Leslie Montgomery said there were too many ‘messy years in the middle’

The summer before Leslie Montgomery started 8th grade, her church hired a youth pastor whose parents lived and served as missionaries in Tanzania. Hearing them share and teach about what they had experienced and what God was doing in Africa at camp that summer “literally changed my life,” she said.

“I knew that summer, as a 12-year-old, that God was calling me to serve as an overseas missionary, specifically in Africa. I came home and shared my calling with my church the next Sunday. Of course, no one was too concerned at that point; God isn’t sending out too many 12-year-olds by themselves to Africa,” she quipped.

Leslie Montgomery takes a selfie on a mission trip to Kenya in 2016. Photo Provided

As Leslie finished college, her dad asked if she was ready to go to Africa as a missionary.

“No, I was ready for that nine years ago. Not anymore,” she said.

She knew she felt the call of God to missions at 12 years old. And that call had always, unmistakably, been to Africa. She was assured of that in her heart.

Yet, it seemed God wasn’t opening those doors for her life. In her view, there were too many “messy years in the middle,” she says. She had given up on her dreams of missions.

“There were a handful of years around late high school, college, and even after, that I would describe as years of rebellion against the Lord and his calling on my life,” she shared. “I was out of fellowship with the Lord, living a life fulfilling my own fleshly desires. I was even careful to make sure no one else knew that this was what I was doing.”

Leslie Montgomery on a mission trip to Mozambique in 2018. Photo Provided

Leslie continued, “But God knew, and He pursued me through it all. He never stopped loving me, and He never gave up on me.”

She is so thankful for His grace in her rebellion. Still, for Leslie, Africa had always been deeply imprinted on her heart.

As God worked in her heart, she changed her mind about a short-term mission trip her dad proposed, and she went. That experience marked a defining season for her, she explains. There was a “before Africa,” and there was an “after Africa” for her. She’d spend the next five summers on short-term mission trips to the continent she so dearly loved.

Then, life happened. She got married. She had a baby. There was a global pandemic. Leslie had no idea when her young family would get to go back and bring the gospel to Africans who needed to hear it.

Similarly, her husband, Luke, knew God was calling him to missions. But, when a short-term trip opportunity presented itself, he said no. While his childhood call was to missions, he still preferred the idea of living in the United States to cross-cultural missions.

One spring afternoon, God opened her husband’s heart to this call too. Luke came home and said, “Okay. Let’s go.” The family then knew it was time.

Luke, Leslie and Brock Montgomery. Photo Provided

Leslie, a schoolteacher at the time, finished up her school year knowing she wouldn’t be returning the next year. Luke left his full-time job. They sold their house. They were all in.

In March, the Montgomerys, along with their two-year-old son, Brock, are headed to South Africa to disciple university students.

“God has given us a heart for university students, and we know the incredible impact they can have on their friends, families, and communities,” Leslie said. “Sharing the gospel with them, making disciples, and showing them how to make disciples can have effects in families and communities and professions that we couldn’t possibly reach on our own.”