I’ll never forget that feeling of stepping off American soil for the first time. I was 13 years old, heading to Romania on my very first mission trip. After the long overnight flight to London, I laid across several seats in the main terminal of Gatwick International Airport in an exhaustion-induced daze as we waited for our connection to Bucharest.
It was exciting to be so far away from home, but it was also a bit scary. We were outside the reach of U.S. sovereignty, its laws, and its protections. Growing up in a middle class suburb outside of Dallas, the entire idea was overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel the need to be extra careful. I was always watching my back and feeling as if I was under threat, even though I was likely safer there than in the streets of most major U.S. cities.
Since that day, the world has only gotten more complicated and the threats exponentially worse. 9/11 took place just 15 months later, America went to war, and the constant threat of terrorism has now become an everyday reality.
Personally, I am not the most adventurous guy you’ll ever meet. I’m rather risk-averse. Roughing it for me is spending the night at a Super 8 motel instead of the Hilton. I have the outdoor survival instincts of a declawed house cat. When God calls me into something, he usually smokes me out of my comfort zone first. And this doesn’t just apply to mission trips. Just about any major change in my life is bathed in prayer, analysis, and a good measure of overthinking.
This is quite a bit different than my adrenaline-junkie friends. Adventure is their drug. They would need a 12-step program if God ever called them to settle down and plant roots in one place. They would willingly, gladly, and almost impulsively say yes to any dangerous or uncomfortable task God put in front of them.
LIVING IN THE TENSION
All of this brings up a difficult tension that any Christian must navigate on a daily basis – the balance between faith and practicality. For those serving overseas, it often manifests itself in personal safety vs. mission.
When God calls us into something new – something that requires a great measure of dependence on him – it rarely makes sense. It’s not the obvious, safest, or most practical path. It often runs counter to the direction anyone else would take.
As a missions organization, we see this constantly in our staff and volunteers. We encounter people going on their first mission trip, often scared of the safety concerns or overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. We have new staff coming in, leaving behind high-paying corporate jobs to raise their own support, downsizing their lives, and advancing the Gospel in some remote part of the world. And they’re all in it simply because God called them to do it.
You can imagine the pushback they get from others.
“How will you support your family?
“Don’t you realize it’s dangerous there?”
“There are plenty of people here who need the gospel too.”
“Why would you waste all that vacation time for a mission trip?”
Our call to godly obedience often runs counter to practicality. While the center of God’s will is the safest place to be, it’s not the easiest. And it doesn’t mean we won’t have to sacrifice physical safety to be there. So if you’re feeling led to go on a mission trip or even long-term placement somewhere overseas, how do you live between those safety concerns and the calling?
FOLLOWING JESUS’ EXAMPLE
Fortunately for us, Jesus modeled this boldly throughout his life. His mission was intentionally and deliberately dangerous. If you think going overseas for a few weeks is difficult, could you imagine stepping out of heaven and into this sinful mess for 33 years?
Jesus didn’t come here for vacation. He didn’t keep a low profile or play it safe. He walked straight into a hostile world that had turned against him. He stepped into what C.S. Lewis calls enemy-occupied territory. He came to face Satan head-on and his weapon was his own death.
But Jesus also didn’t recklessly walk into every dangerous situation with disregard for his own safety. Consider even his birth. Shortly after his arrival in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph fled with him to Egypt at God’s command. He spent the early years of his life as a refugee. Later in his ministry, he took evasive action at times to avoid capture. He slipped away from angry mobs and verbally disarmed his opponents, many of which wanted him dead.
While Jesus eventually laid his own life down, he waited until the right time. He never subjected himself to danger that didn’t further his ministry. He wasn’t reckless. He was calculated. Even before his arrest, Jesus had clearly counted the cost as evidenced by his heartbreaking prayer in the garden.
Jesus lived fully dependent on the Father, was willing to sacrifice everything at the right time, but didn’t walk into danger without some spiritual purpose. As we go forth into the world, we can’t be naïve to the dangers it presents but we shouldn’t fear them either. We can trust that the God who called us will also protect us and we shouldn’t move forward without counting the cost.
If you’re pursuing any call in missions, whether long-term or short-term, you know there are many sacrifices that can’t be avoided, safety being one of them. The practical side of you will always suggest shying away but enter the tension with boldness and confidence. Never shy away from a clear calling from God but don’t feel bad for experiencing anxiety or hesitation either. The very tension itself will strengthen your faith and draw you closer to him.
Discuss: What concerns or fears have previously held you back from full obedience to Christ?
This article was originally published by e3 Partners, a global missions organization based in the Hope Center that is establishing local churches in over 50 countries. Visit www.e3partners.org to learn more and get involved.