When your ministry plans don’t look like you thought

Reading Time: 4 minutes

ministry plans

I thought I had found it.

My niche, my place, my way to reach out and bring others in while living overseas.  I was a young mom of a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a newborn. At the preschool of my four-year-old, I was getting to know other moms.

I had a growing relationship with a young mom of a toddler who was soaking up our friendship and appreciative of the care and support I was giving her. She was introducing me to her friends who’d ask me questions about babies and parenting and marriage.

Reflecting on encouragement received as part of a mother’s group back in the U.S., I thought I could offer the same to these precious women: a mom’s group where I could encourage them, share truth and love, share hard-won wisdom from experience.

I could do this with my kids, not leaving them behind in the name of my ministry plans.

It seemed perfect.

I told my friend about my idea.  She agreed this was needed.  Her friends were lonely; they weren’t thriving as moms. She loved my perspective on motherhood and knew it would encourage these women.  She would talk to her friends.

I started a private Facebook page to share thoughts and Scripture. Prepared short messages to share with them when they came to my home. Made coffee and tea and cookies and prepared my living room.

And the entire thing fizzled.

MINISTRY PLANS: The Beginning of the End

We tried it for a few weeks.  One or two would come.  Their kids would cry and scream.  One even threw up on our bean bag chair.

The children frazzled their moms. I offered encouragement with a side of coffee.  They were too embarrassed by their children’s behavior to hear me.

My friend and I talked about what was going on.  She said they needed this type of group.  She knew that they needed support and a change of perspective.

But they didn’t want to sit around talking about being a mom.  They wanted to escape from thinking about this.

Basically, they didn’t want what I was offering.

When Your Ministry Plans are a No-Go

I felt discouraged.  I thought I had found the perfect situation to use my passion and stage of life to encourage others, invite them into my home, and speak to their hearts.  Wasn’t I meant to do this?

Disappointed and sad, I wondered if I even had a place.  I wanted so much to see why God had called me here, uprooted me from my home country to figure out life in a huge city in a different language.

If I could just have a ministry, then I could see how it is all worth it.

There was nothing wrong with trying this, but God quickly closed the door.

What didn’t happen

I’d like to tell you that a new door opened immediately, a wide-open door I was able to sail effortlessly through into a lovely field of “productive ministry.”

I wish that were so.

My calling has not panned out quite like that. I think that my life on the field has been one of being faithful with the small things before me.

When the group failed, I had a choice to make.

I could keep trying for what I was passionate to do and what I thought was “just perfect,” or I could let it go and focus on what God was bringing to me. I took my eyes off my project and looked at what was before me.

Two women continued to seek me out.  I chose to invest in those two. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time and effort that sometimes I didn’t want to do.

Then there were other relationships, one here, one there.  Different faces, different needs, similar efforts.

Over the years there have been various opportunities, unique projects, long-term and short-term relationships.  Sometimes I wish there was a certain “something” I could point to, a specific something with a name and a box it goes in.  Something that’s easy to understand or write about in a newsletter.

The unfortunate fizzle

Dear reader, it’s possible that your ministry plans will fizzle, too. I don’t wish that disappointment on anyone who has left home and father and mother to follow a calling from the Father.
I think these experiences can cause some of us to doubt if we’ve heard our “assignment” correctly.  We can wonder if we are even supposed to be overseas at all.
Should you find yourself in this place, on this path I walked, I pray for you to have the eyes to see when it is time to give that plan up to make room for whatever else might come. 

What comes is not always pretty and not everyone will understand. But if we’re made open for what God will do next, the stripping of our ministry plans is a mercy.

Sometimes the next step is small

And sometimes the “next” is small.  Sometimes the “next” doesn’t seem like much at all.

Do it faithfully.

We are not good judges of what makes something “worth it.”  How do you even measure that accurately?  I am not able to measure this because I don’t know the entire plan.  I don’t know the steps God needs to reach the ultimate goal of His glory in this country.

To say what God has called me to do is insignificant is to say that those lives are insignificant. And I can’t do that.

I had a few different ideas when I set out to make this country my home. (Vision is good to have!) And I built a few different ministry plans as I tried settling in.

But ultimately, I want to do what God sets before me.  He gets to assign the jobs.  I’m a part of His kingdom, after all.

Sarah has served  in the Middle East with her family for over nine years.

