My bags were packed. My goodbyes were said. I was ready to start my second term serving with IMB in East Asia. All I was waiting on was my Taiwanese visa, sure to arrive any day. Then I got an unexpected call from the embassy.
The good news? The visa had been approved. The bad news? It was approved the same day the borders in Taiwan closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. I wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
I’m not the only IMB worker unexpectedly kept from my place of service by this pandemic. Some of us have been displaced by travel restrictions, others by medical needs that necessitate relocating. One thing we all have in common, however, is separation from people God has burdened us for by circumstances we can’t control.
Thankfully, this season will likely be temporary. By God’s grace, one day this pandemic will end. For some, these separations are far more permanent.
In just a few short years as a missionary, I’ve heard more stories than I ever expected of coworkers who had to leave ministries they loved far sooner than they would have planned.
Personally, I never imagined serving anywhere besides the city in East Asia I first called home as a journeyman. During my two years there, I developed a deep love for the local churches my team served alongside. A few months before the end of my term, I called my team leader, who was on stateside assignment, and told him I wanted to return and continue my ministry. My calling had never felt clearer.
Within two weeks, all my plans unraveled. My team leader was denied entry into the country when he tried to return from the U.S. Ten years of ministry for his family came to an end in an airport immigration office.
Their departure had a ripple effect on our whole team. The clear path forward I thought the Lord had given me became entangled in many unanswered questions. Would our team leader’s family be okay? Would the rest of our team be able to stay together? Was I still sure I wanted to return to East Asia? What was I so sure I had been called to?
In the year that has followed, God has graciously given me the time and space to wrestle especially with that last question. I’ve learned that disrupted plans are painful, but they don’t disrupt our callings to God, to each other, or to proclaim the gospel.
I’ve learned that disrupted plans are painful, but they don’t disrupt our callings to God, to each other, or to proclaim the gospel.
No matter what, believers are first and foremost called to God Himself. Like the prophet Habakkuk, we can rejoice in the Lord “though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines.” Some of the wisest counsel I got in this last year was not to rush any decisions, but just to rest in the Lord. For the believer, He is an unshakable refuge strong enough to bear us up through any storm. Our calling to know and love Him never changes.
No matter what, believers are also called to each other. Scripture describes the church as a body for a reason. We are called to be united in Christ, and to bear each other’s joys and sorrows.
This seems so fundamental, but it really came to life for me this last year when I needed help from the believers in my life more than ever before. Countless times and in countless ways, they were God’s provision to support and strengthen me as I navigated difficult decisions and transitions. Our calling to love and serve our family in Christ never changes.
No matter what, we are called to proclaim the gospel. Scripture tells us to “always be ready to give an answer” when we are asked about the hope we have. Nothing can disrupt this calling, not even being quarantined during a pandemic.
Though the family members I’m staying with currently are all believers, just a few days ago, an unbelieving friend from my old city messaged me. She said she’d been reading her Bible and wanted help understanding Romans.
I can’t travel, go to church, or even visit my grandmother right now, but I can still share my faith. My friend and I are entire continents apart, but God has graciously opened a door for me to share truth with her. Our calling to proclaim the gospel never changes.
In the year since my plans were upended, God has been kind. Fruitful ministry has continued in the city I left. All of my teammates, including my team leader and his family, have continued ministering to East Asians. Though our roles look different than we’d planned, the Lord gave us clarity and peace about our next seasons of ministry. God, in His wisdom, has taken the pieces of a puzzle that felt impossibly jumbled and fit them each exactly where they needed to be.
A year like this is almost comical, with so many ups and downs rounding out with yet another unforeseen change of plans. I know I’m not alone in that. Disrupted lives are a shared frustration around the world these days.
We can’t control much right now, but as believers we can press on faithfully in the steadfast callings on our lives even as we wait for this season to pass.