We sat in the campus cafeteria and talked about Jesus. I told Cathy about how our sins keep us away from God and why we can’t make our own way back to him. I shared about how Jesus came to save us through his death and resurrection. And when I asked her if she wanted to confess Christ as her Lord and Savior, she said yes.
“Are you sure?”
I was surprised at her eagerness (it was the first time we’d ever met) and I wanted to let her know there would be a cost. It wouldn’t be easy. God said there would be hardships. It would mean obedience to his will. Some say you’d have to be crazy to follow Jesus. She should think more about it.
Yes, she was sure. And, 11 years later, I remember her next words verbatim:
“Because I always knew there was a Lord and that he could save us— I just didn’t know his name.”
We prayed together and I gave her a copy of the New Testament. I suggested she start reading the gospels, expecting her to read a chapter or two, and was astonished a few days later at how she much progress she’d made (I think she finished all of Matthew). After I flew back to the States, we e-mailed back and forth. She was enjoying her new relationship with God and went to one of the local Bible study groups near her university. Back in her hometown though, she wasn’t going to church because there weren’t any.
Cathy and I have since lost touch, but her words changed me. The trip where I met her was among the first of many subsequent missions trips to Central and East Asia. Overseas, I gained firsthand knowledge of the need for the gospel and for gospel-workers, and the immensity of this need wrecked me. As people eagerly received the good news, I didn’t understand how I could not go. At one point, I e-mailed my whole family and told them that I was going to move overseas, and would have ended up going if there had been one other teammate to go with.
God’s had other plans for my life but for years I wrestled, sometimes on this blog, with how to think about my calling as a mom and in the local church while the need for workers overseas was so great. I’d experienced that, as Jesus said, the fields are ripe for harvest but the workers are few! And it took a while for me to reconcile global missions with my growing passion for the local church and work as a mom.
These days, I no longer deal with guilt about serving God where he has called me. He has called me in this season to be a stay-at-home mom whose work with my family glorifies him. He has called me to serve his people in the local church, and to employ my gifts to edify the body of Christ.
So what then, when I’m in the throes of diaper changing or riding the train in the zoo with my kids or preparing for Sunday worship and God reminds me that there are billions overseas who, like Cathy, have yet to hear the precious name of Jesus? What do I do when I probably won’t be able to join a short-term trip for a while with 3 little people at home? When I see the need, how do I not make one calling subservient to another (just raise your children to be missionaries!) or become defensive about my work locally (why go overseas when there’s so much need here?)
A few years ago, I wrote a list of personal convictions for life (like a version of Jonathan Edward’s resolutions but much, much less intense) and concerning missions wrote this:
“To, wherever I may be, ask God and consider how my position and resources could be leveraged for the cause of his fame among the nations.”
For me last week, as God reminded me of Cathy, this meant praying for her and other people I’d met years ago. It meant reaching out to some of these women via e-mail. It meant letting myself feel the weight of the fact that, right now, there are those who don’t have access to the gospel so I’d pray with fresh conviction. It meant remembering to pray for friends working on the field. It means writing now.
For you, it could mean something different.
Maybe you are at a place where you question why Christians talk about missions across the world when there are people in our cities who don’t know Jesus. For you then, the first step may be learning about unreached people groups and the 3+ billion people who don’t have access to the gospel. Or taking some time to watch about the amazing work God is doing in the front lines to see what missions can look like. Maybe it means wrestling first with your own relationship with Christ, asking God to make the gospel precious to you, worth living and dying for.
For others, it may mean teaching our children about God’s work among the nations or giving sacrificially of our finances to support an overseas worker. It could mean going on a short-term missions trip or praying for someone we’ve met on past trips. Maybe it’s e-mailing or praying for a missionary your church supports. Or it may mean answering God’s call to surrender your position and security to move overseas.
There is freedom and room for creativity and diversity here, but would you pray with me that God would help us leverage all we’ve been given for his fame among the nations? That the Lord of the harvest would send out workers to the harvest field? And that we’d have wisdom to serve him wholeheartedly where we are while not forgetting those who have yet to hear the gospel?
Because as Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
Or, as Cathy, my flesh and bone version of Romans 10:14-15, said:
Because I always knew there was a Lord and that he could save us. I just didn’t know his name.