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Living in a Muslim country: How it changes me as a woman

Reading Time: 6 minutes

blend in anonymous sunglasses

I didn’t know exactly how living in a Muslim country would change me.

I thought it would change how I see the world.  It would impact how I understood people, I guessed.  I hoped it would give me greater understanding for others, their perspectives.

What I didn’t know, or even imagine, is that living in a Muslim country (well, majority-Muslim) would affect how I look at men and myself, literally and metaphorically. 

Bye-bye, Handshake

In many Muslim cultures, there is a larger separation between the genders than in typical Western societies.  This means men and women generally do not interact as freely or casually.

Some men and women do not even shake hands with the opposite gender.  This means that what is seen as socially acceptable, socially respectable, tends to be quite different from what I’m used to.  I hail from Texas, a friendly country where everyone smiles and greets each other and hardly anyone is a stranger.  Handshakes were a given and hugs were commonplace.

I didn’t know how challenging it would be to welcome people into my home, cook food for them, talk about life and faith, and then send them off with a nod of the head.  No handshake, no light punch on the shoulder.

And I certainly didn’t know that it would change how I interact with American men as well.  We all want to conduct our interactions in culturally-appropriate ways, so we drop the side-hug and simply wave hello. It feels strange to me.

I didn’t know living in a muslim country would affect how I look at men. literally.

In our Western cultures, eye contact is usually a way we show respect and interest in someone or in what that person is saying.  We make eye contact to greet people, eye contact to talk about life, eye contact to show that we see them.

Eye contact is not used so freely and casually in my current context.  When I am out walking around, I do not make eye contact with men on the street.  In fact, I usually wear big sunglasses to avoid it. 

Even if I stop to buy vegetables from a man I don’t know, I will barely look at him and focus my attention, very business-like, on the vegetables.  I don’t look down at my feet, but I don’t look in his eyes.

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

If my husband knows the man and the man knows us all as a family, I might be a little more relaxed in looking at him when we talk, but I will still use a very businesslike tone.

See, respectable women do not chat it up with men on the streets. 

Same goes for taxi or uber drivers.  They should not be asking my name (more on that later) or asking personal questions.  There is no need to carry on a conversation beyond directions to the exact location, if needed.

Back to eye contact.  I didn’t realize how I would internalize the rules.  How I would struggle when back in Texas to make eye contact with men again.

The Spin Class Story

I can distinctly remember a time when we were back in Texas and I decided to take a spinning class (an indoor bicycle fitness class).  Since it was my first time, the instructor, who was a man about 10 years my senior, helped to adjust my bike while I stood nearby.

As he made polite and very reasonable conversation, I found myself looking down at the bike and giving very short answers.  I wouldn’t look at him.  I was feeling uncomfortable.  Then it dawned on me: No one in that room was going to think I was disrespecting my husband by talking with the instructor in this situation.

This interaction was very normal in this setting and even if I had become chatty about all things bicycles, I still would have appeared normal.  I had to make myself relax.

I noticed these same tendencies many more times during that stay in Texas.  Over the years since that time I have been able to adjust a little better.  This often takes a little bit of conscious effort to recognize where I am and to let myself be a little bit Texan.

How Living in a Muslim Country Affects How I Feel about…Myself

I didn’t know how living in a Muslim country–in a culture that is very conservative–would impact how I felt in my own skin.

I tend to stand out among the crowd on the street.  My looks aren’t Middle Eastern.  I look like a foreign woman and foreign women have a reputation for having loose morals.

This means that I’m often working against the question of “Is she like what we see in movies?  Is she a desperate housewife, too?” 

Even as the clothing styles are changing here–going back to knee-length skirts in some areas, sport leggings, sleeveless tops–I’m careful about how and where I participate in fashion trends.  I already stand out and I don’t desire more attention.

I didn’t know how observant I would become about what other women wear…and about how the West looks from here. 

I’m very uncomfortable when I see tourist women wearing clothing that is not conservative.  I am uncomfortable for them, recognizing they don’t know the message they are sending.

Watching American movies and TV shows, I think, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want my daughter to grow up in the West if this is really a completely accurate picture.”

I see the casual sex, the friends with benefits, the revealing clothing, and I know that for people who don’t know America, they don’t know that some of that is just Hollywood.  Not all college students are crazy drunks who party and sleep around.  Not all housewives are looking for a fling on the side.

