Going…Staying…Where God Leads
by Tim Palmer
February 18, 2011--When I was a freshman in high school, I attended a summer camp at which noted preacher Louie Giglio spoke. He was preaching about the Great Commission, and the words he spoke have resonated in my heart since I heard them. "Go," he proclaimed, "unless you are called to stay."
Like some kind of spiritual Marine Corps, we think that Jesus' words in Matthew 28 are meant for the select few brave and willing enough to step out of the comfort of their native culture and settle in a foreign land in order to share the gospel of Jesus as full-time vocational missionaries. "The few, the humble, the missionaries," we say.
The truth is I always thought I would be in that select group. My parents were Southern Baptist missionaries when I was a child. So, when I heard Louie's words, I fully expected to "go," to leave my hometown of Abilene and live a life of ruthless faith in Jesus somewhere else. "Anywhere," I prayed, "I'll go anywhere for you, Jesus…but here."
But here I am--almost 15 years later. Much to my chagrin, I felt called to stay, perhaps even constrained, convicted, forced to stay here in dusty ol' West Texas. But, in time, I've come to find the truth that all of us are called to live a life of going wherever we are. We go to the store to buy bread, and while we do, we are emissaries of His love. We go on vacation to Dallas, Austin, New York, and as we do, we are conduits of His grace. Even our staying turns out to be a form of going where God leads.
January 2010 Earthquake Prompts Call to "Go"
In the years that I've been in ministry, there have been times when I've felt the strong compulsion to go somewhere else. In January of 2010, we all watched in dismay as the small island nation of Haiti was turned inside out by a vicious earthquake. In a matter of seconds, millions of people within a 20-mile radius lost their homes, friends, family members, and livelihoods. The destruction was swift, and the human toll was staggering.
At the time, I was working full-time as the college and outreach ministry director at Aldersgate UMC, here in Abilene. It was in the early moments of this tragedy that a small group of us began to feel that tug, that call to "go." Almost a year after that devastating earthquake, a group of mostly McMurry students woke up at 4:00 am and boarded a flight to Port-au-Prince. Our desire and goal was to "bring hope to Haiti."
Walking out of the airport and into the streets of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere was all it took to nearly deflate our hopeful hearts. Most of our students had never been out of the country before, and only a few of us had seen anything remotely close to the poverty and desperation that confronted us as we drove to the Methodist Guest house in Petion-ville. The streets were clogged and filled with trash. Our hearts were heavy and we wept together on our first night in Haiti.
Darkness Is a Reality, but Morning is Coming
As we hoisted our heavy hearts and perplexed minds into bed that first night, a clearly time-challenged and crazed rooster began to crow. Since we had arrived in Haiti, it seemed like everything in life was backwards or upside-down, nothing seemed to be what it should be. Roosters were crowing at night. Buildings were turned inside out. Toilet paper went in the trashcan, not the toilet. Streets had no lanes. And motor vehicles seemed to have no weight capacity. All our priorities and life rhythms had been tossed in the air in what became an intense experience for us all.
As we laughed (sort of) and tried to sleep through this ridiculous rooster's morning song, the thought entered my mind that perhaps this rooster wasn't that crazy. After all, isn't the darkest time of night the perfect time to beckon morning's light? For the next eight days, that is exactly what our team did.
We laughed with children from the streets of Petit Goave. We hoisted cement, bricks, and mortar with Haitian workers and, in the midst of destroyed buildings, together we constructed two new restrooms at the Methodist Guest house in Petit Goave. We learned new dances, sang silly songs with children at the Brakeman School, and worshipped with the saints in two churches. And, as the days rolled into one another, that hopelessness began to give way to new hope; hope for Haiti and hope for ourselves.
In the end, I think that this is one of the reasons why Jesus calls us all to go, wherever we are. When we do, we make disciples. But going also makes disciples out of us. I don't know if my family and I will ever pack up all we own and move to a different country. But if Haiti taught me anything, it is that darkness is a reality everywhere--in my own heart, in the streets of Abilene, and in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
But it also reminded me that morning is coming, and that I am called to sing the song of that morning in the midst of the darkness. So go! And as you do, remind a world walking in darkness that hope is on the horizon, morning is coming, and with it, the light of God's love.
Tim Palmer led a UMVIM team to Haiti in January 2011. He looks forward to scheduling another team soon.
Date posted: Feb 18, 2011