When God Calls You Off the Mission Field
One of my clearest memories from my seven years in East Asia is lying inside a nomad tent, under a blue tarp, while rain gently drummed my entire body. I was alone — alone in the sense that there was no one like me for miles and miles around.
Baby yaks stirred within arms reach on one side, and a family of nomads with wild hair snored on the other. How did a girl from the suburbs of Minnesota get here? I thought.
It was a feeling of elation, as I had long yearned to live among this unreached people group. But it was also a feeling of “Well, this is kind of an unpleasant situation.”
I mean, I never thought that yak hair tents might not be waterproof. Or that the floor of the tent might actually be nothing more than the muddy ground. Or that there would be feces. Lots of it. Right next to me.
One thing I did know was that whether this moment was a fulfillment of a dream or just an uncomfortable night, it was God who had led me to this moment, to this place, to this circumstance.
A few years later, I had a similar experience. This time, I was staying in a picturesque American home: wrap around porch, espresso machine, beds with quilts and central air. A colicky newborn who never stopped crying, despite every herculean effort, and a sick toddler with seemingly endless medical needs were increasingly becoming my sole focus.
Cleaning up puke and feeling nauseous, myself, from sheer exhaustion, I thought, How did a girl who used to ride horses to nomad camps in the mountains of Asia get here?
And the answer clearly came to me: God. It was God who had led me to this moment, to this place, to this circumstance.
We all can probably agree that life often doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to. One of those hard moments of realization came for me when our 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with multiple, life-long, significant health conditions. We were shocked, unprepared and floundering.
All of a sudden, our missionary home assignment became an extended stay in the U.S. We found ourselves needing a place to live and a job for my husband while trying to navigate the medical and insurance systems in America.
We were right in the middle of a full-on crisis. We were soon face-to-face with the possibility that a return to the mission field might not be possible. It felt like a death. We never thought we would one day say goodbye to serving overseas. The loss felt immense, and grief was too near for too long.
There have been many days where the phrase that consumes me is, “This is not what my life was supposed to be.” My plan was not that my husband would have a nine to five job in the U.S. or that I would be found inside the four walls of my home, blowing noses and wiping tushes or carting around kids to therapy appointments and doctor visits.
My plan was exciting. Going to the ends of the earth to share the good news with those who have never heard. This was the sacrifice I was prepared to make. That, I thought, is a satisfying life.
But what happens when God asks something else of you?
What happens when God says stay, when all you really want to do is go?
The same God who called us to the mountains of East Asia lovingly ordained circumstances in our lives which currently prevent us from returning. He gave us a beautifully sweet little girl, who most likely will never see the sun rise over the sleepy, snowy villages we came to love so fiercely.
He gave us a child who may never know the people we came to know so intimately as “Auntie,” “Sister” and “Mother.” It is a loss. We grieve for her. We grieve for ourselves. We grieve for our 3-year-old son who says he wants to go on a plane and see that place “inside and outside.”
One thing we know: God is good. His mercies are new every morning. He is always present. Every good and perfect gift is from him. He is completing his work in us, and he will fulfill his purposes.
Slowly, over the last few years, everything I’ve been ready to “offer” God has been stripped away. Morning sickness, a new baby, illness, depression, disability, transition — all of this has stripped me of my ability to “sacrifice” for God’s kingdom in the way I wanted to. God had something more important to teach me.
When I didn’t have anything left that I felt was a worthy sacrifice to give, I only had one option left: Obey or don’t obey.
Obey, even if he asks us to go to a place we never thought we’d go, or where we never wanted to go, or where we didn’t think was even worth going.
So where do I go from here? I am confident that God desires our family to be planted here in the United States for this season. How can I remain obedient to my missionary calling and the Great Commission as I live the life of a young mom in suburbia?
1. I can look for what God is doing in the moment. I can decide not to wish that my circumstances were different than what God has ordained. I can rejoice in what I see and be thankful.
2. I can look for what God wants to do through me in the moment. His purposes are for everyone and for everywhere in this big and amazing world. Who am I to say what part of his story he wants me to play? I get to point people to Christ wherever I happen to be. How great is that?