It’s worth noting here that just as not all Americans hold loose morals, not all Arabs are terrorists and not all Arabs are Muslim and not all people living in the Middle East are Arabs.  Let us not fall into the trap of stereotyping, either.

What’s in a Name

I didn’t know that I would sometimes struggle with my own name. In this culture, a woman does not give out her first name. 

I have a Middle Eastern friend who has lived in the same building all her life and the doorman there does not know her first name.  He simply calls her “Engineer” now that she is an engineer.  The produce man calls me by my husband’s name.  Yes, that’s correct, he calls me by a man’s first name.

It’s a little awkward at first.

Taxi drivers should not ask for my name, shopkeepers should not ask for my name.  But they do sometimes, because they try to push the boundaries of propriety and respect with me because I’m foreign and might be ok with it.  I always reply, “My husband’s name is…”.

And then there’s Starbucks (or any other chain coffeeshop) and I get confused at what name I should have on my cup.  My name?  My husband’s name?  When did this become the difficult part about ordering?!

(In actuality, it’s fine for me to use my first name at these venues that are very Western.  It has been interesting, however, to see how I stop for a moment and wonder what to say for my name.)

LIVING IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY: Why Following Their Cultural Rules Matters to Me

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

I didn’t know about these aspects of change and adjustment that I would experience living in a Muslim country.  As I live this life out, as I live my life in a way that loves my neighbors and loves the God who loves them enough to send His own Son as a sacrifice, I am willing to adjust and adapt, to be mindful and to change.

Sometimes those adjustments are difficult. They cause me to look inside at how I see myself and how I see others. 

All of these cause me to look to God and ask Him to show me what is good and right, what is important and valuable.  And being reminded to lean on His ways? That’s always a good thing.

 

About the author: Sarah has served overseas for nine years.

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Advice for a Young Missionary: Geraldine’s Story

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advice for a young missionary

Editor’s note: Glen and Geraldine are what you might call old-school missionaries. They arrived in Ukraine in 1994, back when big bangs were cool and the Iron Curtain had recently fallen hard across Europe–and the dust was still settling. (Would you believe these two briefly tangled with the Ukrainian mafia?)

We asked Geraldine what she’d tell a young missionary over coffee–because though a lot has changed since perms were hot, we can gain so much wisdom through ministry vets. Here’s what Geraldine had to say. 

Be 100% CONFIDENT OF your “why”.

First of all, for the prospective missionary, I would definitely recommend that he or she is completely confident in God’s power and Great Commission. There are many adversaries or even those who are against foreign missions.

For example, we had friends who were missionaries to the Jewish people who actually tried to dissuade us from coming to Ukraine. We should consider, they said, the language barrier, the difficult cultural differences, and the anti-American sentiment.

As a missionary, you’ll be challenged with these issues regardless of where you serve.  

Be confident of what God’s called you to–because you’ll inevitably withstand times of significant obstacles, fear, pain–and yes, questioning if you’re in the right place: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20). 

advice for a young missionary

Keep your lifestyle/housing simple or consistent with the people you serve.

We rented a Ukrainian house and didn’t furnish it with anything American. We wanted Ukrainians to feel comfortable around us.

Of course, there were a few things that I personally brought for myself: books, devotionals, recipes for our favorite foods.

Here’s the advice for a young missionary which someone gave me: Bring essential items for your kids–certain games, movies, and toys so that they would feel more at home. For children, the cultural transition is much more difficult, especially if the son or daughter is a pre-teen or teenager.

It’s also important to engage in special occasions for them–such as birthdays, academic accomplishments, sleepovers, sporting events (we had basketball and volleyball games).

Plan for pain.

One event that really impacted our family: Church problems we experienced in 1996. After two years, we had certain people that were opposed to my husband’s leadership. Some people walked away and others complained about us.

We had to spend much time in prayer and examine our lives and ministry before the Lord. We never wanted to hurt anyone, but the enemy was working. This is very common. Before making any major decisions, consider the fallout, although things do happen that are out of our control.

We basically had to start over again in the church until the Lord provided a godly Ukrainian leader/pastor, This was hard for us, yet we never thought about quitting or returning home–there was too much at stake.

ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: Be prepared and have the courage to trust God for difficult, painful circumstances.

