Way back when, I told Jesus that I’d go anywhere He wanted to send me. I’d be obedient to anything He told me to do. I’d hold nothing back.
And in classic Maddie fashion (is this just me, y’all?), I had a sort of idea about what that would mean. The sentiment to go anywhere was genuine, but my imagination and affinity for biographies won over my expectations. I was ready for “anywhere” to mean the 10/40 window, somewhere without running water and that I’d have to wear a head covering. Honestly, I’m still ready for it to mean that.
I was not ready for “anywhere” to mean Europe.
If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t want it to mean Europe. When I returned from my vision trip to Turkey, the Lord was quick to highlight Europe and I was as quick to shut it down. Decades of prayer leading up to these practical, “rubber meets the road” moments of my future and calling, and I found myself arguing with the Lord over the specifics. Excuse me Jesus, I said anywhere. Going from first-world to first-world on mission wasn’t what I had in mind.
Note: what I had in mind. Per usual, Jesus has different, and infinitely more incredible, plans.
Maybe you don’t get my hesitance. You’re pumped about what God’s doing in Europe; it makes perfect sense that He’d call me there. You’d love to partner with me, and really, with Jesus, in this.
If that’s you, thank you. The response of your heart amazes me.
That wasn’t mine. And for as much as the Lord has spoken about His heart for Europe and His Kingdom strategies in sending people there, I’d be lying if I said that the questions don’t still creep in. He’s graciously and patiently undoing years of preconceived ideas about missions, effective ministry, and serving the Lord.
When I was first introduced to the concept of missions, I met missionaries serving in Europe and the Western world. I loved what they were doing and got excited about God’s movement when they told stories, but I still held a subconscious notion that it was the missionaries working in the 10/40 window who were doing the hardcore work. I never would have said it (because, I like to think, who am I to judge what God is doing in other people’s lives), but I had this idea that those who were willing to go anywhere were sent to the cool places, the gritty places in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. You must not be as hardcore or obedient if God calls you to the minority world. If you get sent to Western Europe.
There are so many reasons it’s strategic and practical. But even more than the things that make sense about ministry in Europe, God has been abundantly clear about His hand in highlighting and leading me there. Or at the very least, undoing my preconceived and prideful notions about His heart and work there. I’ll go into more detail when there are more concrete answers, which lends to more specifics on why and how. I’m just giving you the precursor to that.
Consider this permission to question how it makes sense for me (or anyone else) to be “called” to a place that traditionally missionaries have been sent from. The kinds of questions I never really felt free to entertain.
This summer, I wrestled with the Lord over this for weeks, afraid to ask Him for His heart for Europe because, deep down, I knew He’d give it to me. And I didn’t want to be called to Europe. We’ve done a 180 since then, but it was weeks of His tender, but firm, guidance and opening my eyes to how much of His Kingdom and plans I don’t get. So know that when I tell you, with all humility and open palms (aka if Jesus does a sharp-right-turn redirect, we won’t be shocked), that the Lord is opening both practical and emotional doors to Western Europe, I’m also giving you permission to have questions. I’ve spent months wrestling with the Lord through mine.
These are not “the hardest questions that missionaries get asked.” These were my questions to Jesus this summer. They come from the deep, often ugly, childish, or confused places of my heart. Way back when, I had these sorts of questions, buried deep down, and it never felt right to honestly ask them. Maybe if I had, there wouldn’t have been so much arguing with Jesus this summer. You don’t have to feel rude or like you’re being judgmental, because I’m going to voice them for you.
And if you’re past the questions, thank you for being one step ahead in the journey.
Lance and Heather, Hillary and Sol, Becca, Kristin, Dr. Pierson, Phillip and Stephanie, the women at Velvet Ashes, Kathy and Peter, Lane, and many more – It is your faith, your stories, and your prayers that have literally carried my heart to a place of more complete obedience. I’m eternally grateful for y’all and your heart for all the nations.
1.) Questions about the surety of “my call,” rooted in the idea that there’s no way that I’m actually hearing God fully – I’ve deluded myself, for some reason or another.
You’re just afraid. You said you’ll go anywhere, but deep down that terrifies you. Western Europe feels safer and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s God because of your own fears.
