Missional Living Right Where You Are

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Three months ago, we welcomed our fourth child into our family. As I sit here in the stillness of the morning while our new baby sleeps soundly by my side, I am filled with thankfulness for so many reasons. But somewhere at the top of my list is the joy that I have found in being a mother. These days are the best days of my life – enjoying every wrinkle and squish of my newborn all the way to enjoying deep and meaningful conversations with my eight year old. But it used to not be this way. Motherhood has not always been easy for me, and our children have made quite dramatic, nearly fatal at times, entrances into the world. But yet, as one refined in the furnace of affliction, I sit here with joy that is not dependent on my circumstances and fresh understanding of my calling as Mother.

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” -Isaiah 48:10

Of course there are moments of impatience and words of apology when I fail to react in kindness towards these young hearts entrusted to my care, but this journey as a mother, which started around 9 years ago, just keeps getting better and His purpose in my mothering just keeps more clear. But again, I can still remember the joyless mothering days of my past…

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About 4 years ago, I walked down the hallway in the basement of our church located in the heart of the United States. My newly 4 and 2 year old children bickered and cried as I struggled to guide them from childcare towards the elevator. My arm tingled from the weight of my sleeping new baby who was nestled down in the car seat that I was carrying. Sleepless newborn nights were in full swing and new mom hormones were making my brain a chaotic atmosphere to try to remember God’s promises. Weariness, my ever-present companion, sucked the life out of me and the peaceful 2 hours I had just spent with other adult women, hearing a beautifully crafted lesson from God’s Word, was now just a fog in the back of my mind.

Underneath the tiredness from caring for 3 children 4 and under, was deep grief from the death of my father at the beginning of the year. Grief and lack of sleep were the means that the enemy used to tease me with the lie that I was living day in and day out completely isolated in my struggles.

I mean no one really could understand what I was going through I thought. 

And no one really cares to hear anyway, right? 

The more I believed I was isolated on the inside, the more I felt helpless in reaching out to someone around me.

Yes, as I struggled to herd my little ones into the elevator, I wanted to explode in frustration. I wanted to run out of sheer embarrassment. Actually, I very well could have just sat that car seat on the ground, and collapsed in tears on floor with my toddlers.

I remember glancing over my shoulder and catching the eye of the teacher who had just spent a couple hours pouring into a room of women who treasure the opportunity to glean from her wisdom. She smiled tenderly and before I had even had a chance to think, words buried beneath a smile I thought was successfully masking the turmoil within, flew out of my mouth…

“It’s like all the joy of motherhood is gone,” I said.

I could not believe I had just said that.

I could not believe I had just said that to her.

She just spent her morning pouring into others. The last thing I wanted was to burden her with one more thing.

But to my surprise, her listening ear and hospitable heart greeted my surprise plea for help and in that moment of ordinary life, in the middle of the Bible Belt of America, deep in the basement of a small town church, I experienced God’s extraordinary grace.

It was the sacred moment where two lives mingled with the Spirit and true fellowship was born. The kind of fellowship that welcomes those who feel isolated in their circumstances, and breathes hope into those caught in a moment of despair. The kind of fellowship where satan’s lie of isolation was crushed and through the Body of Christ, the Lord tangibly taught me about His character.

His always available, always listening, always accepting character. 

My feelings of mortification melted into relief as she patted my back and assured me it would get better. Hearing her say she understood dispelled the lie of isolation in the struggles of early motherhood and her words of wisdom cast a vision of hope that strengthened me for that day. It was God’s grace in action. She had just spent 2 hours focused on teaching others. She has 3 children, a busy pastor for a husband, and other women vying for her attention, and yet she didn’t rush me in that hallway.

She stopped and she listened, and she continued to pour from a heart that was full of Jesus Himself.

You can’t pour from an empty cup. And her cup was full of His Living Water.

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over time, her listening brought down walls built around my heart.Yes, over time, her listening and my observing of her supernatural joy and hope, made me hungry to learn from her. How on earth did she find joy as she mothered her children? How does she study the Bible – because I knew I didn’t find the same satisfaction as she did when I read on my own. How does she spend herself on others and yet to always seem to have more to give? What is this hope she speaks of?

I saw God’s beauty in her and I wanted that too. I felt God’s acceptance through her and her life made me want to learn God’s Word and discover who He really was. And just like that, in the middle of America, her missional heart took my broken heart in and family bonds were formed. It wasn’t a forced program that matched up people blindly to be mentored. No, it was one woman seeing another woman with the eyes of the Spirit and saying yes to my interruptions in her schedule that others might have seen as an inconvenience. And what had prepared my heart to fully receive this gracious gift of God through which He would grow me from just a simple knowledge of salvation to a deep understanding of His word? It was simply her listening ear. I cared about what and Who she knew because I knew how much she cared.

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And this woman, the one who steadily listened and shaped my heart over the course of a few years once told me that she had wanted to be a missionary when she was younger. At this time, I was just like any other stay-at-home mom, but little did she know the plans the Lord had for me.

She had thought about moving overseas to reach the nations for Christ, but God in His wisdom and creativity, would knit our lives together and use her to ready my heart to be catapulted from the American dream to the depths of darkness as a missionary to Central Asians who are trapped in Islam. Maybe she didn’t move overseas, but her lessons have. I was just that normal, young mom who was barely holding it together…who would have thought that He would choose me to move overseas, speak of Jesus in other languages, and entertain Central Asians and Syrian refugees around our dining room table?

