There are many unknowns when we first consider serving cross-culturally. Will I be okay? Will my kids be okay? Will I be able to learn the language? Will it be worth it? This can produce anxiety, because anxiety is often fueled by a perceived need to know the future in some form.

My husband Michael and I – along with our children – spent 18 years in Chile with CMS, where we served at the Centro de Estudios Pastorales (CEP) in Santiago. We thank God that, as we prepared to serve in Chile – and throughout our years there – we were amazingly supported spiritually, physically and emotionally by CMS and its wider fellowship of supporting churches. 

I’d like to share a few brief thoughts about how knowing Christ enables us to go, to stay on the field, and to leave.


Choosing to go

Last year, when our trip home was unsure, I found myself saying things like, “If I just knew if the flight was going to be cancelled, I could plan. Or I could prepare myself to not be so disappointed. Or I could be sure to pace myself. I could cope. 

And that sort of sounds okay, except you’ll notice that the Lord Jesus is entirely absent from the picture. When I noticed this I got to thinking: what does knowledge give me? Or rather, what do I think knowledge gives me? 

If I know what is coming, I can prepare myself. Almost as if knowledge of the future is what enables me to live well. But this is not true! What enables me to live well is knowing Christ. If God calls me to serve him overseas, knowing Christ is what will sustain me, not knowing how everything is going to turn out. 

God is omniscient and calls us to rest in his knowledge, his management of the universe. I was not doing this in my fretting about my flight. I wasn’t saying, “In my uncertainty, I can know Jesus better”. I wasn’t saying, “I can cling to his knowledge of what is best for me, and I can allow my not knowing to drive me into the arms of the one who knows everything”. 

Moses gives some advice in Deuteronomy 29:29: 

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. 

Moses urges us to adjust to the idea of not knowing the secret things of God, but instead to focus on what God has revealed, namely, the words of his law and how we can put them in to practice. He exhorts us not to waste time and energy seeking a way to unlock the secret plans of God, for ourselves or anyone else. God wants us to trust him for that. 

As Jim Petty says in Guidance and the Plan of God, our Lord wants us to focus on ordering our lives by what he has revealed – namely his word. And his word is Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. 


Choosing to persevere 

Once we got to Chile, I discovered that many of the unknowns turned out to be just as difficult as I had feared. Some were worse. There were joys I hadn’t expected as well, and many opportunities to serve. But there were some very hard years.

What I didn’t know when I first went to Chile was that lamenting is a good and right thing to do. I knew that complaining was bad, and that I wasn’t meant to do that, but I didn’t have a good grasp on lamenting.

Lament is a grace from the Lord that allows us to wrestle with sorrow instead of rushing to end it. Lament has redemptive value. It is how we bring our sorrow to God. It’s turning to him rather than our own resources when things are difficult. 

American pastor and author Zack Eswine says: “We need to remember ‘the presence of inconsolable things does not mean the absence of Jesus’s power... Rather, it establishes the context for it’. And that frees us to live faithfully within our human limitations as we call out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!’”

Some of the difficult things in Chile were just genuine hard things that happened because we live in a fallen world, and some of the difficulties had more to do with what was going on inside me. Some of my lowest moments were when things that were important to me were taken away from me. It was good for me, because God used those moments to help me see that I was serving the wrong things. 

God can make faithfulness sprout up from us. This frees us to serve, to keep loving God and neighbour, and not get tied up with our performance. As God convicts me that there is a good way for me to serve him, he will enable me to persevere. As we share abundantly in his sufferings, we share abundantly in his comfort too (2 Cor 1:5).


Choosing to leave the field 

In making the decision to leave Chile I had to confront my fear of thinking that God would be disappointed in me for not being willing to keep pouring myself out for the sake of the gospel. My tendency as a person is to think, “I can so I must”, and this was driven by an identity very deeply rooted in being a helper and a fixer. 

The trouble with being a helper was that I rarely asked for help. Not from those around me, and not from God. Well, I asked him to help me do all the things I thought I should be doing, but not to engage with him to help me decide if it was time to leave all or some of those things behind. 

Growing in my understanding of Christ’s acceptance of and love for me regardless of my performance enabled me to see that if I hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from God, it won’t be because he is looking at me. It will be because he is looking at Jesus. That gave me the freedom to leave Chile and entrust the work there to him.

Knowing Christ enables us to face the unknowns, persevere in the hard times, and to rest in his ongoing work when it is time to come home.

This is an edited form of a talk given at CMS Summer School.

Related Posts