Ken and I took a full a week to even speak about our conversation with Bob Bagley. Ken had laughed it off as an impossibility. I was afraid that it wasn’t.
Riding home from East Gold Street Wesleyan church the following Sunday, the ice was finally broken. We were discussing attending North Carolina West District Conference to try to make connections in the hopes that Ken could transfer his ordination from the Nazarenes back to the Wesleyans. The District Superintendent would be there, as well as Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent. The speaker for the night was Dennis Jackson, Executive Director of Global Partners.
Ken and I had both been familiar with Global Partners for years. Ken’s college roommate, Peter, was the Director of Operations, and Ken had participated in numerous mission trips with the organization. I had been working with Global Partners for three years in mobilizing physician assistant students to do international rotations, in the hopes that exposure to the world’s shortage of medical care and theological teachings on holiness would inspire students to pursue mission work as a career and calling.
The physician assistant programs in which I have taught have been Christian programs, each with an emphasis on raising up medical missionaries. While each program has sought out applicants who have a desire to serve the poor, the number who actually became long-term missionaries was low in one program (2 in 10 years) and the other program is so new, it has yet to graduate any students. I have begun to feel wildly unsuccessful in regard to mobilizing medical missionaries, in spite of the word’s great need. Students have come to my programs wanting to do good, and the vast majority of students have left the program wanting to do well. The lure of paychecks and the skyrocketing school debt leave many hopeless that missions is a possibility for them. I don’t blame them, but I mourn my lack of success of being able to produce missionary medical providers. When I have pleaded with God to send me, the God’s answer has always been that some people are called to be “go-ers” and some people are called to be “senders.” God had put me in the senders category.
As the conversation turned to going to hear Dennis Jackson, the subject of our conversation with Bob Bagley, who also serves with Global Partners, came up.
“Wasn’t that crazy that Bob straight up told you he needed you in Africa?”
“I was wondering if you even remembered that,” Ken replied.
Remembered it? I’ll never forget it. As Ken and I talked about it, we reviewed all of the reasons why moving to Africa was a bad idea. We just bought a house, we had moved only weeks prior, our kids have unique educational needs, we have two dogs that we would have to leave behind, I still have school loans, we don’t like raising money, our last trip to Africa had been less-than-ideal, our kids may not want to go back, I just started a new job, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The list was pretty long. But nothing on the list was bigger than God.
A life of sanctification means giving God the power of veto on anything. God had called both of us when we were young to live lives of total surrender to God, and now that commitment was being challenged. Ken and I agreed that we had to at least be open to hearing the call of God on our lives. But was it God calling, or Bob Bagley asking?
The next night, Ken and I found ourselves at North Carolina West District Conference with the kids in tow. The music was moving, the atmosphere spirit-filled, and Dennis Jackson’s words were challenging. The phrase that I’ll never for get is, “We find that the best people to raise up other missionaries are missionaries themselves.” This should not have been a profound thought to me, but it was. All these years I have been trying to be a sender without ever being a go-er. But I’ve never been called to be a go-er. Was God now releasing me to go?
Finally, the moment came: the altar call. The music played softly. In a powerful moment, Dennis broke a snow globe on stage, challenging us all to break out of our tidy lives and ask if God was calling us to serve on the mission field. I waited for the prompting of the Holy Spirit — the compulsion to go forward, the pounding heartbeat, the mild nausea, the “Holy Spirit sweats” but they never came. Instead, I stood there thinking how much I thought KEN should go forward. I thought to myself, “Why isn’t Ken going to the altar? Didn’t we just talk about this? Ken is so gifted in so many ways — preaching, teaching, administration. Did Ken not hear Bob Bagley say that he needed him in Africa?” Though strong, I resisted the temptation to give Ken a little push out into the aisle.
And then it was over. The lights came up, the service was dismissed. We socialized. We stopped by Five Guys and bought some burgers for the road.
The ride home was quiet, until the silence was broken by Ken. “Robin, I was really surprised that you didn’t go forward tonight during the altar call. I know God could really use you in Africa.”