Recently, one of our Syrian friends we have had over for meals and coffee and whom my husband has spent hours with, accompanied us to church for the first time in his life. Afterwards, he said “the best thing I heard was that it’s not about religion, but it’s about a relationship with Jesus. I don’t want religion. I do want a relationship.” He has stepped a little bit closer to making the best decision of his life, and I think back to all the times the woman I’ve written about has encouraged me in the beauty of being a content and loving wife and mother, allowing my husband to go out and fulfill this calling. Praise the Lord for her wisdom and for helping me hear it with His ears. Because of this, my husband has been able to love and serve and share with these men who still have family living back in Syria. And what if this man does accept Jesus? What if he shares with his family back in Syria and they get saved? The possibilities are endless and no enemy can stop the spread of the church from one individual to the next.

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Oh yes, the hours this woman spent listening to me taught me the importance of becoming a listening ear myself. I saw myself in her as our Syrian friend sat in my hospital room after the birth of our baby 3 months ago and again recounted his terrifying journey by foot from the horrors of Syria to the safety of Europe. I saw myself in her as my Central Asian friend confided in me about how her conservative fiancé wants to touch her inappropriately and forbids her from talking to another man. 

They confide because they feel safe. And once the feeling of safety is established and walls crash to the groud, opportunities to share about Jesus open up in a way only the Lord could orchestrate. 

The hours she spent telling me there is always hope when I didn’t understand how I could possibly have hope was not only changing my life as I discovered how to live with true, biblical, forward-looking, all sustaining hope, but also taught me how to give a reason for my hope with gentleness when asked.

The way she shared her very life with me gave me a sense of family where there were holes in my biological one. This taught me the healing that can come to others when we open up our family, accepting them as one of our own. 

Everyone is searching for a place to belong – the Syrian refugee, the Central Asian Immigrant, the successful business man, the tired new mom….

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” -1 Thessalonians 2:8

The way she wasn’t afraid of the darkness I felt created an atmosphere of acceptance that reflected the acceptance of our Father. She spoke of light that taught me to see Light Himself in the darkness and her words would teach me how to cast a vision of hopeful Light to those Central Asians who would find themselves in our home several years later.

When I would tell her stories from my past – of horrors that she truly couldn’t possibly understand – she didn’t run in the other direction because she felt in over her head. She pointed me back to scripture which is timeless and has the power to speak to all of our lives no matter where we come from or what we’ve lived through. Because of this, I have been able to listen to the stories refugees tell me. Stories of watching murders and having boat-mates drown. Stories of being hunted by ISIS and losing every friend they have before their very eyes. Stories that I cannot begin to understand but that need to be told to listening ears and prayerful hearts.

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Recently, my six year old daughter drew me a picture, and as I took in her heartfelt creation, my eyes beheld a tangible witness to the beauty and power of a spiritual family, grafted together through the blood of Christ.

“How beautiful! Can you tell me about your drawing?” I asked my daughter.

“I drew anchors for hope in God and a sun for bright Light!” she proudly explained to me.

I smiled and treasured that moment deep within. I saw the lessons I had learned from the teacher God had placed in my life back in the United States, being manifested through my daughter. I realized that not only had her lessons changed my heart, but they were directly flowing through me – to my husband; to the nations; to my children.

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And then something remarkable happened…

As this wavy-haired daughter of mine skipped off, I heard her repeat to herself what her drawing meant in a foreign language! I was shocked! And the first thing that came to mind was the beautiful Kurdish girl who is in her 1st grade class. I had met her mother the first day of school, but frustratingly enough could not really communicate with her. She is a refugee from Mosul, Iraq and the only common language we had was a little broken language of the European country we both now live in. What have this woman’s eyes seen? Her daughter and my daughter have both learned to speak this European language quite well because they are immersed in it at school. My imagination came to life for a minute – what if the Lord could use my daughter to tell this sweet classmate about hope in Christ through her drawings? Yes, the Lord has called my husband and myself overseas as missionaries during this season of life…..but what about our children? They will have better language skills than we ever will have. Because one woman took me in, listened to me, and spoke Truth to me, I was prepared to fulfill this calling God had placed on my life before the beginning of time. And because I was taught, I am able to teach my children. It’s this beautiful chain reaction that has unlimited potential in the Kingdom of God!

So perhaps this woman I’ve written about isn’t living overseas right now as a missionary, but her legacy through my family shines bright in some of the darkest places in the world, and I praise God that she lives missionally in the exact place the Lord has placed her.

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Today I encourage you to look around. You might live where most everyone you know is already a follower of Jesus. Maybe that might make you feel like your purpose in God’s Kingdom seems insignificant or not very exciting. But look around you. Even in the pews on Sunday morning in the middle of the USA are others who can learn from you and who yearn for a listening ear to simply notice them and say “hi, how are you?” Perhaps that young mom sitting next to you at Bible Study will end up rolling up her sleeves and crossing the street to love her neighbor as herself. Maybe she feels like she is drowning in motherhood and needs your reassuring words that yes, she can love her family and find joy and purpose in the mundane. Or maybe she will end up speaking foreign languages and teaching others in far away lands about Jesus. And you simply investing in her will be the very means the Lord uses to propel her into an unforeseen ministry that is far different than anything she might expect. And maybe, just maybe, the sweet and godly fellowship you show her today will prepare her to leave that comfort for lands that don’t know Christ, where she is willing to forgo the constant companionship of other believers with the hopes of bringing others into the very Body of Christ that she so cherishes.

“It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Love those the Lord places in your path. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Trust the Lord to give you the opportunities to speak into the lives of others and above all else, nurture your own relationship with Jesus. A heart full of Christ overflows to those who need Him around you.

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