My heart ached as I realized the implications of our decision. Just three cold, sleepless nights ago the structure of our normal lives had broken apart. Some of our local partners had been unexpectedly detained and interrogated by the police.
In the hours and days that followed, we’d had several secret, late night visits by local friends who came to relay information about the serious nature of the events. Each knock on the door shot our adrenaline levels through the roof. Each piece of news painted an ever-clearer picture of the implications for us and our network of local believers.
We were being accused of espionage. This allegation placed a target on the backs of everyone we knew in the region. Our local friends and the regional church network hung in the balance, providing an urgency for us to preserve the work and to protect the people. The pressing choice before us was both clear and excruciating: we were going to have to leave.
Clarity for Uncertain Times
Although our sudden departure was heart-rending and unexpected, in many ways it was not unforeseen. There are no guarantees of stability in ministry overseas, much less in the sensitive area where we served. This undergirding reality had shaped our perspective from the moment we stepped off the plane twelve years earlier.
“No guarantees of stability in ministry overseas . . . shaped our perspective from the moment we stepped off the plane twelve years earlier.”
We had begun our work with a question: “If God only allows us to stay here for a short number of years, what does he want us to leave behind?” This driving thought had helped temper the bombardment of cross-cultural distractions and brought clarity of purpose to each new day. The words of Hebrews 12:1–2 became our anthem, and we sought daily to focus on Jesus and to labor with perseverance. In short, we wanted to live in such a way that any unplanned departure could take place with no regrets.
For each new season of our ministry, we would assess the condition of the local church and strive to provide what they needed in that stage of maturity. In our quest for planting healthy, multiplying churches, we were constantly amazed at what God accomplished in our midst. We were equally amazed each time the door stayed open for us to return after visits to the States. With each new interval of ministry, however, we’d come back to our original question and ask again, “If God only allows us to stay here for a few more years, what does he want us to leave behind?”
Living in Faithful Obedience
My wife and I strove with the fullest measure of our strength to live in faithful obedience during our twelve years of service in that part of Asia. During that time, God allowed us to see thousands of people come to faith and to witness hundreds of churches started. We poured ourselves into fledgling local churches and relied on his grace to persevere through exhaustion, sickness, and persecution.
God gave us the opportunity to train, counsel, and mentor new church leaders to stand on their own, equipping them to reproduce themselves into the lives of countless others. During our time there, 2.5 million people had a chance to hear the gospel and more than two thousand new leaders were trained to stand up for God’s kingdom in a country known for its harsh political environment.
In short, we left knowing that the local churches, while still young, were all growing in health, sustainability, and reproducibility in their effort to make disciples of all nations.
“If God only allows us to stay here for a short number of years, what does he want us to leave behind?”
How You Can Be Prepared
None of us knows how long we will have to do the work that God has given us. As you faithfully labor in your assignment from the Lord, here are some clarifying precepts you can use to keep a tight focus. If this season of ministry is shorter than you had planned, you can leave knowing you have done your utmost to walk in obedience and to encourage healthy, reproducible ministry.
- Ask yourself, “If God only allows me to stay here for a short number of months or years, what does he want me to leave behind?”
- Share the gospel early and often as you search for those whom God is already drawing to himself. Don’t wait a long time to begin talking about Jesus.
- Be intentional to engage in healthy, multiplying ministry. Model to new believers how they should train and equip new disciples. Constantly evaluate yourself to ensure that you are “laying aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares” (Heb. 12:1–2), and repent of things that may prevent you from successfully fulfilling your calling.
- Have a ministry plan that outlines what priority objectives need to be met to ensure that when you leave, the local church will be able to continue the task of making disciples.
Peace in the Middle of Heartbreak
Leaving Asia was one of the most gut-wrenching things we’ve ever done. The relational losses for us were incalculable. In the middle of the heartbreak, however, we can take comfort in the fact that as a family we left with no regrets. We did everything we could to honor the calling God had entrusted to us. God was faithful to grow us through our struggles and mistakes, and we had a front-row seat to witness him being glorified and magnified among people who largely did not know him a couple of decades ago.
I pray that you, too, will be able to live with this kind of short-term urgency. You do not know how long God will give you in your place of service. Labor to faithfully steward God’s calling in your area of ministry, so that whether the season is long or short, you will be able to look back with peace. Make the most of the fleeting time the Lord gives you in your job, your friendships, and your neighborhood, all for the sake of making the name of Jesus known.