Did I misunderstand God?” “Should I just forget the whole thing?” They feel foolish before their friends. “I thought you were moving to Haiti- did you change your mind?” Like Noah building a boat in the desert, preparation can seem pretty foolish to those around you.

If this describes your experience, don’t be discouraged! There is hope!

In my next few posts, I’d like to explore what to do when you’re called but haven’t yet been sent. What do you do in the meantime? How can you keep your focus, motivation, and sanity as you wait for the next step in what God has shown you to do? Don’t give up (you can’t, anyway. Try to run from it and God might send a big fish to bring you back)! For some, there is a clear reason for the wait. For others, the reasons never come to light. Either way, there is a great deal you can do to prepare and stay prepared to do what God has told you to do.

Calling

When we first started dialoguing with the IMB about becoming career missionaries, they really drove home the fact that we needed to be sure of our calling. We were asked to describe the occasion of our individual call to missions, and then we were to relay a time when that call was affirmed. We had to write out the experience. We had to answer questions about it. Some of us were asked to clarify the language of our call. To be hired by the Board, you have to be called. Why all the emphasis on calling?

Someone without a clear sense of calling won’t last on the field, they say. The Missionary in Residence shared about the importance of his call. “During those really tough times,” he said, “your call is all you have to hang on to.” The message is that the Board is going to great lengths to be sure you are called, so that they can support you and make it possible for you to follow it. Through all of this checking and double-checking of calls, it is never suggested that there might be some callings that fit in the Board’s strategy and others that don’t.

Although it is clear that the IMB goes through seasons of different emphasis, they have never said, “We’re a 10/40 window only Missions Sending Agency.” They continue to identify themselves as a global sending organization. “All the peoples of the world” they say. And so, knowing that my wife and I felt called to Western Europe, they hired us. Without giving us a heads up on the fact that we would not enjoy the Board’s fullest support, they sent us to Spain, apparently hoping that God would change our hearts and ask to be transferred to a “real” mission field like the China, “The Muslim World” or India.

I understand that an organization such as ours must have some corporate direction. As an agency, we need to be, at least at some level, unified in our strategy and vision. The IMB has a responsibility to send people that represent our convention’s churches. But our organization does not take a popular vote to decide its strategy. We rightfully allow our people in the field to be experts in their respective cultures and ministries. All the while, our massive promotional efforts work to educate Southern Baptists about missions and about the organization itself.