Missionaries 2.0: How to Thrive in a Second Mission Post

by Abigail Follows

“Here we go again, God,” I prayed. “Please guide us!”

I took a deep breath and pulled my children towards the security check. After seven years in India and a one-year break stateside, God had successfully changed my desires—again. We would be in North Africa in just a few hours. I only prayed our kids would love our new home.

Are you considering re-launching as a missionary? Here are a few of the things that helped us adjust to our second place of service.

 

BEFORE LAUNCHING

1. Evaluate your first call.
What did you do well, in ministry and in your family and personal life? What didn’t work? What do you want to change this time? Now you are the seasoned missionaries giving the new missionaries (also you) advice. Lean on your experience for insight into how to approach your new call.

We knew we wanted to have better boundaries and take more breaks as a family. We also knew we wanted to get set up in a home right away, rather than hop around from place to place.

 

2. Prepare Yourself.
“I thought the birth of my second baby would be easy,” a friend of mine once told me. “Been there, done that, right? But every labor is different, and I ended up not ready. Make sure you prepare for your second one!” I was glad I took her advice when my son was born just two hours after the first contraction! Later, I remembered my friend’s advice again as my family prepared to re-launch. 

Read, attend training, pray, talk to other missionaries… take the time to equip yourself and your family for a new adventure.

 

3. Nurture Important Connections.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of building a RAFT written about by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in the book Third Culture Kids. RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. Take the time to heal, nurture, and appreciate relationships, both in your first host country and your home country. 

Beyond building a RAFT, I printed a sign that said, “Home is Wherever I’m With You.” Then I printed a stack of photos of friends and families from India and the USA. I wanted our children to celebrate all the places they’d lived and the people they’d loved. I wanted them to have a sense of our family history. 

 

AFTER LAUNCHING

1. Embrace the Newness
You may feel less nervous or wonder-eyed than you did during your first launch. That’s a good thing! It can help make adjusting easier. But don’t let it temper your curiosity and excitement. Taste exotic foods, get outside your comfort zone, laugh at your language blunders.

This was especially important for us since we launched with school-aged kids. They needed us to be excited with them, to discover our new host country alongside them. And their excitement (and sometimes confusion) helped us get into the new experience, too.

 

2. Don’t Avoid Comparisons.
This might sound counterintuitive. Shouldn’t missionaries suspend judgement? Shouldn’t we avoid telling people that our ways are superior? But this suggestion isn’t about which culture is better. It’s about the similarities and differences between cultures. It’s about harnessing previous cultural experience to give you context for understanding another worldview.

Although Indian and North African cultures have major differences, our knowledge about Indian culture actually helped us navigate North African culture. We found we had a larger general cultural knowledge bank to consult when things confused us. This made us more patient and flexible.

For example, we already had experience in a place where time is a much more flexible commodity than in our home culture. So, when it turned out to be flexible in our second host culture, we understood. It wasn’t a stressful adjustment.

So, compare the new culture with your wider knowledge bank. Let your prior knowledge help you ask more informed questions. Stay curious and enjoy the learning journey!

 

3. Pray. Adjust. Repeat.
As I mentioned, you’ll probably want to do some things differently this time around. Maybe you had no personal boundaries during your first term of service. Or maybe you stayed in your comfort zone too much. Whatever it is, make changes, but be wary of the tendency to overreact.

During our first few months in Africa, we reacted to our previous “almost no boundaries the entire time” attitude by living a comparatively solitary existence. Then we woke up and realized that people are still the point of missions.

Balance is not a destination. It’s a way of journeying. It’s a willingness to constantly evaluate and adjust the way you live. And for the missionary, it’s centered on prayer, because God has a much better perspective on us and our ministries than we do.

 

4. Don’t Forget Your First Love.
Whether you loved your first host country or experienced trauma there (or like us, both), you may find yourself resistant to replacing your first experience with a new one. That’s okay! 

For me, this manifested itself in language learning. My husband Joshua, who is super friendly and driven, is always up for a new language. 

I tend to be more introverted. So my ability to speak Hindi represented sweat, blood, tears, and a whole lot of time spent outside my comfort zone. It was also the only avenue for me to maintain important relationships in India. When my new language started trying to kick the old one out of my brain, I stopped trying to learn.

If you find yourself resistant to the new language, be reassured that it’s normal. And don’t panic.

When I eventually embraced learning my third language, I found that speaking and hearing Hindi a couple of times a month was enough to keep me from completely forgetting it—even if my Indian friends did tease me when I mixed up vocab.

