I can remember reading the Bible for the first time. I came to Christ at 18 years of age in a Kraft Food’s cheese factory. My father had negotiated a job for me at the factory the last nine weeks of my senior year in high school. That’s the good news. The bad news is I had to work nights those last nine weeks of my senior year in order to go to college. I worked from 7 PM to 3:30 AM five days a week and never missed a day of school. Of course I was too exhausted and I remember the embarrassing day when I went to sleep in an 8 AM chemistry class and woke up in a different chemistry class at 2 PM for another group of students! I found out later that the teacher had threatened her other classes with death threats if they were not quiet in order to allow me to sleep after discovering that I was working nights in the factory to make enough money to go to college that fall.
One night as I was working by myself in a remote corner of that factory, I heard the voice of God speaking to me. I did not recognize His voice until the third time I heard Him speaking audibly in my ear and to my heart. That night I gave my life and any career to the Almighty. As a redneck from rural Kentucky all I knew about Christianity was that if you were saved and called by God you had to become a pastor. I found this such a depressing thought because I felt that my salvation call would chain me to rural Kentucky churches the rest of my life. I gave up a scholarship to the University of Kentucky and my lifelong dream to be a veterinarian. Added to my despair was the discouragement I received from my parents, sometimes pastor, and peers to fulfill what I had heard God demand of me.
Finally I received semi-godly counsel from a young pastor in my rural county who took me to Lexington, Kentucky to visit a Christian bookstore. There he helped me purchase a 7 pound, annotated, Scofield Bible-it looked like and weighed as if it was meant to be on a coffee table. It had more footnotes than it had Bible. He also purchased for me seven sermon outline books which severely hindered my ability to understand the Bible on my own and creatively develop messages that might have been worth listening to.
Once I arrived at college, and having announced that I was a pre-ministerial student, I felt the time had come to read the Bible. I can remember reading Matthew chapter 28 and coming to what I would later be told was the Great Commission. There I read these powerful words, “Go ye into all of the world.” I was captivated by the thought that the Almighty had commanded us to go everywhere, at all times. I confess I had no clue how to leave Kentucky, let alone go to other countries of the world. So I sort of shelved this Go Ye into the back of my mind where I could retrieve this command if and when they became actually doable. During my second year of college a doctor who had served as a sent out one for 20 years in Thailand spoke in a chapel. As I listened to him, my heart soared with the possibilities of a different future.
I ran up to him after his devotional and asked him, “Do you mean to say that I can serve God anywhere in the world and your mission agency will pay me to do that?” He laughed and said, “Well I have never been asked a question like that before but I guess the answer is yes. We will pay you and you can take the gospel anywhere in the world.” I said to him, “Where do I sign up?” Amused he informed me that it wasn’t quite that easy, before sharing some of the hoops that I needed to work through before serving overseas was a possibility.
Finally the day came when now my wife and I were being interviewed by a mission board in regard to our service overseas. Ruth is the epitome what mission boards would want in a candidate for overseas service. She grew up in a pastor’s home. She came to know Jesus at an early age. In the sixth grade she wrote a class paper on Africa and knew then she wanted to spend her life in Africa. She could articulate a call to missions second to none, and the interviewers were so deeply impressed with her.
Then they turned to me.
They asked me about my call to missions, and I simply replied, “I read Matthew 28. They looked at me strangely and replied, “You don’t understand. To be appointed by this mission board you have to have a special call to missions.” “You don’t understand,” I shot back at them, “I have read Matthew 28 which told me to go to all the world and I’m just trying to go.” These kind, godly men, dressed in such immaculate suits proceeded to give me a 30 min. sermon on the concept of being called. They shared about a call to salvation, a call to ministry, a call to missions, and then a fourth call to a special place in the world. Then they looked at me with pride and asked me what I thought about what they had shared. I was still naïve enough to think that when they asked me for my opinion that they actually expected me to reply!
So I looked at them and said, “It is my opinion that you Baptist have created a call to missions that allows you to be disobedient to what God has already commanded you to do.”
That went over really well.
I looked at my wife to discover tears slowly sliding down her cheeks. I realized at that moment that these Baptists have a secret code or password that you must know in order to go on the mission field and no one had ever told me what that password was. I thought that I had ruined my wife’s chance to fulfill her childhood dream of going to Africa and that the search committee would dismiss us as candidates for the mission field.
Now 28 years later I still believe the same thing. Honestly I don’t believe there is a call to missions. There is a command to missions. No one who is a follower of Jesus gets to choose whether they are called or not. We just get to choose, through sense of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, where God wants us to live out our witness at this time. Being a daily witness for Jesus requires obedience to the command from Christ himself. A calling to a specific place of service always follows the command to go to all the people groups in the world; whether across the street or across the globe.
Do you want to know if you are called to missions or not? Read Matthew 28.