Choosing a vocation or knowing the career for which one might prepare and train takes self-awareness, understanding of aptitudes and skills, wise counsel from those who know us, and a recognition of what has impacted and shaped us, just to name a few. Putting these things together is referred to as a process of discernment.
As I look at my own life and walk with others in this discernment process, I see a couple of key elements that help us to understand who we are and what we are to do for work.
Our primary calling is to be loved by God and to love Him. This fundamental relationship permeates and impacts my relationship with myself and others. This is called the Greatest Commandment:
He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39 CEB1).
God has created us so our lives would have a purpose and we would bear fruit (John 15:1-8). Purpose and fruit are the natural outflow of a life lived placing one’s relationship with God first.
Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives (Ephesians 2:10 CEB).
God uniquely designed each of us to participate in His work in the places, environments, and with the people He has prepared for us to impact for His Kingdom.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. (John 15:5 CEB)
Being fruitful is a natural outflow of our lives when we keep our loving relationship with God the primary focus.
There is much to be said about this, and whole books have been written on vocation, career, and calling, which are well worth reading. However, for the purpose of this chapter, I simply want to highlight how it is God’s design for each of us, no matter what career we are in, to be part of His work. He knows how He has created us and where He needs us to be. So, as we grow in our relationship with God and our love for Him, our task is simply to pay attention to the passions and desires He put there and trust Him to lead us step by step.
I grew up in a time when we would often refer to people who entered vocational ministry, either as pastors or missionaries, as ones who are “called” by God. I still believe that. And I also believe those in other vocations are equally called, based on these two core truths.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider those who are called primarily to the vocation of ministry and, more specifically, to cross-cultural work. Both my husband (Ric) and I have been called by God into the vocation of ministry. We have reflected on how the call of God in our lives was sensed and nurtured. Through telling our stories, you will notice we came from very different backgrounds and how God’s work with us, and in us independently, was distinct.
As you read our stories, I would encourage you to take time to reflect on your own calling. How has God nurtured you as you discerned and moved into your vocational calling? What were the things God used to nurture you into your calling?
Some of you may have been asked to walk alongside others in the process of discernment. Gone are the days when people enter a vocation for their entire working career. Instead, it is more the norm for people to move from one career to another. So, this discernment may happen at various times in a person’s life. How do you help others see and recognize God’s call? How might the call be nurtured?
How has a person’s early years shaped who they are today? How might these formative experiences uniquely prepare someone for a life of cross-cultural service?
I was born into the home of a pastoral couple who saw ministry as a way of life. Our lives revolved around people and the church and its various activities. Our home was filled with guests for meals and overnights. On many occasions, we took people into our family for weeks at a time, all of which nurtured in me a love for God, His Church, and the people around me. My call into missions was nurtured in our family through personally knowing and interacting with missionaries (many of whom were family friends and guests in our home) and praying for missionaries in our family prayer times.
In my early years, I experienced much tension in our home. My parents were older when I was born. My siblings were twenty, eighteen, and fourteen. By the time I was born, my parent’s marriage was disintegrating. So at the age of five, my mom and I moved out on our own. There were no Jesus-followers in our extended family, and church was not a part of our lives.
I was gifted with a mom who sacrificed much to give me a home filled with love. We did not have much, and we had to move often, but she showed me how to be content with what we had. I was gifted with a father who stayed in my life and with whom I could spend time.
I see how God used these events to nurture in me an ability to enjoy what I had, the ability to transition from place to place, and the ability to be independent.
What were some of your early recollections of God speaking to you? Who did you come to understand God to be to you? Who did you comprehend yourself to be? Recall a time when you felt deep in your soul, “I was made for this.” How was God using this to speak to you?
I was about seven when I first felt God call me to international work, or as we would say then, to missions. After the service one Sunday, I stood with my mother as she talked with the missionary who had been speaking. The lady turned to me and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I replied, “Maybe a teacher or a nurse,” and then my mom added, “or maybe a missionary.” How I have come to understand what happened to me then is the Spirit of God whispered to my spirit, “This is what I have made you for.” From then on, as I wrestled with choices in my life, from what subjects to concentrate on in high school, to what career to head towards, to who I would marry, it was always with the conviction I was to go overseas.
In my last couple of years of high school, I was invited by a school friend to attend youth group with him at his church. To be honest, I went because there were so many pretty girls. But soon, God began to speak.
One summer, I attended a youth conference; our purpose in life was the theme. It was precisely the questions I had been asking as I thought about the future. I knew God was speaking, inviting me to follow Him. There was a long thirty-six-hour bus ride back home from the conference. I was under so much conviction from God I could not sleep.
Arriving home, I went to our pastor’s house because I wanted to follow Jesus. The pastor was not there, but his daughter led me through how to respond to God’s call. I was baptized a few months later. The same day, two different people approached me to say they felt God was calling me into ministry. I had wanted to be a lawyer, but I knew God was changing my focus. I was nervous about telling my dad that I felt I was to pursue a career in vocational ministry; instead of going to university, I would be heading to Bible college. After I voiced this to him, he gave me one of his final blessings in my life. He said, “Son, if that is what will make you happy, then I support you one hundred percent.”
How have your experiences in God’s family and meeting with His people shaped your understanding of who you are in the Body of Christ? What are your spiritual gifts? How are you serving the Body of Christ locally?
The churches where I was raised often talked about missions and hosted a weeklong missionary emphasis once a year. This kept before me the needs of the world around me. It was my favourite time of the year. I loved the stories and felt drawn to someday be a part of going. Also, the church nurtured me through programs where I was discipled into understanding what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. As I struggled to make wise decisions in my teen years, a very active youth group and several activities kept me tethered and growing in my walk with God—from Bible quizzing to weekly youth events and Bible study along with yearly camps and retreats. As a young teen, I was also asked to begin serving by helping out with Sunday school, which eventually led me to teach my own class. All of this not only nurtured my relationship with God but helped me to explore and begin to understand my passions and gifts.
