I spent last week at the YWAM Connect conference for global communicators, and as we all met together for the first evening we were asked to introduce ourselves and explain how we became involved in ‘mission’. Here’s my story:
#1 The Predestining Call of God
Before I was formed in the womb, God knew me; before I was born, God set me apart to be a prophet to the nations – oh wait, maybe that was Jeremiah, not me.
Hermeneutics aside, before I was born, my parents became convinced that God had called them to be missionaries. So they studied at All Nations Bible College, and joined OMF to plant churches in the Philippines. Which is the point at which I enter the story.
#2 The Logic of the Gospel
Growing up as a missionary kid means that for as long as I can remember I have known the gospel – that (altogether now):
- God loves you
- But you’ve sinned
- But Jesus died for your sins
- And so you need to decide to follow Jesus
And the missionary logic of the gospel has also been clear to me as long as I can remember.
If the Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”, then as Paul puts it in Romans 10, “How then shall they call unless they believe? And how can they believe unless they hear? And how can they hear unless someone tells them? And how can someone tell them unless that person is sent?”
#3 The Joy of Full Surrender
There is a difference though between intellectually understanding – and even affirming the truth of – the gospel and surrendering your life completely to do whatever Jesus might require of you. After spending a few moments amidst the angst of one’s teenage years trying to work out an apologetic defense of my personal belief in the historical fact of the gospel, I was baptized at the age of seventeen.
But it was the following year, at a weekend Christian camp, that I heard a preacher proclaim the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit in a way like I had never seen before. And people were giving their lives to Jesus and being filled with the joy of the Lord and sharing their stories with a vulnerability and freedom that astonished me – and I wasn’t feeling it.
‘Why’s everyone else got this joy and not me?’ I asked, half in prayer and half just to myself. And God answered – not with a booming voice from heavens, but just with a simple thought that suddenly popped into my mind:
‘Get over yourself!’
So, in the final session of the weekend, I attempted to do just that. I put up my hands for the worship songs, even tried jumping up and down with everyone else; I laughed at the bad jokes the preacher made as he introduced his message; I stopped being overly critical of every expository point that he made. And as I let my guard down, the sharp double-edged sword of the gospel began to cut me to the heart. And when the preacher gave his final appeal for people to stand up as a sign of giving their lives completely to follow Jesus, I realized that although I had willingly committed myself in baptism, it was as though I had mentally been saying to God, ‘I’m willing to obey you so long as I understand you – but I don’t want to be one of those crazy Christians…’ And I realized that if God was real, I needed to trust him completely. Even if it meant being one of those crazy Christians.
So I surrendered my life, my rights, my desire to not be too crazy a Christian, all of it – to Jesus. And I stood up.
And I was filled with an uncontainable joy that immediately I was trying to share with whoever would listen – at church the weekend after we had returned from the camp, with friends at school who were somewhat bewildered by the sudden transformation in the lives of those who had gone on this weekend away, and with a growing number of other people that continues to increase.
#4 The Burden for the Lost
I then came up to university to read Mathematics. And by the start of my second year discovered that I was not as good a mathematician as I might have hoped – nor as diligent a student as my tutor might have hoped.
But though I might not have learnt much in my second year about groups, rings and modules, or complex analytic methods, or quantum mechanics, or fluid dynamics, God did begin teaching me about prayer.
And as I began learning to pray and intercede for others, God began to share something of his sorrow towards sin with me. And for the first time, I began to weep on behalf of ‘the lost’ – like Jesus over Jerusalem (Lk. 19:41).
#5 The Push of the Holy Spirit
A year later, having switched from Mathematics to Theology, I went to visit a friend in Egypt. And while there I had the chance to visit Mt Sinai – the place where Moses saw God’s glory, the place where Elijah heard God’s still small voice, and the place where (NT Wright suggests) Paul went in between being confronted the risen Jesus and beginning to proclaim that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah. And the night after we had trekked up Mt Sinai to see the sun-rise, I found myself unable to sleep, my imagination gripped with ridiculous nations of preaching on street corners like some urban John the Baptist.
Back in England, the ridiculous notions refused to disappear. And so – initially with no small amount of trembling – I started street-preaching.
#6 The Gentle Suggestion of a Friend
Fastforward another couple of years, and after managing to get myself a degree and (more importantly!) a wife, I was spending a year working with Cambridge Presbyterian Church. But what I was going to do after that year came to an end was a question whose answer I did not know.
Until one morning a good friend mentioned that he had been praying for Taryn and me, and felt like we needed to step away from things in Cambridge and spend some time together laying a foundation for whatever we might end up doing with our lives. “Maybe you could do a Discipleship Training School with YWAM,” he suggested.
The suggestion was gentle but as we talked about it that evening, it fell with the weight of a brick dropped from heaven. We did need to step away from what we were trying to do in Cambridge, at least for a season.
And after looking at various options we decided that a Youth With A Mission DTS was indeed the way for us to do that.
#7 The Emptiness of our Excuses
Our DTS took us on outreach to the beautiful country of Rwanda, and it was there one afternoon that my beautiful wife and I were discussing the various possible things that we might do after our DTS had finished. This wasn’t very difficult to do, as all the people who had offered any specific suggestions seemed to be recommending the same thing: that we stay on at YWAM Harpenden.
But there were obvious challenges to this option. Would we have a flat of our own? (After a year and a half of marriage in which we had always been living in other people’s houses – and sharing bathrooms – we were beginning to feel like this was important.) Where would our income come from? (Everyone who works with YWAM is a full-time unpaid volunteer supported by the gifts of friends who believe in their calling.) What about family members’ expectations of us? And what about– thus our list went on.
That evening as we were having dinner, Bella (the Rwandese lady who we were working with) asked from the opposite corner of the room where we were planning to work as missionaries. Surprised by the suddenness of the question, I gave a somewhat vague answer. Bella wasn’t satisfied and hastened over to our corner so that we wouldn’t miss any of what she was about to say:
“God is calling you to be missionaries–but you’re worried about having your own house.” (–How did she know?–) “Don’t worry – God will provide what you need.”
And she proceeded to specifically name and explode every single one of the objections to continuing in YWAM that we had discussed that afternoon.
So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I signed up to be a YWAM missionary.
Now your turn! Whether you’re a missionary or an avowed atheist – what’s the story of why do you do whatever it is that you do?