She wants desperately to return to the hurting people she loves.
Laura Miles* is a missionary on hold. At least, she sometimes feels that way.
Miles spent two terms overseas with her husband, in places where the people she served are experiencing hard times and the threat of worse. It tears her up inside to watch from a distance their suffering. But for now she’s back home, where she and her husband minister to young adults in a local church.
“We really felt like it was a lifetime calling,” Miles said of the first stint abroad. “We went over and just loved the people, loved the ministry. We have a definite heart for Muslims. We felt like we really connected, but about halfway through the Lord was telling us we needed to go back and [prepare] for long-term career ministry.”
They thought God would lead them back to the same place, “but it wasn’t long after leaving that we felt that door kind of shut,” Miles said. “We prayed and prayed. We were very impatient with the Lord. We wanted to know where and what was next. We realized we weren’t trusting in Him, so we committed to resting in serving where we were until He revealed the next location.”
When the time was right, they went to a different country and ministered there for three years. “We left everything, sold everything, and we thought it was going to be long-term,” she recalled.
Once again, however, they sensed the Lord drawing them home — this time to reach out to American millennials searching for God’s purpose for their lives. Young women who look to Miles for guidance and inspiration confirm that she’s doing a pretty good job.
Still, a hurting, darkness-enveloped world calls to her.
“Honestly, my heart is on the field somewhere,” she admitted. “So I’m trying to seek out, ‘Lord, who do You want me to be right now while I’m here? Whenever You want to send me back somewhere, I’m ready.’ But until then, it’s about trying to be faithful where you’re at, with whom you’re given.”
The missionary call of God is as clear as glass. He called Abraham to leave his home for a place yet to be revealed (Genesis 12). Abraham obeyed, setting in motion a divine plan that would bless all nations. Jesus called His followers to make disciples among all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20), a command to His church that still stands. The New Testament refers 195 times to a “calling.”
But God’s specific calling to individuals is more mysterious. It arrives in His time, not ours. It might be dramatic or quiet. It might come gradually or in a single, powerful moment. It is personal, tailored to one’s gifts and experiences. It might involve traditional avenues of mission service, or using your professional skills to share the Gospel in the secular marketplace.
“God’s call involves a personal response to the witness of the Holy Spirit within us,” according to “Exploring your Personal Call,” an IMB document shared with potential missionary candidates. “In this sense, the call of God is inward, personal and even secret. People accurately say, ‘God has laid this on my heart.’ There is a sense of ‘oughtness’ or divine compulsion toward a task or occupation. This kind of conviction led Isaiah to utter [in Isaiah 6:8] the memorable words, ‘Here am I. Send me!'”
“This inward call can come in a variety of ways: through reading Scripture, through concentrated prayer, through special events or a special person, or through life’s experiences,” the IMB document reads. “However this personal call comes, it must be followed by a commitment to do that which God intends.”
Obedience, then, is the key. God calls us first to Him, not to a place or a people. Location comes later, and it may change. Abraham didn’t know where he was going; he only knew the One who was calling.
“No one, in other words, has a call to a particular place,” writes author and speaker Joan Chittister. “The call of God is to the will of God.”
Day by day, Laura Miles is learning that truth. What about you?
*Name changed. Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent. He blogs at Worldview Conversation.