It feels like another life since I was a missionary in West Africa. Today, my days are filled with questions about what I should make for dinner, whether or not I'm going to meet an article deadline, and "did you go poo-poo?" Being a work-from-home mom of two under two makes going to the post office seem nearly impossible, nonetheless going to the nations. So, how am I supposed to do outreach when we—and I mean we—can't get into the car without someone having a meltdown?
It's complicated. Often times, I struggle to see how my day-to-day fits into the plan of building God's global Kingdom. I hear the call of the nations near and far, but I don't know how to be effective in reaching them in this season.
Not So Different After all
But to be completely honest, a lot of my days as a missionary were filled with similar questions—yes, even the questions concerning poo-poo. Many missionaries I knew struggled with the ambiguity of their days, not knowing who to invest in or how to share the gospel in their context. Many struggled with the constant inadequacy for the task at hand.
It was on the mission field that I learned that "going" doesn't always look like you might think. We often spent days trying to accomplish a menial task through language barriers and West African red tape. We spent countless months—and truly all of our two-year term—learning the language so we could attempt to be a witness in the simplest of vocabulary. Once we got there, we spent a lot of our time uncertain of what it looked like for us to be missionaries.
It's not that we weren't equipped; it's that everyday life was just difficult and demanding. We were like babies relearning how to make it through. I remember learning in training that if we accomplished one thing every day, that was probably the most we could do, and we should be ok with it.
So, it's really not a far cry from my life as today. In a lot of ways, my time on the mission field prepared me to look for and hone the skills of outreach and evangelism in any situation. That's not to say life now is hard in the same kinds of ways, but ministry definitely still is. I spend my day surrounded by two wonderful and frustrating children who don't speak my language and don't yet love Jesus. I find it so difficult to invest in people outside our house when just keeping everyone alive feels like a feat.
So, what do we do?
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should. Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6
1. Start with the heart (Colossians 4:2)
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, when I think of ministry, my mind first goes into brainstorming how we—emphasis on the I—will get it done. Maybe it's just me. However, whether I'm "at home" or "on the field," if I'm not being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit, I can easily go through the motions of my day and miss the opportunities God is putting right in front of me. If God hasn't prepared the way and my heart isn't ready, I'm going to speak and act from survival mode and completely ignore the plans of God. Ultimately, any kind of ministry I do from there will end up a hot mess.
As a missionary in Burkina Faso, our best-laid plans and best-sowed seeds often weren't the ones where we found fruit. It was more about walking through the doors God opened. The Muslim women in whom we'd heavily invested weren't interested in Jesus, but their village uncle was excited to hear God's stories and ultimately prayed to receive Christ. Our friend—who was also our pastor's devout Muslim neighbor—eventually became a Christian but not until after we had left. We had to trust the Spirit and pray through the many days we were just trying to figure things out.
2. Find opportunities where you are (Colossians 4:3-4)
At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should.
I'm slowly realizing there are all kinds of ways to meet and serve people—both in and outside the home—in my current stage of life. Just like the natural gathering of soccer boys behind our house in Burkina made for an effective storying group, so the places were moms and their kids congregate can make for excellent starts to gospel conversations. Our church has a specific ministry to moms with preschool-aged kids, but there are also parks, indoor play places, and library story times where other moms emerge from their caves for social interaction.
In my different mom groups, I've seen people open up about postpartum depression, discuss deep marital issues, lean on one another, and ask hard questions that only the gospel can answer. I've had to learn to be there when I can and make the truth known as I should. When my heart is right, I can see all kinds of opportunities around me.
Especially in a city like Houston, we don't have to go very far to reach unreached people groups. In fact, the nations are coming to us! So who do you have around you? You may be surprised. If you ask God to open your eyes, you may very well see a field white with the harvest of nations living right across the street.
3. Start small to make a big impact (Colossians 4:4-6)
Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
Sometimes, the Protestant Work Ethic and even missional zeal can cripple us. Because we can't save the crowds and start multiple churches in a year, we give up on the small things that must happen first. Jesus came to save the whole world but spent most of his time investing 12—and of those 3.
That's why I'm super excited about the SBC's new focus on Who's Your One? Instead of being suffocated by the burden of masses of people who don't know Christ, we instead aim to be faithful to pray for and share with one person in our circle of influence. It takes away both my pride in having evangelized the world and my guilt in not. Instead, I can just be faithful where I am and entrust the results to God.
4. Live out Jesus alongside the saints (Col 4:6)(Eph 5:15-21)
Pay careful attention, then, to how you live — not as unwise people but as wise — making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. (Eph 5:15-21).
In all of this, we must never forget the power of God's people working together in the Spirit. Though each church situation is different and may fall short of the ideal, the Body of Christ is meant to serve and encourage one another with all the different kinds of work, gifts, and life stages we have. We are better together—both in and among our churches.
Though the disclaimer not to "get drunk with wine" (18) may sound irrelevant for many Southern Baptists, it becomes much more apt when we think of the many distractions we use to pass through our days more easily. Binge-watching shows, spiraling into the latest Facebook or Twitter controversy, or finding your comfort in perusing Amazon for the 900th time can take us away from community and keep us from understanding what the Lord's will is. I don't know about you, but I'm rarely filled with the Spirit if I play Bejeweled more than a couple times in a row.
Instead, when I'm in community with other believers, I find the compounding effects of the Spirit at work among us stir up all kinds of encouragement, awareness, truth, and thankfulness in my heart. That makes it so much easier to live out a life for Christ.
So, no matter if my ambition is to preach to those who have never heard (Rom 15:20-21) or to live a life quietly loving and serving (1 Thess 4:10-12), I will do it for the Lord. I will trust that his plan is to build his Kingdom, and he'll use me however he wants as I surrender to him.