3. I can remember the rest of the world. While God is asking me to be fully present and engaged in my current circumstances, the needs of the world remain. As a follower of Christ, I have the responsibility and privilege to be involved. Praying, giving, recruiting, educating and training for global missions are just a few ways I can stay engaged in the big picture of God’s expanding kingdom.
4. I can obey in the big things and the small things. Because really, only God gets to decide if something is big or small.
I have been surprised. Life in the U.S. doesn’t actually feel all that different from living overseas.
Sure, I can have a shower every day if I want to, and there is a larger variety of what I consider palatable snack food, but loving God and loving people looks a whole lot the same, whether you’re here or there. Sharing Jesus in word and in action requires similar thought and willingness.
The blessing of knowing Jesus through life’s trials or through the happy parts of life are each sweet in its own way. And I wouldn’t trade his ways for anything. I can trust God to be God, and by his grace, I will follow joyfully.
37 CommentsLeave a comment
incredible. thanks deb
Thank you for sharing your story so honestly, vulnerably, and hopefully. Your words encourage me. I spent 10 years in East Asia. As I process my journey, I’m thankful for some fresh perspective.
Blessings in Christ,
Thank you for a good perspective all of us need to hear. We all have a place in His plan…one we should not miss.
Deb! What a journey you have been on! Though our circumstances are different , our journey is much the same. You may remember the huge change our church had in going from a nondenominational charismatic churcb to a reformed presbyterian litergical church. I wept for 2 years feeling so disapointed and confused This is not what I waneed but it was where my husband said we should stay. It was a battle to try not to become bitter. I must say I did not do it well. I had to learn to trust that God knew better than me and that he was fullfilling his purpose for me. I know that your heart longs to be in missions but as you know your children are a mission field. God is so amazing! When we submit to his will and allow him to change us , we become who he has called us to be! I’m excited to see what God has in store for you Debbie! This journey alone can give so many people hope and encouragement! Thank you for sbaring!
Thanks, Deb! My path has been different, but I can so relate to your thoughts and feelings. Here is a quote from David Jeremiah’s study on the life of Joseph that spoke to me recently: “Joseph focused mainly on being faithful in the moment.” Sounds like you have found that place in life.
Thank you, Deb, for this very well written and excellent article. I believe you got right to the heart of the matter. God IS good. And we can choose to obey Him by faith. And that God decides which matters are small or large! I praise God for all the grace He is giving to you and Ryan during this season. You are glorifying Christ by your willing and joyful obedience.
God has his own ways,tailored for each one of us.
This was fabulous! I’m currently helping with a debrief for workers. This story will bring hope to many! Thank you for sharing!
Deb you always will be God’s daughter serving in the field or serving your family, blessings!
Thank you! Your thoughts are often ours as well. It sure was/is a blessing to see how your lived your lives there and how you are living it now here in America. We really miss and love you and your family very much! May God bless you as you live your life for His glory now.
Love in Christ Jesus our Lord,
wade and sylvia
Deb! Loved your story. Me identifico en muchas cosas. Igual tengo deseos de estar en misiones, de hacer mucho más de lo que ahora hago , pero igual tengo un hijo con necesidades especiales y por el momento sólo espero la voluntad de Dios! Gracias por compartir !
Such beautiful, raw words Deb. Praying for you and your family as you continue to navigate your day-to-day. As you continue to find God in the small and big moments. As you continue to trust your life into His hands.
You truly are an amazing example of a woman wholly devoted to her God.
I always enjoy reading what you’ve written. Thanks for sharing, Deb, and for reminding all of us of God’s incredible faithfulness.
Really wonderful article, thanks so much for sharing this.
so honest…so real…so uplifting!
Thanks for sharing Deb. I can relate
Our family just came home from Guatemala a few days after you wrote this.
My husband and I are not so happy to be back. The kids are ok, but would love to go back too. But, the door closed for us there. Just today in church they announced that a team is headed to Haiti in the morning. We both looked at eachother and said that we wish we could GO! Instead we are faced with school and work, running kids to sports stuff, and just a lot of business it seems. And, we have come home to be sure to meet the needs of our kids and aging parents that could not be met there.
As I write this I’m reminded that the seed is choked by life’s worries, etc. So, yes, we can find ways to be about global missions while we are here. To be about Kingdom work, and not choked by life’s worries and business.
Blessings to you. I’m guessing God’s not done with you, as He’s tried to tell me a few times that He’s not done with me.
