By Dr. Paul Shotsberger
Over the holiday break, I had the opportunity to lead a team of college students to the Urbana missions conference in Saint Louis. The conference is held once every three years in between Christmas and New Years, and it brings together over 16,000 collegeage students to hear speakers, attend seminars, and interact with organizations having to do with missions and missions-related work.
The group I led was from three different universities and many different churches. It was a delight to my heart to hear them talk in such animated ways about international missions and the potential part they might play. Most were seeking shortterm opportunities for the summer, but some are graduating soon and were planning on more longterm work. One student committed to two years or more in the field, feeling a special calling toward working with refugees, especially children.
Another student, also getting ready to graduate, made this very cogent observation: “One of the unique things about Urbana is the culture here. At my college and around my family, there’s an expectation that I’m going to do interviews and get a job, maybe go to grad school, if that’s what I decide I want to do. At Urbana there is an unusual expectation that as a believer you’re going to be radically obedient to Jesus, seeking His will, then following where He leads you.”
This raises a question in my mind: why is it so often that people have to attend a conference or other special event in order to get some encouragement toward missions? Why is it that encouragement like that does not often come from family or friends? When my family and I were preparing to move to Ukraine to be missionaries, I found it fascinating that the most encouraging people in our lives were nonbelievers. They thought of it as an adventure and applauded us for taking that kind of risk. Support was less forthcoming from believers, including those close to us.
Many could not understand how we could leave the comfort and security of the United States; others thought we were foolish to take our then-13 year old son to another country, thereby depriving him of a “normal upbringing.” Of course, one reason my wife and I wanted to take our son to Ukraine was precisely because he would not have a normal upbringing, but rather have the opportunity to experience life in a multi-cultural environment, to learn a new language, and hopefully to catch the missions bug himself.
As I was wrestling with the lack of support we were receiving for our decision, as well as my own reasons for going, God placed a thought in my heart. Where is the safest place to be? Is it really in a particular country or in particular circumstances? No, it is in God’s grace, under the shadow of His wing, as Psalm 91:1-2 says: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
The safest place to be is where God desires us to be. The thought hit me like a truck: I and my family will be safest in Ukraine where we know we have God’s calling and grace. As the student I quoted earlier said, “…there is an unusual expectation that as a believer you’re going to be radically obedient to Jesus, seeking His will, and then following where He leads you.” Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. Is it easy? No, it isn’t.
There is a scene in the movie, A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks, the manager of an all-women’s baseball team during World War II, is talking with his star player, Gina Davis, whose husband has just come back from the war. Gina Davis is preparing to leave and go back home, and of course, Tom Hanks is trying to talk her into staying. At one point Gina Davis says, “It just got too hard.” Tom Hanks’ response always echoes in my mind. He says, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Hard but great. What if all of us as believers chose the hard thing? What would the world look like? What would we look like? What great thing could we accomplish for the Kingdom of God? If you know someone who is considering being a missionary, either short-term or long-term, please be supportive. It’s a hard calling, but also a great one.