 

Final Thoughts
After nearly three years in our second host country, I have no regrets about taking a second call. While we still made plenty of mistakes, our prior experience helped us to do things a little better this time around. And the faith God built in us during our first call helped us to trust Him more this time, too. 

And God answered our prayer–He helped our children to bond with our new country of service. It took time and some problem-solving, but we eventually found a sustainable balance.

Have you taken a second call? Are you thinking of taking a second call? Do you have any tips, or questions? Leave a comment below!

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Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayasa memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at abigailfollows.com.

Should You Be a Missionary . . . Again?

by Abigail Follows

“I never want to be a missionary again! Amen.” I closed my prayer journal and smiled with satisfaction. It felt good to be honest with God.

Don’t get me wrong. I had beautiful memories from the seven years my family and I spent as missionaries in the mountains of India. Camping in the Himalayas with shepherds. Surviving the births of my two kids in rural hospitals—the second time by a miracle. Watching a woman forgive for the first time in her life. It was a beautiful experience, worth every sacrifice we made to be there.

It was just that I didn’t think I had it in me to do it all again. To squeeze my thoughts into yet another worldview. To spend years learning yet another language. To love an Entire People Group on behalf of Christ—again. I was tired and out of energy. I was spent.

“You have my permission to change my heart,” I said aloud, thinking this time God would let me off the hook.

Yet just one year after we left India, we re-launched to a closed-access country in north Africa. Why do I always forget how good God is at changing hearts?

What about you? Are you a returned missionary? Do you wonder whether God is calling you back into the field? Here are some practical steps you can take to evaluate your calling and readiness to go for God—again.

 

Take your time
If you’ve just returned from mission service, consider taking a break. Get some perspective on your first call. Give yourself time to process.

Just two days after our return from India, a fellow missionary asked us to consider joining his family in Africa. However, our sending organization advised us to wait at least a year before deciding. They gave us work at the home office, and we spent several months just living a quiet, low-key life. Waiting gave us time to rest and recuperate from a very intense mission experience.

My husband, Joshua, is the kind of person who is always ready to go, like, yesterday. I, on the other hand, need to filter minor decisions through a complex network of questions about the meaning of life and the potential for unintentional death… so it can take me a while to be ready for new things.

But my husband was patient. He let me bring up the topic when I was ready, kept a good sense of humor about it, and prayed for me. So if you’re married, be patient with yourselves and with each other.

 

Set a Date and Tell God
Setting a date takes the pressure off you and puts things back in God’s hands. Whether He answers by a dream, impression, open doors, or something else, He will make things clear!

After a good break, Joshua and I chose a “Decision Day” and told God He’d have to do any heart-changing by that deadline.

And He did. For us, He sent a life-changing dream, plus the heart re-filling that we both needed. In just a few months, Africa became a real possibility. We began to discuss the idea in earnest.

 

Get Away
As your Decision Day approaches, take yourself (or yourselves, if you are married) somewhere quiet. Give yourself some peaceful, uninterrupted time to talk and pray. If you can, take several days. If not, schedule time to talk and pray over the course of several evenings.

A few months before our Decision Day we attended our organization’s orientation week. There we met a handful of fresh, pre-launch missionaries. They had so many questions for us. I had thought our experience would make us too tired to keep giving. What if it actually made us more mature, informed missionaries? 

We decided to fast and pray. During the fast, it dawned on us that there were almost a thousand theology students at our nearby seminary, ready to do God’s work in North America. There were five people at orientation ready to do ministry in the 10/40 window.

But were we still called?

 

Look for the Arrows
Celebrate your story, the story God has been writing all your life. What are all the little arrows in the road God has used to guide you? Do you believe He called you to be a missionary the first time? Has He released you from that calling? Has your calling shifted? Or is He still calling you to be a missionary?

After praying about it, Joshua and I agreed that we were released from our call to India, but not released from our call to reach the unreached.

But were we ready?

 

Evaluate Readiness
Take stock of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual situation of each member of your family. Is there anything anyone still needs? If trauma or conflict was a factor in your departure from your first call, have you sought effective Christian counseling? Does anyone in the family still carry bitterness in need of some sweet, soothing forgiveness? Is everyone healthy, both spiritually and physically?

Our reason for leaving India verged into the trauma side of things. Because of that, it was super important to us to evaluate whether we had sufficiently addressed the needs of each member of our family. It felt like a miracle to look back and see just how much healing God had done in such a short amount of time. 