Thanks for sharing from your heart Deb. Your article was very powerful.
Hi. Thank you for sharing your heart in what is a situation so like our family’s situation in so many ways!!! I was so encouraged! My family and I returned to the USA in December from working with Chinese in Peru, South America, for what we thought was to be a short stateside assignment time. We had tickets to return to our home there, because we thought that was God’s plan, we loved what we were doing, are called to missions, and that was HOME! During our time in the States, through a series of circumstances, we heard God very clearly saying, “I want you to stay here in the USA.” This was not what we wanted to hear, and we are still going through this very difficult transition – I think the most difficult one in my life! We have grieved this great loss, too, and yes, it has been like a death. We are still looking for jobs for my husband and myself. God has brought us to the same places that He has you – and we just want to obey – whatever that looks like. We know that this is His plan for us right now. He has been so good to provide for every need we have had – I give Him the glory and praise for that!!!
I just wanted to let you know that there are others – many others, especially as many m’s in our mission organization have been called home from the field recently – who are experiencing these same growing pains! Our Father God is so good, though, and faithful to keep us faithful to Himself! I am so thankful!! May God continue to use you and your family for His glory where He has led and planted you for now!!
I have been serving as a missionary for 2 years. I am supposed to be here for a 4 year term. But what I thought I would be doing is much different and I don’t feel this is a good fit. There are locals here who could perform my function, better than me. My senior missionary and board both say this is normal 1st term stuff. I want to go back to the states. Should I stick it out or go back to a job that is a good fit?
God has never allowed us the journey of overseas mission work. Now that we are edging into our retirement years, God has dealt us a U-turn in life. We have begun to prepare a place for missionaries to “come home to”. Instead of taking off in an RV exploring this great country of ours, we are re-furbishing an old Bed-And-Breakfast into a place for missionaries to live in while home on furlough or just back from the mission fields.
I don’t know where God will take this, but when the renovations are done, our 5 bedroom, 5 bath home will be available at no cost to missionaries needing a place to stay near the Cincinnati, Ohio area, whether for a day or 3 days or 3 months. We have never been in the hospitality industry, but God has always seen our open heart for missionaries, and is allowing us to serve His faithful people in this humble way.
We believe the building itself will be ready for occupancy near the end of 2017. If anyone reading this needs a place after that time, please feel free to contact us. If anyone knows of any place else that shares this aspect of missionary support (having a place for missionaries to feel at home while away from their mission home), please let us know. I believe that this is a real need across the country, and would like to establish a network of like-minded locations.
I know of place. I have had the opportunity to live it for a little while. It’s about to die. It shouldn’t die. I don’t know how to continue it. To preserve its connections that have far reaching over the years.
I was excited to read your comment, even though it was from three years ago. With this time of Covid being perhaps the exception, are you still offering this home to missionaries? I work with the Member Care department of our organization and am always looking for resources to provide for our missionaries. I would love to add you to our list.
Also, because I have collected resources, I do know of several others doing what you describe. I can share that list with you if you like. My email address is Lauraleighanderson@hotmail.com.
I have a dream to do this myself one day. I currently have a small two bedroom condo so it’s not ideal but I open my doors to missionaries whenever I can!
Hi Lee, Did you make you missionary home? My husband and I are looking for a place to stay as we are back from Cambodia.
Thank you Deb for encouragement that most may not understand until they answer God’s call to go….
Thanks for your insight, We went to do short and then longer missions with a disabled daughter left behind. She has a support system that we trust. She is 27 and lives in a group home and works at a facility for handicapped people. The hardest part of being away for months at a time is the difficulties of communicating through FaceTime and phone calls. As her mom, I am her closet friend and ally, or to her,at times her enemy. Sometimes I wonder how all this will work out and if I am doing the right thing by boing gone so far away. Her father is gone longer than I, usually.