In 2003, we moved out to the village to evangelize and hopefully start a church.

Life was so hard. People weren’t friendly. We had to walk to the village well to draw our drinking water. We’d burn our own trash because they refused to collect ours.

We had Ukrainians working in our home for remodeling purposes, and their work wasn’t good. After we paid them lots of money, they demanded more. When we refused, they took us to court. They paid the judge a bribe so we would lose our case and our home.

It was so difficult. We prayed a lot. My husband hired a Ukrainian lawyer and she took pictures of the work. She actually won our case, but then we were forced to sell our home. Some of these men were associated with the mafia and we didn’t want to take any chances.

My husband sent our son and me out of the country back to the States. We prayed and ask others to pray as well.

Glen sold our house within one month–which was a miracle! After this, we left Ukraine for about one year.

don’t let marriage and family fall prey to ministry.

The demands, trauma, and pull of the mission field have torn apart too many marriages.

My advice for a young missionary: Always pour unconditional love, support, and sacrifice into each other’s lives for God’s honor and glory–no matter the needs “out there.”

Glen and I always prayed together as a couple and as a family.

(Editor’s note: Don’t miss Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together.)

Missionaries we met while raising support encouraged us to never allow ministry to become more important than our families. We remembered that and took one day a week to spend time together at the park, the shopping malls, or watching a movie at home. No interferences.

We spent time together talking about life with our kids and any issues they were encountering.

advice for a young missionary

Stay aware of and responsive to your kids’ holistic experience.

One of the biggest mistakes we personally made was to send our son to a Ukrainian school while we were attending the Kyiv University for language. During that time in Ukraine, the prejudice was real. Ben was about nine years old.

We eventually brought him home. I wish we could have afforded private school, but the prices were too expensive. So we had to homeschool–another challenge.

Your kids’ educational and cultural experiences are so important, so research your options thoroughly, visit schools, talk to other parents, and plan wisely for the education that will make up their days and much of their cultural experience. 

FINAL ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: When It’s Time…

Some missionaries have left the field due to health, marital issues, problems with their children. Regardless of where we live and serve, God can use you. You don’t have to feel like your life is over!

We follow him wherever he leads us–to the mission field or elsewhere. Our ministry doesn’t define us. It’s our relationship with God that’s so important.

Pray for Your Mission Field: 10 Ways [Printable]

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Sure, you may not be there yet.

But from the beginning of time, God has already preparing his field, his connections, his ways–so you arrive at just the right time, to share the hope you have with the people he’s planned. You’re part of the Body of Christ not just in this moment, but in history as God’s Gospel sweeps the globe.

And in tandem with the Holy Spirit, your personal work in this common mission can begin far before you set foot in a nation–if you set foot in it at all.

Right this minute, how can you pray for your mission field? How might God respond

We’ve got 10 ways, 10 verses.

PRINT HERE: 10 SCRIPTURES TO PRAY FOR YOUR MISSION FIELD.

pray for your mission field

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

May God multiply His willing response as you pray for your mission field.

Can’t get enough? Grab more printable resources.

Does Christianity destroy culture?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

christianity destroy culture

Photo credit: IMB.org

Editor’s note: We’re pulling this post from the archives to answer a key recurring question: Does Christianity destroy culture? Are you importing Western culture when you bring the Gospel? We weigh in. 

If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

Gotta admit. At a refugee-center staff retreat, I started as a mild observer. I marveled at the literal full-bodied movement and vocalization: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes.

Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

After a rousing snippet of this kind of worship in staff devotions the week before, I’d told the teachers, this is just a sliver of what the African church offers the world. Every culture has its own strengths, its own vibrant display of the image of God.

And when Jesus comes, I will have watched so many cultures become the truest version of themselves.

Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together

Reading Time: 4 minutes

missionary marriage

Years ago, my husband and I talked about how to help missionary friends on the field in struggles they were working through in a marriage. The couple was fairly new on the field.

It was tough, we acknowledged: A missionary marriage was like a pressure cooker, intensifying whatever flavors were first lobbed in the pot. If basil, you tasted its nuance in the entire dish. If a sweaty gym sock? Well.

Make no mistake: Your marital issues and strengths will arrive with you on the field with more certainty than your luggage. But it’s critical you don’t let living overseas just happen to your marriage.