 

Seek Counsel
Here’s where I tell you to do as I say, not as I do. Don’t be afraid to seek counsel from Godly people in your life!

I wish Joshua and I would have asked for more prayer support during this time. I also wish we would have given our (very Godly) parents more of an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. Although they gave us their blessing, I think including them in our process would have made it easier for them to be at peace about our taking a second call.

 

Make a decision
When the day comes, it should be clear whether you should go, stay, or postpone the decision. Celebrate that clarity with a prayer of thanksgiving. And, if you need to take care of some things before you’re ready to make a decision, set a new Decision Day date to work towards.

Our decision was simple–we gathered the kids, knelt together, and thanked God for His calling. Then we pledged ourselves to go again, by His strength.

 

If now is not the time…
Hudson Taylor, 
the example of self-sacrifice and incarnational Christian service, took a five-year break from China because of health concerns. Those five years in English must have felt. Like. So. Long. Like forever.

But when Taylor re-launched to China in 1866, he brought with him the first missionaries of China Inland Missions.

If you have to wait, wait with patience and faith. If the answer is no, and God has released you from your overseas calling, know that He will use you wherever He has put you. Be content to be a part of His plans. They’re awesome plans, no matter where they take place.

 

If God is calling you to go again…
Go with God, my friend! And watch for another article with tips for adjusting to a second host country.

Dig deeper into the discernment process with these questions: Missionaries20ConversationStarters.

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Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayas, a memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at abigailfollows.com.

Hearing Voices

by Alyson Rockhold

When an email requesting volunteers in Tanzania hit my inbox, it was a knock-you-off-your-horse type moment. Gratefully, God didn’t strike me blind like Paul, but I definitely slid off my chair and onto my knees in recognition of His Voice. I had been studying missions for a year and was consumed with a growing restlessness and dissatisfaction over the last few months. It didn’t make sense to study how to serve God for four years from the safety of my little college bubble. I was ready to go, to do, to share God’s love in real and tangible ways.

After hearing that Voice of calling, I had prayed for weeks for my parent’s support. I didn’t want to disobey my earthly father in trying to follow my heavenly one. So, when my dad readily agreed to the plan, I took his acceptance as a sure sign of its divine origins.

Then I rushed into my mission professor’s office, bursting with the good news. He had also served in East Africa and was passionate about that place and those people. He had even agreed to teach me Swahili and helped me secure school credit for it. I never imagined he wouldn’t support me now.

“You should not go to the mission field without a husband.”

His words hit me like a rock to the gut. I was flooded with disappointment. I thought this man respected me and God in me. Now he was telling me I was not enough. I was not made of the right substance to serve God on my own.

Where only seconds before I was filled with hope and excitement, I now harbored doubts and fears. How could one sentence call into question what God had told me so plainly to do? This was God‘s calling clear and true: take a semester off of college, travel to Tanzania, and teach English for four months.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. However, I do know I had entered as a self-assured adult but was leaving as a chastened child. I slunk out of his office, feeling embarrassed and small.

Would his pronouncement crush me, or would defying it make me stronger?

Later, a favorite verse came to mind: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Well, what if I want to please both?

As a perfectionistic people pleaser, I wasn’t able to stop caring about my teacher’s approval. I craved his acceptance and had labored hard to earn it. If I left school now without my professor’s blessing, could I ever return to my religious studies there? I feared I would be branded a dissident. My status as a model student was being called into jeopardy, and I was desperate not to lose it.

Yet, something deeper was at stake. As a girl about to exit my teens and become a young woman, this moment was a watershed: whom would I depend on to define me, to help me make my decisions, and to determine my future path? God or man?

Ultimately, the decision came not from hours of Bible study or intense prayer or the advice of others (although I sought all those things). Instead, the answer came from deep within my soul.  God was there. The Word of God written on my heart. The Voice of truth that never wavers.

God gave me an inner fortitude that I could never have summoned up on my own. The answer was clear: I could live with one man’s disapproval, but I would never find abundant life apart from my Creator.

And since we serve a God who consistently does far more than we could ever ask or imagine, I finally did graduate from that college. My time in Tanzania had clarified my call to medical missions, and I walked across the stage as a dual missions and biology major. The sweetest graduation gift that I received was a note from that same professor, simple and handwritten. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have tried to dissuade you from your calling. I’m glad you didn’t listen.”

I’m grateful I knew which Voice to listen to.

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Alyson’s medical missions work has taken her to Tanzania, Haiti, and Zambia.  Along the way, she’s discovered a passion for sharing stories that honor God and encourage people.  Her writing has been featured on A Life Overseas, Busted Halo, Verge Magazine, Red Letter Christians, and more.  You can follow her at www.alysonrockhold.com.