Thank you for sharing here on your blog. I googled “life after missions” for some clear support after closing our non profit of 18 years. Feeling out of sorts yet still even closer in my relationship with Christ. Simply seeking some wisdom to get through the adjustment of life away from the outreach center as I soak with Abba in this season of life given. Have been diagnosed with a rare blood disease that almost took my life in India and am now home painting as I worship. Holding tight to our Savior’s love and grace over my life. The waves of not being on the front lines vs being in a safe home in the quiet can come upon me like a deep ocean. Your blog helped me for that quick moment remembering that Abba still has use of my life for His Glory. May He continue in us all. With love…thanks for your blog. In Christ
I so needed this today. I realized that I have put a limit on my sacrifice…willing to be overseas but pretty unwilling to bear the trials that are ‘unending’. Thank you.
this is awounderful organisation God touched you to help the widows.i would like God will speak of the same and expand it allover the world.more especially kenya,i will be glad.in any occation invite me to come to learn more and witness the way God do miracles.
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve struggled since returning to the US after an unexpected and premature end to a ministry. Then panic set in when the option I longed for the last 2 years to return to the field became available. Why am I feeling absolutely panicked when I should be feeling elated and enthusiastic??? I’m feeling so confused right now. Is the Holy Spirit directing me to stay Stateside or is the enemy filling me with these feelings of anxiety. I just don’t have peace.
Since my response is so delayed, you may already have made this big decision! I actually think having anxiety about heading back (or staying for that matter!) is pretty normal. When BIG changes happen, especially ones that you are not expecting, it takes significant time and energy to process. And then, if that thing that has been processed gets turned on its head and offered to you again, I can understand how your mind went into a tailspin! You would need to draw on reserves of energy that may be depleted from ALREADY walking through a similar huge change in the not so distant past.
Although I can’t speak for whether or not your anxiety is a sign that you should stay or go, I think it is good that you are recognizing it. I also think it is important to figure out the source of those feelings. While stress should be expected, if there is a particular area that is causing concern, it is probably wise to see it for what it is and address it.
No matter where you end up, there will be losses (and gains, too, of course!). There are lots of costs on both sides, and grieving those losses will be an important part of your journey. God bless you as you move forward!
Deb, I am a former missionary, in Rwanda, and now writing a second book collecting insights God has given me over the years. I want to include the story of Jacob’s departure from the land of promise to “go down to Egypt,” and Jacob’s fear of missing out on the promise if he does go to Egypt. God reassured him that he could go without fear, and that God would bring him back. It seems to me your story could be an illustration of this account. If you are willing, may I include just a bit of it in my piece? Feel free to contact me if you see this,
You are welcome to use my account if it would be helpful. Blessings to you as you share your journey with others!
It’s been four years since you wrote this. I don’t know if you will get this but we are on the mission field. It was my husbands idea to come so I full heartedly embraced it. With everything within me. I worked long into the night getting rid of everything except what fit into our suitcases. I’ll never forget sitting on the floor watching everything I had worked over in stewardship as a housewife be taken out by a missionary organization. Then we returned after ten months due to medical bills. We came back to the mission field and again my husband is saying I don’t want to be here. He wants to go to America. I’m afraid of America. I have survivors guilt. After living in a society of people whose idea of a good life is living in the equivalent of a garage with 5-10 people. I don’t even know that I could ever have peace again. But I know I can’t be a legalistic person I this regard. He does not want to be here and it is not necessary to salvation to be here. I will never forget being here. I failed and grew as a mother here. God conquered strongholds in my life here. There is work to be done here. So I send this out into face book land wondering if anyone but God will see this but recognizing that unless my husband heart changes and since this is a free will issue I accept the call back to america. But where there is no cultural change or language barrier I had better be bolder than I have ever been before when I return.
I don’t know whether you have had any change in your situation. You have made huge sacrifice in the love of God. Whatever happens, wherever you end up, whether people around you make mistakes, whatever you did for the least of these you did for Jesus and love never fails. Faith, hope and love are what will remain, and the greatest of these is love.
Thank you for sharing your story here. I left the field of my own volition and still sometimes struggle with the loss – I can only imagine the complicating feelings when you feel as if you had no or little choice.
I was wondering if you have any particular resources that helped you with this transition? Books, blogs, retreats, debriefings, ministries, etc? I am developing a Member Care department for our ministry and I have a Departure Program in it’s pilot program phase. I would like to develop a version of it specifically for Unexpected Departures as they are often so different. So any resources will be helpful. I will be adding a link to your article on my resource page as just hearing other people’s stories can be so helpful.
I work in East Africa and specifically in Tanzania. Thank you for being vulnerable and for sharing this with us