“Where do you want to be in five years?” a professor asked me in the middle of the crowded dining hall.
It was March of my freshman year at a Christian university.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe Uganda? Somewhere doing missions work, though.”
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to go into full-time missions, there was a problem with my answer. The problem was that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I didn’t truly see myself in Uganda, or even want to go there. But I wanted to want it, because I thought that was what faithful Christians were supposed to do.
I thought full-time overseas missionary work was the best work any Christian could be called to. That was my first mistake. The second was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of what being a missionary really was.
Like many Christians, I had a misconception about the nature of missions work. I was 19 and convinced that full-time missions work in an impoverished nation was the best way to serve God. And I was worried that it meant I wasn’t a good enough Christian if God wasn’t calling me away to do big and scary things.
I disregarded the fact that I am an introvert who is easily exhausted by groups of people. I disregarded the fact that God hadn’t given me gifts of public speaking, teaching, or leading. I knew I could learn all those things if the mission field required it of me. God would give me what I needed to succeed in his plans.
And that’s true. But I was disregarding the gifts that God did give me; and I knew that going into full-time overseas missions wouldn’t be the best way for me to use those gifts. I knew that I didn’t really feel called to Uganda. I had for a long time felt like God was calling me to worship and serve him through writing. Of course, I could’ve written in Uganda, but I knew God was asking me to not go that far—he was asking me to stay close by and work on creating art that could make people feel and remind them what’s important in life. He wanted me to spread the gospel right here.
Every believer receives spiritual gifts to use as a member of the body of Christ. These gifts empower us to do God’s work. Not everyone is going to be gifted and called to lead. Nor will everyone be called to missions work in another country. We’re all different, and that’s a great thing about the body of Christ:
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:27–30 ESV).
It is important that believers work together as different parts of the same body. If a finger suddenly decided it didn’t want to be a finger anymore, and started to act like an ear instead, everything would fall apart. As a body, we will be most successful at spreading the gospel if we each use the gifts God has given us and not attempt to be someone other than who God created us to be.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7 ESV).
The professor saw through my lie and called me out on it.
“What really gets you going? What do you love?”
“I love writing. I’ve always wanted to write.”
“Why do you see yourself in Uganda and not in, say, Paris, writing every day at a café?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Why full-time missions and not full-time writing?”
“It just doesn’t seem like enough,” I finally confessed.
There it was. Sometimes, doing the things we’re good at doesn’t feel like enough. Even when God gives us gifts, we disregard them in favor of pursuing what we consider to be a more noble or spiritual occupation.
I believed the myth that becoming a missionary in a far-away country was the best thing anyone could do for the Kingdom of God. I know I’m not the only Christian who has made this mistake, and this has led Christians to mission fields they do not belong in. When this happens, the kingdom is missing out on the work we are actually called to do.
Being a missionary doesn’t always mean traveling across the world. Being a missionary means taking on the mission of spreading the gospel—which is something we are all called to do:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV).
Being a missionary isn’t always about leaving. Sometimes it means staying right where you are and using the gifts God has given you. And no calling is higher or lower than another. The whole world needs the gospel, including the community you live in now.
After pursuing a writing career, God might still call me to Uganda. I’m keeping my ears open. But no matter where I go or where he calls me next, I’m going to listen and be honest with what I’m hearing.
I encourage you to do the same. Respond to the call God has placed on your life. Be a missionary in whatever you do.