Why Do You Keep Going Back?

When we joined AgriCorps, we said that we would be going to Liberia for one year. One year later we were packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

When we joined Hope in the Harvest, we said that we would be going to Liberia for two years. Two years later we are once again packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

This year as we join Hope in the Harvest again, we aren’t saying when we’ll be coming back to the US (for good) because it’s kinda starting to look like we are liars anyways….

“Why do you keep extending? Why do you keep going back?”

This is the question that I hear at least 2-3 times a week, so by now you would think that I would have myself a perfectly cultivated answer, short and sweet, clear and to the point, easy to deliver, something that summarizes it all up. That’s what they tell me I should have by now….that most people I encounter will mostly likely only have an attention span of 2-3 minutes to dedicate to hearing about life/ministry in Liberia and that I need to have my “elevator speech” prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

That’s what they say at least. However, I can’t seem to do it….I mean I can… and I guess I have…you may have even heard me do it….but every time I boil it down to those few simple words (“agricultural and spiritual transformation”) I feel like I’m tying a pretty red ribbon up on the outside of a shiny white box that is filled with an absolutely colorful mess inside, about to burst open and explode everywhere!

How do I explain why I am going back in just a few simple sentences? How do I explain in just a few simple sentences all the things that God has laid on my heart and all the ways that God has broken my heart? Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, messy, clean, tangible, intangible, real, fake, and everything in between? How do I explain it all at once? How do I summarize things that I myself don’t even understand? That I can’t even explain? Things that seem like they make no sense?

I’m going back because Liberia feels like home, but also Liberia is nothing like home and that’s why I love it, but that’s also why I miss home.

I am going back because Liberia is so far out of my comfort zone, and yet I am going back because Liberia is exactly inside of my comfort zone.

I am going back to Liberia because in Liberia I feel joy more fully than I ever knew possible, and yet I am going back to Liberia because it is there that I feel sorrow deeper than my heart could hold on its own.

I am going back because I love some of these people more than I can put into words, and yet I am also going back because I want to understand what love really is because it feels like I still don’t know.

I am going back to teach, and yet I am going back because there is so much left to learn.

I am going back to finish what I started, and yet I know that there is no finishing this thing here on earth.

I am going back because I am not afraid of the things people think I should be afraid of, but I am going back because I am afraid of the other things.

I’m going back because I love the work that we get to do there, but also the work that we are called to do there scares me and I don’t love things that scare me.

I’m going back because I’ve found immense purpose there in the work, but also I’m struggling to understand my purpose on a daily basis when it comes to other things.

I’m going back because I have skills/knowledge that I believe are worth sharing and can make a difference there, and yet I know that every good thing that is done and every change that I see happening is all from the Lord’s doing.

I am going back because I want to share with people about how they can have eternal life because I believe eternity with God is what all of us are living for, but also I see people with real needs in front of me now…with whom I cannot talk about eternity if we cannot address the very real hunger that is in their stomachs right now, the very real fears that keep them up at night, the very real diseases that keep taking their children away from them too soon.

I am going back to Liberia because I love agriculture, and yet I am going back to Liberia because agriculture means nothing to me at all in comparison.

I am going back because I feel like I should, and yet I am not at all going back because I feel like I should because I have lots of people telling me I shouldn’t.

I am going back because I feel like I am needed, but I am going back because they don’t need me at all.

I am going back to Liberia because in some ways it is simpler, but I am going back to Liberia knowing that I am leaving the simplicity behind.

I am going back because I have hope for Liberia, but also, I am going back because some days I don’t have hope, but others do and they draw me towards them like light to the darkness and darkness cannot hide from the light.

I am going back because I am selfish and I like to feel good about helping others, but also, I am going back so that I don’t succumb to my own selfishness.

I am going back to be with my family, and yet as I go back, I am missing my family intensely.

