Sometime last October, I awoke at night in a cold sweat, with the voice of a Filipino man ringing in my ears, “Come and help us.” My heart was cut to the quick, and I felt a sweetness in my soul and a burning desire to become a missionary.
OK, it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t hear voices, and I don’t get dreams. My heart wasn’t especially filled with compassion for the poor, and I had no particular desire to leave my comfortable life in Mason, OH — which is, or so the signs proclaim as you enter town, one of the top 24 best places to live in America.
So how did God move me to be willing to leave all this, and more importantly, to desire to go as a missionary to a land I’ve never been to?
The answer is in a different sense of the word “calling”: namely, vocation.
First, I am a teacher. I love to find things out and explain them to other people. I derive my happiness from the look of realization and excitement on the faces of others. And what I most like to teach is the Bible. In the past 9 years, I have become more and more involved in Bible teaching at our church. This started with Bible studies that I initiated back in 2004, and is shortly to culminate in my ordination as a minister of the Word next month. I especially love to read closely and find details that help God’s people grasp the stories of Scripture in ways they hadn’t thought about before. You can get a sense of how I think about the Bible from reading my blog, Colvinism.
So there was this continual tug of Bible-teaching. At the same time, I began to feel that the time was right for me to leave the K-12 Classical Christian school I was teaching at. I have no doubt that God brought me to the school and blessed me and my family by our time there. There are a few students coming into high school whom I will regret not having in my classroom — it is always hard to find a good time to stop teaching — but on the whole, the time seemed right to close this chapter of my life and serve the Lord in other ways.
Second, I am a husband. I’m responsible to God for how I treat my wife, and that includes my stewardship of her time and talents. A husband who keeps his wife from serving the Lord in ways for which she is especially suited and trained is hoarding abilities that he ought to enable and deploy for service to God. My wife’s work and skills have benefited primarily our own family and the clients who can afford to hire her here in Cincinnati. That’s not insignificant, but it is not the best way to leverage her skills for the kingdom of God. She will do more good in a place that doesn’t have America’s health care system.
Another consideration also relates to my wife: Sora is the most thoroughly converted person I know. She came into my life in a marvelous way, and I haven’t been the same since. Every decision I have ever made to help my wife follow God has also brought me closer to God. Thus, I have no doubt at all that for me to go as a missionary with her will also be a way for me to grow in my faith and in my knowledge of the Lord. (To be clear, I’m not stating that “your marriage will bring you closer to God” is a universal rule for other people. But it has been my experience with Sora and Jesus.)
So far, everything I’ve described could be categorized as “internal calling,” i.e. the Spirit putting desires in my heart. But I believe that the human heart is deceptive, and it is easy for men to imagine a call to ministry in the Church because of their own desire for importance or fame. For that reason, I place a high value on external calling, the opinion of those who are over me in the Church. I told Sora, “I’ll go if the Church will send us.” So the first thing we did when entertaining the idea of becoming missionaries was to meet with our pastor. He is my parents’ age, and one of the wisest men I’ve ever met. I was expecting him to say either, “No, we can’t spare your family from our parish right now. Wait a while,” or else to question whether we had really thought it all out, and wouldn’t we be better waiting until our kids were grown. Instead, he thought about it and replied that he thought it sounded right, and that it made sense in terms of where our local church is in its history and growth. Our bishop likewise was supportive and enthusiastic.
A further external calling has become apparent over the course of the past five months. I started out by agreeing that my wife had a calling to missions, and wondering what God might do with me. Since then, two things have happened to make things clearer for me: first, within 24 hours of deciding to go long-term, I received an encouraging answer from the principal of Faith Academy, saying that yes, he would have a use for me, so that my teaching vocation could still be fulfilled. Second, I have discovered a never-suspected talent for deputation. I am not a schmoozy person, and I hate sales. But I really enjoy telling others about what we’re going to be doing in the Philippines, and explaining the Biblical doctrines that underlie it. I like talking to people in my home and from a pulpit — and thankfully, it is in those places, and not in a crowded room or a noisy party atmosphere, that the joyful work of deputation takes place.
There are two ideas in the New Testament that have been most on my mind in making this decision and following it through. One is the parable of the talents, where the servant who does not maximize his master’s investment is chastised for it. I do not want to look back on my life and say, “Yep, God gave me a knowledge of ancient languages, the ability to communicate with students, and a good grasp of the Bible, and I used it all to make myself more comfortable.” I want to use what I’ve been given in ways that will make a bigger difference.
The second idea is that God has created us for good works, and that we are vessels for His use. “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20, 21 NKJV) Some vessels are no good: they’re leaky, filthy, or ugly. Some vessels are good only for destruction. Some are for “baser use” — chamber pots, grease pans,etc. But some are of silver and gold, beautiful vessels with which the Lord is pleased; vases and cups that he displays on his table. Paul says that we ought to be “prepared for every good work.” The path to being this sort of vessel is service to others.