Just prior to his ascension, Jesus told the Apostles “as you go, make disciples of all nations...” I recently went to the Rio Grande on the West Texas-Mexico border, in part to film a video Bible study on God’s development of Elijah in the wilderness for the mission entrepreneurs I support.
During the 14-hour drive home, I sensed God clearly say to me, “I’ve made you to go. You need and want to go because I’ve made you to go.” I instantly knew that what God meant by going was my strong desire to travel to and minister in various cultures and geographic regions around the world. But it also occurred to me that this calling to go comes with a grace to drive 28 hours in five days, sleeping out of the back of my Land Cruiser when necessary.
Upon my return home, I picked up a commentary on the Book of Acts from former Fuller Seminary missiologist Peter Wagner. He asserted that about one percent of the Christian population have the spiritual gift of missionary.
He defines that gift as a person who is able to operate in their normal spiritual gifts, and do so effectively in a cross-cultural environment. So here I am driving back from the border and God reminds me of why he inspired me to drive down there. My spiritual and personal temperament fully cooperates with God’s grace to enable me to do the work which God prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Many full-time vocational missionaries are called to cross a cultural boundary and stay in one place for much, if not all, of their career. Throughout much of the last 200 years this model has been normative, especially for those called to locations where it takes decades to learn the language and culture, and develop trusting relationships with the indigenous people. However, in the last 20 years or so with the advent of reliable, inexpensive, and pervasive telecommunications and travel, and perhaps more critically, the English language being widespread, crossing multiple cultures is easier than ever, global threats notwithstanding. One can make the case that the era we are in mirrors aspects of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) of the Roman Empire with its extensive and relatively safe road network, and normative Hellenistic culture and language for its citizens. The Roman Empire was the contextual backdrop which enabled Paul, Barnabas, and their companions, in part, to attempt their missionary journeys across the eastern and northern Mediterranean.
When I look back on my career, especially the early days when I was travelling all over the world with CRM’s president, Sam Metcalf, I often felt awkward for not being one of those missionaries who moved to a tribe in South America to stay until I died. I did not fully appreciate that God had made me like Barnabas, a missionary whose task is to travel to and interact in several cultures and locations.
I’ve often wondered why God made me so sensitive and adaptable to culture and individuals' sensibilities. This liability in the American business world is a critical asset on the mission field, allowing me to make the massive cultural jump from America to Germany to Southern Africa back to America over the course of three weeks. And the fact that the work is getting deeply into the core emotional, spiritual, relational, and ministerial challenges of the diverse people in those cultures is a testament to God’s design and preparation.
So as you consider your life, how has God uniquely wired, gifted, and developed you to accomplish the work he’s prepared in advance? It may not look like how others have done it in the past, but trust that God made you for a reason, and then say “yes” to him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Middleton leads a CRM Ethne initiative called Mission Entrepreneurs International, which finds, develops, and catalyzes mission leaders and teams, empowering them to start new ministries around the world consistent with their unique callings. Tom and his wife Karin live in Conifer, Colorado, with their two girls.