I was discipled and nurtured in my walk with God before I had even decided to follow Him. In attending the youth group, I learned what it meant to be a Jesus follower. The youth pastor, who had a similar family background, took time with me. As I grew in my walk with God, the church encouraged me and stood behind me.
Partway through my college years, the church invited me to a one-year internship. This gave me a deeper understanding of what vocational ministry was while helping me discover my gifts and passions and how those would relate to the vocation of ministry. Missions was there before me. My church also had a strong emphasis on missions. However, at the time, I thought missionaries were people who could not make it in their own culture, so instead, they went overseas. It is interesting how God continued to nurture me despite my initial misunderstanding.
What have been some significant life experiences where you gained a love for different cultures or were awakened to the needs of the world around you?
During my grade eleven year, my grandparents were invited to Colombia to train pastors on beekeeping. I studied Spanish in school, which led them to extend an invitation for me to join them. During this seven-week trip, I got a taste of what life overseas might involve. It not only reconfirmed what I had been sensing for the direction of my life but gave me a deep desire to return to Latin America. However, I kept this sense of calling into missions to myself.
In the summer of 1980, I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala for six weeks to live alongside and help missionaries. The experience confirmed God was indeed calling me to serve Him cross-culturally. This was a place of deeper surrender in my life, as I grappled with being willing to do what God had called me to without any restrictions on my “yes.” After this, I was finally able to declare to others what I sensed God saying to me about serving overseas.
After my first year of Bible college, I went to Europe to attend Capernwray schools in Germany and Austria. This experience became foundational in my life. My family was not one that travelled. I was an anomaly to them. But travelling in Europe, and other places over the year, gave me a love for adventure and different cultures. The school experience led me deeper into Jesus, understanding His love for me and the world around me. Sitting at a youth club in Germany during one of our outreaches, I first felt God speaking about those who would never hear the Gospel if someone did not go.
A few years later, I ended up in Colombia for six weeks. I got to see what cross-cultural workers did. I lived in their homes, helped with their work, asked questions, and heard stories. One night, while everyone else was asleep, I sat at a window overlooking the city. I heard God say, “I want you back here someday.” I understood Him to mean, not specifically to this city, but as a cross-cultural worker in Latin America.
Submit to the Process
A big part of discerning a cross-cultural calling is applying with a mission organization and trusting the screening process they have developed to help confirm your sense of calling to cross-cultural work and the organization itself. First, you will need to find out what kind of training would be necessary and then submit to the required steps and processes. As you start, you will find the process will train you, refine you, and help you to discern if this is a true calling of God.
My sense of calling to vocational ministry was strong by the time I graduated from high school. But, as with any vocation, I knew I would need the proper training to go into ministry. So I enrolled in Canadian Bible College in Regina, Saskatchewan. These years were formative for me as I began to discover who I was, who God was to me, and how He had gifted me.
In the last year of studies, there was a straightforward process for those going into vocational ministry, which included being accredited with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada (now changed to The Alliance Canada). At the time, you would declare whether your trajectory was ministry in Canada or overseas. In choosing overseas, you became part of the candidate pool, which guided the ongoing preparation process right through until departure to your assigned country.
Upon graduation, I began looking for a ministry placement. This was the next step in the process of becoming a cross-cultural worker. It was a way of developing ministry experience and learning before moving into an international context. In this part of the process, Ric and I began to date and then marry.
Although I sensed a call to vocational ministry in my last year of high school and received my father’s blessing to go, the first year of Bible college was a huge culture shock for me. I discovered so many areas of immaturity in my new life as a follower of Jesus. Going to Capernwray, travelling Europe, and doing the internship in my church became keys for nurturing my call and growing in my relationship with God. By the time I returned to Bible college to finish my degree, I knew God was leading me. During those final years of my undergrad program, God confirmed His call to cross-cultural ministry through my trip to Colombia. Ruth-Anne and I had begun dating in those years and were married just after my graduation.
Ric and Ruth-Anne:
We continued preparing for overseas by attending seminary, at Canadian Theological Seminary and then Regent College. Ric pursued degrees, and Ruth- Anne picked up courses along the way. These years of study not only prepared us theologically and pastorally, but they were environments where our passions for God and our desire to be on mission with Him were fanned into flames.
Together we entered the ministry in a small town in central Alberta. Both of us had grown up in cities in southern Ontario. Moving into a small community centred around oil, gas, and agriculture was very cross-cultural for us. This amazing group of people allowed us to practice what had been theory while teaching us what it meant to move into a different culture and love those God had called us to. This became a huge learning experience for us as we would soon be entering into yet another culture.
During these years, conversations with a person who headed up the mobilization process increased as we began to discern together where God might be leading us. We communicated our sense of calling as well as our gifts and passions; we were presented with three different scenarios. Both our hearts were roused when we heard about Venezuela. We took time to pray and put it before God, feeling His confirmation Venezuela was where we would go.
It is God who calls us into the vocations He has for us. He is the One who leads us step-by-step and nurtures us along the way. It starts from the time we are born, and He leads us into places and spaces which will shape us according to His good plans and purposes. Although God delights to use us, His greater delight is to love us and for us to love Him in return. We are first and foremost created for an intimate relationship with our Triune God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Therefore, a focus on deepening the relationship with God is paramount. Out of this deepening, the rest will flow.
This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 4. Download your free copy today.
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