Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Jenny Manley, wife of Josh Manley, a pastor in the United Arab Emirates. See her bio below.
We were reading the following:
A city in the northern part of our country needs a church planter. It is just east of Saudi Arabia and just south of Iran. A Muslim sheikh on the Arabian Peninsula is giving land for an evangelical Christian church for the first time this century…
I studied my husband’s face trying to read his reaction. “Are you interested?” I asked.
He had just graduated from seminary, and we were praying about finding a church for him to pastor. It never crossed my mind to consider anywhere East of Saudi Arabia and south of Iran.
It was not just that I had never considered living in the Middle East. I had never seriously considered going overseas for ministry, at all. In my mind, the people who went overseas had a special calling and a unique desire. They knew who they were. And I knew that I was not one of those people. I had never even been on a short term missions trip. I did not participate in my church’s international ministry. I did not even have any close friends who were from other countries. I was certainly not being called to ministry in the Middle East!
Or was I?
I knew the Great Commission in one sense calls all of us to tell the Good News to those who have not heard. For the next few months, I asked dozens of Christians whom I respected, how to discern a “calling” to overseas ministry? I got as many different answers as people I asked, ranging from the more subjective, “you’ll know when God calls you” to the Augustinian end of the spectrum with: “love God and do what you want.” There were months of angst trying not only to determine our specific calling, but also trying to decide how to determine a calling. We came up with the following list of Biblical principles. These eventually helped guide us in making the decision to move overseas and plant a church in a part of the world void of the Gospel.
Perhaps the most important step in a decision making process like this one, is to cover it in prayer. Pray specifically and pray broadly. Pray over each of these steps, and ask others to pray alongside you. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you in straight paths.
1. Opportunity (Acts 16:6-10, 20:22)
When considering whether there is an opportunity for ministry in another country, look for open and closed doors. If there is no opportunity to go, trust the Lord has closed the doors for now. When Paul, Timothy, and Silas headed for Asia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit from entering. I do not know exactly how the Holy Spirit conveyed his alternative plans to this 1st century missions team, but they knew not to proceed. So even though Christ had left them with the directive to go into the world and preach the Gospel, the Spirit closed the door for these specific people to go to this specific place at that specific time.
Sometimes, however, an opportunity presents itself—even if you were not looking for it, as it was in our case. Be careful not to turn your back too quickly on a seemingly open door because it wasn’t exactly what you had envisioned. God has a heart for the nations, and Christ has issued a call to his disciples to spread this good news.
2. Need (Matthew 9:37)
Is there a need for workers in the place you are considering going? Considering this need can help clarify one’s calling, especially when choosing between multiple potential ministry locations. If we are to look at our short lives in light of eternity, we must learn to be able to place emphases on Gospel priorities and places, even above our own preferences.
3. Desire (Psalm 40:8)
This may be the trickiest part of this decision-making process. Desire is ultimately an emotion, and as such it can be a useful barometer of the heart. Our desires can give us insight into what we value and what we fear. This information is helpful to us as we seek wisdom and discern calling. On the other hand, our emotions can be fickle, and they should not be used as the sole or even the final arbiter of a decision. Desire has to be a factor; however, it should never be the only factor. It is especially important to pray for your desire if it is lacking. Through prayer God gave me a desire to move to a place I could have previously never envisioned living.
4. Godly counsel (Proverbs 15:22)
The Proverbs are full of imperatives to seek counsel among the godly. When considering whether to undergo the stress of leaving one’s home country to take up residence as an alien in another, this decision should be made alongside others. Your church’s leaders and other godly believers who know you well should be brought into a decision like this at an early stage. Their counsel should be humbly and earnestly sought. They may have insight into your strengths and weaknesses that could be invaluable to your decision.
5. Willingness (Acts 20:24, Psalms 37:4)
When anyone decides to follow Christ, he must first count the costs. We must not only be willing to follow Christ into Jerusalem but also to Calvary. Moving abroad often means forsaking familiar culture, language, food, dress, medical practices, and customs. It means intentionally distancing yourself from family and friends. It may mean experiencing loneliness and rejection at a new level. We must be willing to walk away from the comforts of this world because of the deliberate hope we have in the next.
When all of these factors are laid on the table and carefully considered, a “calling” is what emerges. It is not always a pain-free process, but God does lead us even through confusion.
One year ago I never envisioned myself living outside the U. S. Now I could not imagine wanting to live anywhere but the Middle East. I am grateful for my “calling” to overseas work and pray the Lord who reigns over all would use me—the most unlikely of candidates—to make Him known and enjoyed.
Jenny recently moved to the United Arab Emirates, where her husband is the pastor of a new church plant. They have 3 lively children – ages 5, 3, and 1. In what seems like a previous life, Jenny was a Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate. She secretly still loves politics from afar.