You’re right to assume that I’m scared. I’ve differentiated the posture of my heart between being afraid and being scared. Being afraid means that I’m living into a debilitating sort of fear, the kind that would causes me to to doubt God and His goodness. I’m not afraid. But I sure am scared, and I’m scared because I’m human. Yes, the idea of moving overseas by myself scares me. The prospect of making all new friends, of starting my life over in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs scares me. All the logistics involved in the process scare me. The thing about being scared, that makes it different than fear, is that it can live in tandem with excitement and obedience. None of those things feel like a weight that would keep me from getting on the airplane; they just feel like being human. I’m not invincible and I’m not omniscient and therefore, things scare me. And the things that scare me? They’re as true for moving to Western Europe as they are for moving to Turkey, Uganda, South Korea, or Laos. It’s still a different culture and it’s still moving overseas.
This process has been a decade of the Lord doing and undoing things in my heart. I might not have been able to say two years ago, five years ago, or eight years ago that there aren’t certain fears attached to particular places. Or being single. Or being a woman. Or living among people with a language that I don’t speak. Or any of it. Jesus had not shied away from doing the work where He puts His finger on things and says, “can I have that? What about that? And this too? Are you willing to give me this too?” I groan, we wrestle, and, after awhile, He always wins. I could point you to specific points in time, reference nuanced journal entries, where the Lord brought things up and we dealt with them.
If you’re calling me out for being scared, I won’t argue with you. You’re right. Call me crazy or normal or human, but it’s true – there are parts of this process and the reality of the unknown that feel scary. But if you think I’m afraid and am basing my obedience on that fear? I’d be open to that wise counsel if it was coming in the context of mentorship and deep relationship, because believe me when I say I know I don’t have it all figured out. But with all honesty, I can say that it is not fear that is guiding my decision or my prayers; if anything it’s the kind of foolishness and faith that Paul says is a mark of following Jesus.
You’re in it for comfort. There’s no way that you’re genuinely called to the place your family vacationed this summer. You’ve convinced yourself that it’s God just because you want to live somewhere you’ll have running water and a nice bed.
The best way to answer this question is to be straightforward and honest about the part of it that is true: there are some physical realities that are much easier in Europe, particularly Western Europe, than in other parts of the world. Running water, electricity that doesn’t cut out, and access to grocery stores are a few simple life realities that missionaries often struggle to adjust to in developing countries; you don’t have those challenges in developed countries. But that doesn’t mean that life, or more specifically, ministry, in developed countries is easy. Stigmatized Christianity, closed cultural attitudes towards relationships, and independent attitudes makes adjusting to specific places in Europe difficult in their own way.
Along that same line, it’s also helpful to clarify the kind of life I’m committed to living, both currently and on the field. Just because the overall culture may live in wealth and comfort doesn’t mean that will be true for me (or other missionaries, for that matter). Living like Christ means living generously, simply, and radically close to the marginalized. This means things like living in the same apartment complex as refugees, driving a used car or taking public transportation, and shopping second-hand. In places where the exchange rate is higher, support money doesn’t go as far. That requires budgeting, trusting, and a faithful frugality in stewardship.
To be transparent about the process, part of my conversations with the Lord and my mentors also included looking at the practical realities of my situation: I’m aware that I will be a young, single, white, privileged, recent college-grad. A place of difference that touches on every area of life – new dress, language, cooking, sleeping arrangements, lack of running water, no electricity, etc – would feel jarring. Obedience may mean foolishness for the sake of the Gospel but it doesn’t mean stupidity. I don’t want to find myself burned out after two years because I needed, in my own strength, to go to “the hardest place” I could think of. There’s going to be culture shock wherever I go, but if the goal is long term sustenance on the mission field, there’s a way (and people who’ve gone before know this) to do that transition well.
I genuinely believe the grace of the Lord is sufficient and that He will sustain me wherever He sends (both now and in the future). In my heart, I am genuinely ready to give up every comfort that I’ve grown accustomed to in my twenty-something years of life. Jesus knows better what my embodied personhood actually can and can’t handle (and for how long), and, to use an education term, scaffold me into deeper places of discomfort.
2.) Questions about the effectiveness of missions in Europe or strategic advancement of the Gospel in the nations.
But the unreached need it more. It’s not that the people of Europe don’t need the Gospel, it’s that the unreached people have never heard it. There are workers in Europe – there aren’t in other places of the world. How can God be calling you to people who have access to the Gospel and not to those who don’t?
