Lately, I have been reading a lot of missionary biographies as we prepare ourselves to head back to the mission field in Ecuador after being back in the states for a year or so. As I have been reading, I find that we have something in common with a handful of them. As much as I would like to put myself in their ranks for their exploits of heroic faith, their example of tireless labor and sacrifice, or their being used by God to bring the Gospel to new foreign territories, I will leave others to make that judgment.
But what I find that we have in common with a handful is the “unorthodox” journey of how God led them to their final destination. And so as I think about, to use the words of Jerry Garcia, “What a long strange trip it’s been”, with reference to the different places the Lord has had us throughout our years on the mission field, and now how He is leading us to leave the states and return again, I realize that we are not the only ones. Many a missionary has had a diversion or two, or three or four before they finally landed in a long-term place of service.
I think of George Mueller, some might not call him a missionary, but he does go down in the history books as a hero of the faith who gave his life for the purposes of God. We know him as a great man of faith who cared for over 10,000 orphaned children in Bristol, England. But many don’t know that George Mueller did not start his ministry career with a burden, vision, or desire to be an orphan care director. He started out feeling called to reach the Jewish people. He applied and was accepted as a missionary with the London Society, but was then rejected and let go because of various illnesses. But I can imagine George Mueller telling everyone he knows, “Hey, God is calling me to be a missionary. I have a great burden to reach the Jewish people with the saving message of the Gospel. I can’t wait to go.” And then, circumstances change, and he is being offered a pastoral position in England, and soon after is led to start orphanages and education centers for all the street children in Bristol. “But what about the Jews, George?” You were always talking about them and how you felt called to reach them. How can you now say that your burden is for the orphaned children of England?” Maybe there was a conversation or two like that. Who knows?
But we do know that Mueller goes down in history for the long tenured tireless devotion that he gave for the rest of his life to the cause of education and caring for orphaned children. Then, at age 70, God calls him to be a missionary and he goes all around the world for the next 17 years preaching the Gospel. I’m sure he would say also at the end, “What a long strange trip its been.”
Then there is Amy Carmichael, whose biography I am currently reading. Most in the missionary circle know of Amy Carmichael as one who spent practically her whole life serving in India with a particular emphasis on rescuing children that were used in pagan temple worship practices. She gave 56 years of her life there without a furlough. God used her in amazing ways. But that’s not what her original plan was. As a teen, she felt called to missions. Her first thought was to go to Ceylon, which is modern day Sri Lanka. That thought passed after time, and she then had her heart set on going to China to serve with the China Inland Mission, which was started earlier by Hudson Taylor. So, she was all excited about China, probably telling everyone and their mother all about the need for the Gospel to reach the Chinese and how she felt so burdened for these people and was excited that God was calling her there. As a matter of fact, she would be one who would have said “The Lord told me to go.” But then she is not accepted by the mission because of health issues. After less than a year, an opportunity opens up for her to go to Japan with another mission. She jumps all over it because, according to Amy’s own words, “The Lord told me to go to Japan.” So, I’m sure she is now boldly telling all she knows about how God has called her to Japan and that she can’t wait to go and reach the Japanese for the Gospel. I can imagine some conversations with family and friends, “Amy, what about China? You were just telling us for the last year how much of a burden you had for the Chinese. How can you now be telling us about your burden for the Japanese? You said God told you to go to China, but now you are saying that God told you to go to Japan. Did God change His mind? What’s going on Amy? Are you sure that God is calling you?” Maybe there was a conversation or two like that. Who knows?
But of course, the rest of the story is that after only a few years in Japan, she has to leave because she gets sick. She goes to China and stays for about a week at a guest house of the China Inland Mission. But then feels a “burden” to go to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and so she ups and goes without even telling the mission board. She arrives in Ceylon and writes “It is settled. This is the place.” But 10 days later has to sail back to England because a friend was very ill. She decides not to return to Ceylon, the place where “It is settled. This is the place”, but instead seeks a mission agency so that she can go anywhere. After about a year, she gets hooked up with a mission agency and sails for India. The rest is history. She spends 57 years in India serving the Lord, never to return for even a furlough.
And so, this is what we have in common with some of these missionaries of old. We too have moved from one country to the next within a span of a few years, then we end up coming back to the states, believing that the Lord was calling me into pastoral ministry, only less than a year later to realize with the greatest conviction that our call is indeed to be missionaries. And here we are now preparing to sell off everything once again so that we can move once again to Ecuador and continue the work that we feel most burdened for.
Now, just like some possible conversations that George and Amy may have had with concerned and caring friends, we have had a couple of those conversations with some concerned friends as well. Although, I would say that 99% of the people that we tell of our call and plan to go back to the mission field are absolutely thrilled and have been so supportive. But there is that 1% that creates conversations like “Cody, one minute you’re all about the Gospel in Ecuador, and the next you’re leaving to come back to the states to pastor, and now you’re saying that God is calling you back to Ecuador! What’s up? Are you sure that God is orchestrating all this?” Yes, we may have had a conversation or two like that. Who knows?
What do we say? What did George say? How did Amy respond to the doubters? I don’t know. All we can see from them is their history of service. Though it took them a while to get to where they were supposed to be, when they finally got there, they spent their lives there for the kingdom of God. All that I can say is that our aim is to do the same. Our greatest desire is to be spent for God’s kingdom, to see His glory reach places far and wide around the world, to see the fulfillment of people from all nations, tribes, and tongues gathered around the throne to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. All that I can say is that He has given us a burden and desire like never before to carry this Gospel message to the nations. Maybe all of this change of scenery was part of the plan so that He can show us with utmost clarity where we belong and where we most long to be. I believe our time back in the states was part of God’s perfect plan. For in being here, after not having lived in the states for 7 years, we see clearly what abundance of Gospel access and resources are here in contrast to how scarce these resources are in other countries. And so, our time in the states has given us the clarity that we need to see that the greatest desire that the Lord has given us is to proclaim His Gospel to the people of the world. He has given us a burden and a desire that just continues to burn in our hearts with every passing day.
So, I’m thankful that we are not the only ones. I only mentioned 2 out of thousands of missionaries that have gone before, let alone those who are still currently serving as missionaries all over the world. I’m sure that many would say at the end of the day, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” As a matter of fact, we were recently contacted by a missionary couple who shares the same exact story. They were in Ecuador. They thought their time came to an end, so they moved back to Canada where they are from. And now, after a year, they realize that their burden is still for the people of Ecuador, and so now they are preparing to go back. I’m sure they have also had a conversation or two. Who knows?
So, God works in mysterious ways. Life in Christ is not a cookie cutter pattern that each person follows. He works in different ways with different people, but for the same purpose of glorifying His name and using His people to make His name known throughout the ends of the earth. At the end of the day, shouldn’t we all be super excited when an equipped man or woman of God says, “I want to spend my life for the sake of the Gospel going forward to all nations”? Isn’t that what the purpose of our time is while here on this earth?
It really doesn’t matter the journey that God uses to get us there, what really matters is that He has people who are willing to go there, wherever that “there” is based on God’s good and perfect will. I’m sure many of you reading this can think of the non-direct way that God brought you to where you currently are today. We are not the only ones.