I’d always planned to be a life-long “youth pastor”. My life had been transformed in big ways by the Love of Jesus experienced while in youth group at Lansing South Church of the Nazarene in Michigan. I still remember the names and faces, and the love of both the leaders and fellow students of those formative years. I felt a strong connection to helping young people know the Freedom & Love available finding our identity in Christ. In the Free Methodist Church, I’d come to know several great life-long youth pastors – and even some who’ve served a single local church for over 30 years! The depth and relationships we’ve enjoyed at serving only 12 years in one location have been amazing, so OF COURSE this could be what God wanted for us! On top of that, we’ve loved Decatur, Illinois specifically. Sarah was born/raised, & still has family here. I’ve served on the “Parking & Traffic” Commission here, and have even dropped hints that I’d love to serve as mayor someday (weak mayoral system = it’s totally possible). We’d navigated & helped serve through two lead pastoral transitions, and felt excited about the new rebuilding season we’d entered as a church. My new title “Pastor of Family Life” reflected a broadening of perspective/duties, but still offered strong connections with the youth.
So when the invitation came toward Hungary, I joined Abraham in laughing at what seemed to be a silly idea. I responded right away with a polite “Thanks for thinking of us.” e-mail. I even told Sarah, “If the kids come to us speaking Hungarian in the morning, THEN we’ll know it’s from God. Short of that – we’ll respond in a week with a gracious decline. The problem was – God didn’t seem to be laughing (just grinning, filled with loving, mischievous excitement). No daughters came out with a “Jo Napot!” (“Hello” in Hungarian) the next morning, but still it was something we couldn’t put down.
A week later we still hadn’t responded, as we usually would have. Neither had we asked for more details. In our evening prayers with the kids, we reminded them that sometimes God wants to speak to mommy/daddy through them. So “let us know if you ever feel like God tells you something He wants us to hear”. A few days later, our 8 year old spoke up… “Dad, I feel like God told me something He wants you to hear.” I was ready for all kinds of childish desires (Puppy? Disney? etc.) Instead, she shared – “God told me He wants me to be a missionary.”
We finally began to ask more questions, to seek clarity on why this was probably more God seeing if we were willing – more than actually wanting us to respond. But as my wife has already pointed out, it was tough not to see all God had been doing to prepare us for such a time as this. There were big things, like being formed by prayer as a family that is shaped by dependence on God. Or learning both personally/academically about hospitality, immigration law, cultural contexts, and a missional God. So many of the classes at Wesley Seminary I’d assumed God would use to prepare me to serve in new ways pastorally – took on new context as I saw the shape of missional service in them. There were crazy things like being reminded that my own grandmothers’ family emigrated from Eger, Hungary over 100 years ago. But…this meant I had to hold my self-proclaimed identity of “Lifelong Youth Pastor” loosely before the throne of Jesus.
Even as we walked the streets of Hungary on a short trip arranged to both serve and discover, we prayed and wondered. Was God just testing us, or was God uniquely inviting us on a journey of faith that had foundations already years in the making? I began writing a brief analysis of all the thoughts and prayers, and 5 pages later decided I should share these things with Sarah. She had pages of her own, and we realized, just as the laughter of Abraham had not deterred God – neither would our initial laughter. I realized God had not “changed my calling” from “Youth Pastor” to “Missionary”. He’d simply continued OUR calling to be faithfully obedient to the ways His Love was inviting us to join Him…and to allow that to be our identity.
God was calling us out of comfort and “known” into a new land where He promises to be just as faithful. In the context of the specific things we’d been doing/planning, it still made no sense. But in the grander context of responding to God’s Love, and wanting to reveal it wherever He places us – it fits right in. We’re already recognizing the sacrifices it will take, as we leave friends & family we love – and familiarity in many things, not knowing what tomorrow holds. It’s humbling to recognize, just as with Abraham: God wasn’t simply calling Abraham to have faith in God…God was also declaring His own faith in Abraham. God believes we can be used for the Kingdom…and this is where it seems He is pleased to call us! We are excited as we continue learning more about what it may look like!
The moment between putting ones’ foot out of the boat, and finding the waves walk-able is a tough place to be. It’s a place that forces a mode of continuous prayer. In that, we’re already realizing we’re right where God desires…and where we want our kids/family to be.
Stay tuned to hear a bit more of “Why Hungary?”!!!