The short answer to this is yes, people should be going to the unreached places of the world – but there’s a lot of complexity in that. First, in many of these unreached places, Westerners can’t even get in. And if people do cross the border, they often aren’t free to share the Gospel; their lives become a dance on eggshells, wondering who they can trust and doing the difficult work of contextualizing the Gospel in an unfamiliar place. I think that’s why, the more I study missional movements and read testimonies of the Lord’s work in unreached places, the more I’m noticing how often it comes from nationals. And in a lot of places, like South America, Africa, and places in Asia – they’re already doing it. There’s something to be said for the empowerment of locals, particularly in developing countries, in pioneering their own ministries. Let them be the ones to share the Gospel – they know the language, the culture, the nuances. Trust is present by nature of who they are. That’s not to say Western missionaries don’t have a part to play – it just often looks a little less glamorous than we may like. It’s often a background part, of support through resources, prayer, and short-term trips in the context of long-term relationships.
This is part of what makes Europe, particularly Western Europe, so strategic. The recent refugee crisis has people coming by the millions from unreached, creative access places. People who you could never share the Gospel with on the streets of their hometown are now living in places where you can. And the recent political and international climate has a lot of them open to it. It’s created new opportunities to walk with the marginalized and do life with people. And there are incredible practical, felt needs – for things like English teachers. I’ll be working with people from these unreached areas in a setting where they are more open, the government is less restrictive, and I have more freedom to build mutual relationships.
However, I want to be careful about minimizing the fact that it’s still Europe. It feels too trite to claim that I’m trading one way of working with the 10/40 window to another; I don’t want to make it seem like I view them the same way, because I don’t. Going to Syria is different than working with Syrian refugees in Europe. Because even if my “primary calling” to Europe is to work with refugees, that won’t happen in a vacuum. Having a heart for the nationals in Europe is important because they need the Gospel too. And in their post-Christian culture, most of them have never heard it. They need invested relationship, discipleship, and the Holy Spirit too.
Christianity is in decline in Europe and even though it’s still considered the major religion of the continent, most of it is an ancestral identity. State churches and cultural legacies can lead to the mindset that to be European is to be “Christian.” Secularism and Islam are both thriving. In many European countries, a vibrant life in Christ, rooted in the love of Jesus and active in the Holy Spirit, is all but non-existent. Working with my middle and highschool students has also highlighted that I’d love to do youth ministry with students who haven’t grown up in church and don’t know the Gospel.
To read more on global Christianity and Christianity in Europe, see European Christianity’s Failure to Thrive, Christianity is Shifting Dramatically, Restrictions on Religion, and an Interactive Map on Global Christianity. And beyond the statistics, listen to some of the stories of the people who’ve lived and worked in places like Germany, France, Sweden, and Scotland; believe me when I say they need the Gospel too.
But there are refugees in America. If you want to work with refugees, you can do that in America. It’s a lot of work and resources to move overseas, especially when there are similar needs in the States.
I know it’s a lot of work to move overseas. And I love working with refugees in the States; I’ve built a lot of connections working with refugees in the States. I wouldn’t be pursuing this if I wasn’t sure it was the Lord. Like I said before, while the “primary” motivation may be to work with resettling refugees overseas, there is also a motivation to work with the nationals. It’s not a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of obedience. Jesus is on the move everywhere, including in America; the U.S. needs more people working for transformation and caring for refugees and immigrants (if you want to get more involved, let me know!). But so do other countries. There’s a couple reasons, beyond obedience, why working with resettling refugees overseas makes sense.
First, it gives the grounds for a different sort of relationship. To teach people English in a place that is also not my home means that I’m offering a practical skill while also being a fellow sojourner. I need their community and fellowship as much as they need mine. A different level of trust and vulnerability can be established on the basis that I’m figuring out a new culture too. Because of the location of Europe, working overseas also enables easier (and cheaper) access to working in other places that need more short-term or establishment type work, like in a refugee camp. It may not be sustainable or appropriate to relocate to some of these places, but the ability to set up a short, cheaper flight to help set up something like an intensive summer English program makes the location of Europe strategic. It’s also more connected to the heart of refugee resettlement, like the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland or the receiving base for Syrian refugees in Lesbos, Greece.
Don’t let the conversation stop here. If you want some outside resources on this topic, here are some good ones: TEAM: Does Europe Need Missionaries, World Venture: 9 Misconceptions About Being a Missionary in Europe, 10 Reasons Not to Become a Missionary.