I was 16 when I first sensed the Lord calling me to full-time ministry — and more specifically to serve sacrificially in areas where there was a great need of the gospel. The Lord gave me faith to respond almost immediately, “Yes, Lord, I will go wherever you lead.” I am Dominican, and at the time I had a strong conviction that “wherever” meant staying in the DR and serving my own people. For 12 years that is what I did…until the Lord surprised me and called me to another place.
While I highly encourage anyone from a developing country to stay and serve their own people, there may be reasons to consider leaving your own to serve in another needy place. In my life these three considerations were key:
1. Spirit-fueled desires
2. The nature of the evangelical presence in my context
3. How the Lord led through providence
“Delight in the Lord,” the psalmist says,” and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The Spirit often leads us by giving us specific desires for his kingdom. For several years, He gave me a strong desire to stay in the Dominican Republic and serve my own. I discipled young women in my church. I volunteered in outreach opportunities in poor neighborhoods, public hospitals, and underserved villages. I taught at a Christian school.
But when I was around 24 years old, I read Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper. The more I read about unreached peoples, the more my heart burned with a longing to share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard. When I read Piper’s exposition on Romans 15:20 about Paul and his not wanting to build on another’s foundation, the Spirit lit a fire in my soul. I longed for Christ to be proclaimed where he was not known. When I started praying and fasting for the nations, the Spirit just kept feeding a desire to move on from my context to a place where there was more need.
If you sense the Lord nudging you in one direction, if you have a desire to serve, is it possible that these desires are borne out of the Spirit in your life? Could it be that the Spirit is guiding you away from where he once called you? Desire is one way God leads.
The nature of the evangelical presence in your context
While desires are important, wisdom calls us to consider other variables. One such variable is the strength of the evangelical presence where you live. Consider how many healthy churches are in your community or in your city. How involved are they with people around them? Does love for God overflow in love for people? Is the word of God doing the work of God? If the answer is yes, in what ways is that happening?
It was clear that the Lord was working in my country. For years we had been recipients of cross-cultural work. Missionaries had been sent to us. The Lord convicted me that it was time for my spiritual community to participate in and initiate the kind of mercy ministry and evangelism that others came to do for us. We didn’t need others to come to us. We could minister to our own people.
Over time, I started to recognize what the Lord was doing in our country. There were many healthy churches from different theological denominations actively participating in building the kingdom of God in the Dominican. They were not just being faithful in our city but in other towns across the island. There were many Dominicans willing to serve in their own country, but there were not many with a desire or drive to go to darker places. I sensed I needed to steward both my desire and the spiritual resources the Lord had given my community.
It was exciting to think that the time had come for my spiritual community to no longer simply be recipients of cross-cultural work but also active participants in sending others out. The Lord had been filling us to overflowing, and now we could give out of the grace we had been given.
God’s providential leading
As I prayed for the Father’s leading, He started opening doors for me and closing others. He opened doors to love and care for an unreached people group right there in my city. It was a joy to see him answer prayers and longings right where I lived. I had been pursuing opportunities to move to other Hispanic countries like Cuba or Spain. But so far nothing had come of them. So when the Lord led me, through a friend, to reach out to prostitutes in Santo Domingo, it was a clear answer to prayer.
During that time, the Lord brought an old friend back into my life who also had a strong desire to serve the Lord in darker places. Eventually our friendship grew into something more, and the Lord led us to marriage. I left the Dominican for good and moved to his country. From there, several years later, after many providential events, the Lord led us to move overseas to serve him in the Middle East together. There have been a lot of twists and turns and seeming detours in our cross-cultural journey, but the Lord has not been surprised by any of them. He has been orchestrating providence to overwhelm us with his love and to use our small lives to do what he promised – fill the earth with his glory.
So if you are praying about how to steward a desire to move to a more needy place, one with less light of the gospel than where you currently live, be assured that you can trust the Spirit’s generosity to lead you there. Pay attention to the desires of your heart and to what is happening around you. Pay attention to what He is doing — those seeming coincidences, the conversations that happen at the right time, the opportunities that fall on your lap, and even to the closed doors. He may be working in surprising ways to take you where you didn’t think you’d ever go.