I have to get my baby out of here now.
That was the mantra that kept playing over and over again as I carried her through the palpable, toxic fog in Delhi. We were only passing through on a day’s layover, but my decision to venture out to a city market seemed ludicrous after I stepped out of our Uber and into the haze.
Traffic consumed every inch of pavement, its idle standstill choking out more smog into the air. Locals bobbed and weaved about their daily business, air filter masks strapped around their ears. The sun wasn’t even visible; its light barely seeped through the sieve of pollution that lingers from sky to ground.
The reality is appalling: living in Delhi when pollution levels are this high is the equivalent of smoking forty-four cigarettes a day. As I moved through the outdoor market, the Holy Spirit reminded me of another staggering truth: roughly 99 percent of Delhi’s population will die without believing the gospel.
You caught that, right? Ninety-nine percent. Without Christ. My mind played ping pong with this reminder and my desire to get myself and my child out of there as soon as I could. As I boarded my plane for my next destination, I thanked God that he hadn’t called me to live there.
But what if he did?
The Holy Spirit delicately placed that question in my heart, but it settled like a rock in my soul.
Limits to My Sacrifice
I’m completely on board with taking the gospel where it’s not. My family currently serves overseas in a place where less than 2 percent of the population has access to the gospel. I teach Matthew 28 nearly every week to local Christians who have yet to learn that God’s gospel is for everyone, everywhere.
But the reality is, God called my family to a pretty beautiful place. It’s very different from my home culture, and certain aspects drive us batty. But it’s relatively safe, people generally respect Americans, and the environment is fairly clean.
“Christ’s demonstration of love should elicit a ‘yes’ from us as well, no matter the request.”
Even still, I felt like such a good Christian when we said yes to moving somewhere far from home for the sake of the gospel. It was still difficult saying goodbye to family and leaving familiar customs, food, and language. Once our feet landed on foreign soil, I remember thinking, “There, I did it! I completed the sacrifice God asked of me.”
As if he doesn’t have the right to ask more. As if I don’t owe him everything.
Luke 9:57–62 is an incredibly difficult passage of Scripture—to understand, much less employ. Jesus laid out the level of allegiance he’s looking for from people who, deep down, only want to follow him half-heartedly. It appears they had the best of intentions when they asked to join. But as Jesus responded to their excuses for delay, we may assume they shrunk back as he moved forward on mission.
They had seemingly legitimate reasons for hesitating to go as Jesus called them. I do too. Long exposure to polluted air can cause asthma, loss of lung capacity, even cancer. It’s one thing to subject myself to those risks. It’s another thing to willingly do so with my nine-month-old daughter. I honestly don’t know how to sift through that, but I do know God has equipped his people to do difficult things—to follow in the footsteps of Christ, even when it costs them all.
“If God places a burden on my family to brave a difficult place, I trust he will also undergird that call with the grace and peace to not only endure it, but to find contentment there.”
I know missionaries serving in war zones who tuck their kids in with lullabies of bullets sounding off in the distance. Others live in countries that behead Christians for uttering a contradictory word against other religions. There are still others who were quarantined in certain countries because of infectious diseases. The common denominator—the driving force behind their presence in those places—is that they are in locations filled with people who will otherwise live and die without the gospel.
Ours is a Savior who was at risk of infanticide, slept little, lived in politically tense times, and suffered and died so we could escape a terrible eternity apart from him. His demonstration of love should elicit a willing “yes” from us as well, no matter the request.
For the Sake of Those Without the Gospel
I don’t know where God will call my family to live five, ten, or fifteen years from now. But deep down I long for my soul to be at rest if he asks us to settle in difficult places. I want to echo Paul’s words, penned while he was in chains for the gospel, “I endure anything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal joy” (2 Tim. 2:10 ESV).
If God places a burden on my family to brave a difficult place, I trust he will also undergird that call with the grace and peace to not only endure it, but to find contentment there. And we will depend on the church to stand with us and others whom he has sent and to pray unceasingly for their steadfast faith to stay.
Even when health problems come or instability shakes the family, God can, by faith, build a healthy perspective on our circumstances. Like Paul, who viewed his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12–13), the view of our circumstances can be graciously transformed. Amid unfavorable conditions, Paul rejoiced (Phil 1:18). By the power of the Spirit, so can we.
Rachel Cohen is a content editor and a media specialist with IMB. She and her family live in South Asia.