The stars over the city skyline glowed dimly in the night sky as the call to prayer descended from the mosque into the dusty streets below, winding its way through the crowded and dusty roads, finally finding its rest in the gloomy shadows of the far alley. As I gazed at the dusty skyline from my rooftop, I began to reflect on all that had happened, and all that was about happen. One year ago, you couldn’t have told me that I would find rest in South Asia. You couldn’t have convinced me that I would eventually call this place home, and that I would long so painfully to stay when the Lord said “Go back to the United States. Trust in My plan for your life.”
In April of 2020 as I sat on that rooftop, I remembered the call that the Lord gave me two years ago on a mission trip. While sitting on a tiny mattress before the sound of the rooster crow at sunrise, I read John 4:35-38 in the dim light:
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months and then the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap for which you have not yet labored. Others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
Now I was laying on a different mattress. The rooster had been replaced by a call to prayer. The dim light was not shielded by mountains, rather it was shielded by city pollution. That morning I again heard the familiar voice of the Spirit calling to me: “Who do you love more: My people, or Me?” In that moment I was reminded of a different Scripture, John 10:14-16:
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring the also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
I heard the Spirit’s voice again urging me: “Why is this place so important to you? My sheep are from many folds. Wherever you go, I will send my Spirit with you so you may bear much fruit.” My heart was gripped with conviction in that moment. I realized that my focus wasn’t on Christ; it was on South Asia. I had become focused on my task, but I had forgotten to follow Christ and listen to His voice. I had done as Peter did while walking on the water. I had taken my eyes off Jesus and looked instead at the waves.
After tearful days of praying, worshiping, searching and fasting, I made the difficult decision to return to the United States. Upon returning, it became immediately clear to me why the Spirit was urging me to go back to the U.S. Within three months, my sister got married. Less than a month later I needed surgery, and simultaneously my mother needed an immediate emergency operation. As she was being prepped for surgery, her brother lost the fight for his life against double pneumonia and COVID-19.
For five months I waited in complete, utter confusion, lost without a tangible sense of direction about where my life was headed. As I waited for approval to return to South Asia, I felt as if I were floating in space—moving vastly into the unknown, without any control. In August 2020 I found myself at the bottom of a dark pit, much like those alleyways in South Asia. I resolved to go away and retreat to the mountains, my favorite place to go and find rest.
My best friend and I hiked deep into the wilderness for three days. There we prayed and talked about everything in our lives. One foggy morning as I looked out over the misty valley from the top of Grandfather mountain, I made a difficult decision: If I didn’t receive concrete information about my returning to the field by the first week of September, then I would resign from the IMB. As the cool breeze whistled through the valley, I begged God to answer my prayer and guide me. He spoke to me, reminding me of John 10: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” I knew the voice of my Father, and no matter how hard I fought against His voice, explaining away all the justifications I had for resigning, I never felt peace in my heart. I knew my Father’s voice, and in those long days of waiting Jesus was calling me back to South Asia to complete my journeyman term. “My son, you know why you were brought home, but I’m not done with you yet overseas. It’s time to go again.”
I sat on that mountain for hours with my best friend, pouring over the Scriptures with him. As we were admiring the fog, I turned to him and said: “I just don’t know if a year is really enough time to go back and get resettled and then get up and leave again so soon.” He looked at me with a familiar smirk in his eyes and said something that I won’t ever forget: “Was three years enough for Jesus to accomplish His will for eternity?” As we laughed together the fog began to clear and the sunlight revealed our only clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains on our entire hike.
This morning I woke up to the familiar rise and fall of the voice from the local mosque, calling people to prayer. I went up to my rooftop and looked over the city, thankful that God had answered my prayer. Within days of returning from my August retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains I received approval for my return to South Asia for another year. As the psalmist wrote: “I sought the Lord and He answered me” (Psalm 34:4). Every day is a faith walk, and last year the Lord delivered me through one of the toughest seasons of my life. Even in the moments where I couldn’t see or hear Him, He was right beside me.
John 10:1-3 says this:
“Truly truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
When we put our trust in the Lord, we must expect Him to lead us out of the sheep pen. He promises this in Scripture. Wherever your sheep pen is, take heart in knowing that the Lord will not leave you there. But if you let Him, He will lead you out into the harvest fields, to reap for which you did not labor.