I am going back to Liberia because I feel called to go back, but I’m also going back because it is my desire to go back.  God has given me a desire to serve the poor, to teach agriculture, and to share the good news of His salvation. He has placed those desires on my heart as I have sought to delight myself in Him and His presence. He has and is giving me the desires of my heart; they are fully His and yet they are fully mine all at the same time. Finally, there is no juxtaposition here.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

And that is why I’m going back, because the desire of my heart is simply that I want to walk with the Lord on this specific path for a little while longer…to fulfill the desires of my heart. This is not the only path for me, I know that there a number of paths that I could take and serve the Lord anywhere in the world doing a number of different jobs.  I know now that it is not necessarily about the specific path that I take, but rather The One who holds my hand and guide me as I walk along that path. And somehow that’s what makes the freedom to choose this path….this rugged, winding, wide, confusing, long, beautiful, joyous, painful, fulfilling path of ministry abroad…even sweeter. My husband and I don’t know exactly how long we will be on this path, but we know that if we cling tightly to the Hand of God, that He will be with us along the way…and that’s all any of us really want or need out of this life…isn’t it?

So once again, we are packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

Jonathan and I are thrilled to introduce you to our new book, Serving Well. It is our deepest hope that this 400+ page book will encourage and equip cross-cultural folks through the various seasons of life and ministry.

It’s available on Amazon here. If you’re in the States, our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

You can read the Serving Well press release (with book excerpt) here.

From the Back Cover
Are you dreaming of working abroad? Imagining serving God in another land? Or are you already on the field, unsure about what to do next or how to manage the stresses of cross-cultural life? Or perhaps you’ve been on the field a while now, and you’re weary, maybe so weary that you wonder how much longer you can keep going.

If any of these situations describes you, there is hope inside this book. You’ll find steps you can take to prepare for the field, as well as ways to find strength and renewal if you’re already there. From the beginning to the end of the cross-cultural journey, Serving Well has something for you.

 

Early Reviews for Serving Well
Serving Well is an important voice in the search for honest, experienced conversation on living and working cross-culturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Dig in!”
– Michael Pollock, Executive Director, Interaction International and co-author of Third Culture Kids

Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
– Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Serving Well is a must-read book for missionaries and for those who love them. This is a book you really need if you are ‘called to go, or called to let go.’ In Serving Well we read both the spiritual and practical, simple and profound, funny and compelling in chapters written by Elizabeth and then Jonathan Trotter; hearing from each their voices and their hearts, the struggles and the victories, ‘the bad days and the good days’ of preparing to go and serving well overseas. Their down-to-earth yet godly insights were born from living overseas and from authentically wrestling with the ‘yays and yucks’ of missionary life. They draw wisdom from both Scripture and sci-fi authors, Psalms and funny YouTube videos, encounters with Jesus and encounters with cops looking for a bribe. Take two books with you to the mission field: the Bible, and Serving Well.”
– Mark R. Avers, Barnabas International

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad–or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace–both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do–read this book!”
– Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Overseas workers face a barrage of junk when they arrive on their field location: identity issues, fear/anxiety issues, and faith issues. I have worked with missionaries for well over a decade now and see how these common themes cry out for a grace-filled approach to truth and authenticity. The Trotters live this out loud, intentionally seeking a way to minister out of their own pain, striving, humor, and failure. Keep this reference close at hand!”
– Jeannie Hartsfield, Clinical Counselor, Global Member Care Coordinator, World Team

“This book is the definitive guide to thriving in cross-cultural ministry. The Trotters have distilled years of experience into pithy chapters filled with helpful tips and wise insights. Put it on your must-read list.”
– Craig Greenfield, Founder, Alongsiders International, author of Subversive Jesus

“In this must-read missions book, Jonathan and Elizabeth unearth the underlying motivations of the cross-cultural call. Penned with copious compassion and startling transparency, Serving Well is sure to make you laugh, cry, and, in the end, rejoice as you partner with God in His global missions mandate.”
– David Joannes, author of The Mind of a Missionary

The Call Is Not Enough

by Ryan Kuja

A few years ago, I visited a mission project in Haiti started by an American doctor. He had quite a bit of experience living in different areas of the world, using his medical skills to treat the sick. His desire to serve was clear and forthright. Yet, his project in Haiti ended up failing after a short period of time.

There are innumerable instances such as this, where a well-intentioned Christian goes off somewhere to help solve a problem or alleviate some form of suffering. They do their best, their hearts on fire for the place and people in need. But what was meant to help ends up hurting, both themselves and those they hoped to serve. They return home in anger and confusion not long after, their hope and vision having gone to pieces.

Mission falls apart.

I had a psychotherapist a few years ago who I often brought personal issues of meaning and vocation to.   I remember him saying, “The need does not necessitate the call.” In essence, he was saying that the existence of an issue in the world—be it social, political, humanitarian—does not mean a certain individual is called to engage it or help solve it. The unique ways in which we are each made informs how we are designed to be in the world, how we are meant to live and serve.