Because the natural course of marriage isn’t toward being one flesh, toward unity. It’s toward isolation, disconnection. But “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

What relationships will you feed while overseas?

You may not mind giving from your marriage to outside ministry. It’s quite possible you’re eager to share! Yet that flexibility and generosity flow best when marriage and ministry work as allies—not  competitors.

For FamilyLife.com, I recently wrote the article, “Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.” That piece is far more comprehensive. But before I direct you there, let’s have some specific straight talk on your soon-to-be missionary marriage.

Actively stay alert for signs of isolation.

I currently live in Colorado, a state notorious for deal-breaking foundation cracks in a home–cracks costing thousands of dollars to fix while you move out. So I keep an eye on cracks in plaster, in drywall, that could indicate a bigger problem–which I’d rather solve as early as possible.

The priority of your missionary marriage remains critical overseas. It speaks the Gospel to your family, not just an unreached people group or the world “out there”. And experiencing God’s love regularly also means you regularly experience that you are loved; that you are more than what you do for God.

It’s the same strategy for your marriage. Keep an eye out for warning signs:

  • constant bickering
  • a feeling of resentment
  • temptation toward an emotional or physical affair
  • a loss of respect
  • porn use, or other addictions
  • apathy toward your spouse
  • inability to recover from trauma, issues with kids, or other obstacles
  • isolation; finding yourself “holding back” from your spouse
  • mental health issues, like depression or anxiety (common struggles overseas)
  • lack of regular, fulfilling sex

See more on these warning signs here. 

Your ministry marriage can flounder—or flourish, should you invest in displaying the gospel intently there.

Understand your tendencies in navigating stress and trauma.

When I was about to deliver my first child, the instructor asked us where in our bodies we carry our stress. (I carry mine in my jaw, my shoulders.) This is a similar exercise as you prepare for stress. Are you prone toward depression? Workaholism? People-pleasing? Being gruff with your spouse?

Living cross-culturally, you’re more often in the stressed version of yourself (see this post for more ideas of what the stressed version of yourself might look like, including these on the stressed version of your marriage and the stressed version of your parenting).

Can you already anticipate the stressed version of your missionary marriage, and be ready with healthy coping mechanisms, truths to tell yourself, and ways to bridge the gap?

Many sending agencies now require mental health evaluations before you head overseas for these very reasons, and several more.

For those of you going to developed countries, the closer you are to the poor, the more you experience their hardship and heartache. Your probability of trauma skyrockets.

Make no mistake: God will triumph through your darkest days overseas. But starting from a place of health, with a number of robust coping mechanisms in place, means you stay longer and stronger overseas, without the wave of trauma capitulating you as easily.

Don’t hesitate to get counseling before you go, even JUST for evaluative reasons.

Family friends headed overseas racked up well over twenty medical appointments before they left: immunizations. Examinations. Checking out weird little problems they didn’t want to rear their ugly heads in a nation with less developed medical care.

We need the same mindset with our hearts, minds, and marital relationships before heading into the pressure cooker of a missionary marriage.

What could use a tune-up? And if you don’t know…will you make the effort to find out?

Many counselors can continue long-distance video counseling, and many sending organizations are happy to provide the counseling you need overseas.

Make sure you talk about the mutuality of your “call”.

Don’t miss our post, “Help! I Don’t Feel as ‘Called’ as My Spouse.” 

All right, I’m ready now–if you’ve managed to hang in there all this time, jump on over to Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.”

 

Sure, your marriage reciprocates in every area of service you put your hands to. But even if you were only experiencing Jesus more in your own marriage? That alone honors and delights Him.

Do the hard work to deeply nourish the relationships that matter most–and not just “out there”.

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

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This Mission is His: Timothy’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

this mission is his

photo credit: IMB.org

Go. Serve. Love is happy to welcome Timothy, a student with Fusion, the dynamic missions program at Spurgeon College in Kansas City, Missouri. 

The sun beat down on the back of my neck as I struggled to will each step forward.

I looked up to see our guide Mamoudou (Mah-mu-doo) just ahead of me. Our group had been walking for what seemed like miles down a long, dusty road, greeted only by the occasional motorcyclist. It was already well over a hundred degrees, even though it had not yet reached midday–and I was low on water and motivation.

A Muslim shepherd had asked us to teach in a nearby settlement of nomadic Fulani shepherds. We excitedly accepted the invitation, but I secretly doubted anything would come of it.

