Nearly four months ago I was on a mission trip to the Horn of Africa. During its first few days I wrote an update that described the unfortunate theft of my personal belongings, including my passport. It was a wild ride, one that I learned much from, but have no desire to repeat.
And that was only the first week.
The second half got even hairier. I came down with both a bacterial infection and the local flu. One evening I actually passed out alone in the bathroom and woke up on the floor with a gash on the crown of my head and a pump knot on my face. I spent the next four days just lying in bed, too whooped to eat, sleep, read, or pray. Meanwhile my teammates rushed in each day telling me the amazing things God was doing. During a previous mission trip a woman had come to know Christ and began praying for her family. During this trip, she gathered her whole family—and a few destitute people she had taken in—and the team shared the gospel with them. They all believed! Day after day they told similar stories.
I, on the other hand, was mostly alone. Already physically and emotionally spent, I didn’t do well. I tried to draw near to the missionaries I had come to care for, but I could barely hold my head up without the room spinning. And many of them seemed to be facing countless trials of their own. One thought pervaded my clouded thinking:
I gotta get outta here.
That was weird for me. I was in the land I loved so much. After all, that’s why I had heartily volunteered to go. I had experienced hard times there before without feeling so trapped. But now I just wanted to be with my family, not alone. Panic would sometimes overwhelm me, especially in the middle of the night. I cried out to Jesus, but at the same time sensed myself wondering what he would let happen to me next. A team member reminded me that I had said to them in training, “If God wants you to be sick and in bed the entire trip, then that’s ok—it has a great purpose.” I didn’t take much comfort in my prophetic words.
I arrived home exhausted and jumpy. I was so excited to see my family, but each day that same cloud of panic would come over me. I literally wanted to just run, run away. The only thing that helped was taking a family nap. So we did, a lot, those first few days. And in between, I confessed to my wife something I thought I would never say:
I don’t think I want to move overseas right now.
Over the last four months I have publicly written almost nothing, and never given an update on the rest of the trip. There have been lots of ups and downs. I am still processing many things. But one thing has become clear. God is deeply challenging my identity as a missionary. I think I wanted to run away not because of fear, but because I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to figure out who I am if I’m not living overseas, being a Navy Seal of Christianity.
We have decided not to pursue moving overseas for the next “season of life”. Every day I have to choose whether or not belonging to Jesus is enough. Many moments, it is not. Then he chips away at my achievement with the reminder that his grace is the same because it’s built on what he’s done, not what I’ve done. It reminds me of what I often preach to others: missions is certainly God using you to form the world into the image of Christ, but it’s also equally God using the world to form you into the image of Christ. I am grateful for the prayers and support related to this trip. I’m starting to believe that what God wanted was ok, and that it has a great purpose.