And just as the need does not necessitate the call, the call does not necessitate the readiness. Or put differently, even when we are we called, it doesn’t mean that we are prepared to go.

The call is not enough.

There is no doubt that many of us experience an authentic calling to engage in service with vulnerable people in the Majority World, whether it be in the context of short-term mission, community development, global health projects, human trafficking or some other form of service deeply rooted in our Christian faith.

Our desire and willingness to travel to difficult places inundated in poverty is a great place to begin pursuing these opportunities overseas where our hearts feel drawn to. But it is a starting point, not an end point. It is the leading edge of a journey—a journey that leads inward as well as outward—that is meant to be a catalyst for mutual transformation of the self and the other. The call activates something deep within that pulls us forward to pursue this vision of healing and restoration.

Whether we are going to participate in a ten-day mission trip to Haiti or move our families to India to advocate of behalf of trafficked women, this call we feel is a beautiful and essential thing. It is the space from which mission flows. It is also an invitation to reflect deeply within ourselves.

But the call into mission is about much, much more than just buying a plane ticket. It is an invitation into the psyche, the heart, the soul. The call to mission bids us entry into our own pain, to engage with our own brokenness and wounds that have remained untended. If we haven’t engaged our own pain, we cannot be fully present with another in their pain. The call is an invitation into the self as much as it is an invitation into the world.

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A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, his first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World releases in the summer of 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia, where he lives with his wife. You can find him online at ryankuja.com and on twitter as ryankuja.

6 Ways to Be Certain of the “Call”

There is much debate and discussion around The Call. Mysterious, spiritual, dreamy. Everyone else’s Call story is better. The Call is supposed to come in a flash and be so powerful that it under girds every decision and emotion and experience for the rest of your life, no questions asked, no doubts ever encountered.

It can be quite daunting to determine whether or not you have received this Call. Here is your foolproof guide. You will never doubt again (channeling my inner Princess Bride here).

6 Ways to Be Certain of The Call

Disobey. If you think you hear God telling you to do something, do the opposite. If things go just fine, you heard wrong. If you are swallowed by a gigantic fish, you heard right. Once you are vomited up on shore, obey. Grumblingly but with certainty. (see Jonah 1-4)

Skin a sheep. Better yet, skin two. The first night put the skin on the ground. Don’t bother explaining anything to the neighbors until they complain of the stench and the feral cats swarming. If the skin is wet in the morning but the ground dry, you’ve been called. Still you doubt? Do it again. This time if all around, the ground is wet but the skin is dry, you’ve been called. To pacify the neighbor, considering delivering a feast of roasted meat and rice cooked in the water wrung out from the damp skin yesterday. (Judges 6:36-40)

Listen to your as*, ahem, your donkey. Shall we say car? In any case, if you are going in a certain direction and your mode of transportation stops abruptly and refuses to go forward, even if you whip it, pay attention. If said mode of transportation begins to speak to you, again, pay attention. Respond accordingly. This is the call. (Numbers 22:21-41)

Hide among the suitcases. You’re at the airport, bags are packed, passports and visas at the ready, goodbyes have been said. The family is ready to go. But you still aren’t quite positive God is telling you to go. Quick. Hide. Crawl inside one of those black Action Packers, don’t worry about the things inside, the books and Legos. Dump them out. Or, simply lay among the duffel bags and pray no one notices. If someone comes and finds you there and shouts to your family and the airline employees, “Do you see the one God has chosen?” Then, yes indeed, you have been called and can move forward with confidence. (1 Samuel 10:20-24)

Ask for clarification. Then throw a stick on the ground. If it turns into a snake, called. Pick up the snake. If it doesn’t bite you and if it turns back into a stick, called. Put your hand inside your shirt. If it is diseased when you pull it out, called. Put it back inside. If it is not diseased when you pull it out, called. If the snake bites you or if your arm remains diseased, go to the hospital. (Exodus 4:1-17)

Dreams, burns, and discouragement. If you have a dream in which an angel burns your lips with coal and you hear discouraging words along the lines of, “Go. Talk to people. They won’t understand you. They won’t accept your message. They will have hard hearts, dull ears, and closed eyes and it will be like this for years and years and years. But yeah, go anyway,” consider this your call. Enjoy. (Isaiah 6)

(Or, you could pray. Seek wise counsel. Consider your skills, personality, interests, passions. Look at the world and consider needs. Read the Word. Take a risk. Be a little uncertain. Be convinced of the sovereignty of God. But who has time for all that?!)

Thoughts on deciphering this mysterious Call thing?