Finally, Mamoudou pointed across the fields to a cluster of huts.

As we approached, two children emerged, wearing traditional braids, coins, and vibrant garb. Seeing our strange group, they quickly disappeared shouting.

Moments later, two women approached us, hesitatingly greeting us and asking questions. Mamoudou explained that we had been invited by the old Fulani shepherd.

But our joy quickly faded as we learned that the shepherd was not home; we had just missed him. Discouraged and exhausted, we asked if we could briefly rest in the shade before heading back to our village. It felt like a wasted day, and we didn’t have very many left in Africa.

As we rested, several curious children stood at a distance to watch us. Soon they were joined by herdsmen who had come in from the fields. Before long, a crowd of nearly thirty Fulani were standing around us, awkwardly observing.

“Trust and Obey” Looks Like This

Seeing an opportunity, Mamoudou pulled out the picture book that we used to tell the story from creation to Christ. As we started to teach, more gathered to listen.

We told about the Creator and his perfect design for the world, we told them about our sin which separates us from him, we told them about the Savior who died and rose again, and we told them about the imminent return of the Lord to judge all the earth according to his righteousness.

When we finished, the shepherds eagerly invited us to come back. We joyfully set out, exulting in the goodness of God!

After all, this mission is His.

Mamoudou told us this was the first time these shepherds had ever heard about Jesus. We rejoiced even more knowing that we were fulfilling the command to preach the gospel to all creation (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).

Two years have passed since that visit, but I still think back on it often. I learned two lessons that I won’t easily forget.

1. THIS MISSION IS HIS. Followers are called to obey, regardless of the outcome.

The Fusion creed, a concise statement about the life of a believer, declares,

As a follower of Christ, I am called not to comfort or success but to obedience.

When I woke up that morning, walking out to the Fulani settlement was the last thing I wanted to do. And after learning that we had missed the old shepherd, I was quick to label our morning a failure.

But I am called not to comfort or success, but to obedience. And this mission is His.

And Christ commands us as followers, with no exemptions, to

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Obeying this command is rarely comfortable or successful by the world’s standards, but we who proclaim Christ as Lord are called to obey nonetheless.

2. THIS MISSION IS HIS. Followers are called to trust, regardless of the circumstances.

Jesus bookends the Great Commission with two statements in Matthew 28.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]

… Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Despite difficult circumstances, followers of Christ trust in him, knowing that the mission belongs to him.

My teammates and I never imagined so many would hear the gospel for the first time. In my discouragement, I failed to understand that our day was not wasted.

I did not consider that the One who created all things, who knows the name of every Fulani shepherd, and who cares for them far more than I ever could, had a much better plan in store.

The aim of missions is to glorify God. But it’s easy to lose this vision when we make things about us.

We experience the true joy of being gospel witnesses when we trust and obey Him, regardless of the outcome or expense. May our hearts be humbled to understand our smallness, may our minds confidently trust in our Father, and may our feet be quick to obey him.

This mission is his–and he is Lord.

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Going Overseas? Prepare for Scars

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Recently I sat with another missionary, stocking feet curled beneath us. We were reflecting on some of the more painful parts of missionary life.

I’m talking things that were hard to understand if you hadn’t been overseas, hadn’t had moments in a foreign land defined by sacrifice or loss. They were like scars, covered by clothing. read more

Help! I don’t feel as “called” as my spouse

Reading Time: 7 minutes

don't feel as called

Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”

Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.

I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.

Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.

You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.

(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)

Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.

But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.

I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)

I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.

(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)

I can only tell you what I know.

own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called

This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.

But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.

When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.

During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)

I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.

He said something like,
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Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.

And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.

I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.

There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 

That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.

dont feel as called

Whose Calling is More Important?

“Calling” gets tricky these days. It can be wielded as “a rubber stamp from God on doing what I really, really want.”

It can also be a mystical, vague buzzword that gets us hung up.

And the truth is, “calling” gets tricky in a marriage. Because few of us have had actual writing on the wall. For most of us calling is less “I’ve heard an audible Word from God–and more synthesizing passions with Scripture and the world’s need.

It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.

But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.

What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?

Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
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In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.

Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.

Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?

Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.

But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)

And God is the author of women’s dreams, too; check out Jesus’ words to a woman about the priority of following him over family.

What now?

Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.

This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

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