"How did you figure out you were called to missions?" The people asking us this question were trying to discern if they were called to be missionaries themselves. We were sitting across the dining room table from them and they asked us simply and pointedly: How do you know?
The Question of why we're doing what we're doing has been asked of us many times, in many ways. Sometimes The Question is posed straightforward, as it was that time around the dining room table. At other times it's asked indirectly, such as when we're asked if we're taking our kids to Africa with us. (Yes, sometimes people ask this. For the record, we are not leaving our children behind!) The Question is put in a variety of ways, with numerous nuances. "Why would you go across the world when there are people who need help here?" "How can you leave your family to do something like this?" "Are you really okay with raising your kids in another culture?" "Have you thought about doing ministry here?" These questions, all valid, ultimately ask The Question: How do you know if you are called to missions?
Good question. More often than not, there is no succinct answer. For us, there was never an "aha" moment. God never spoke to us in a dream. He never put a banner in the sky. He never threw the Great Commission in our faces. Instead, He gave us a nudge. Just an idea. For us, the call to missions began with an inkling that we should consider the idea of becoming missionaries. That was it.
Sometimes when people ask us The Question, we look at each other and shrug our shoulders. We just have a feeling that we're supposed to do mission work. At the core, that's really all it is: a gut instinct from the Holy Spirit. For some people, that answer is enough. For others, that makes no sense. Packing our bags and moving across the ocean for years on end is not typically something to be done on a whim. We agree, which is why our practical side examined the nudge from all sides even though our gut told us we were on the road to missions no matter what.
Perhaps more than anything else, we considered missions because Eli and I knew we weren't meant to live a typical American life. Practically speaking, that could mean any number of things, but for us it opened the idea of pursuing missions. In college, when Eli began considering his career path, he realized that majoring in Physics led to little else than working in a lab, which he had no interest in doing. Eventually he realized that he was interested in medicine, but he also knew that he didn't want to work in a doctor's office the rest of his life. As he thought about how to combine his growing passion for medicine with his desire to work in a nontraditional work environment, Eli was given the nudge again: How about missions?
Our practical side decided to test the nudge. We thought it wise to try to confirm this budding call, so we found a way to spend time in Africa and we invited God to speak. He met us in Cameroon and confirmed to us that, yes, we were called to medical missions long-term in Africa.
Our call to missions became even more apparent when we started asking the question, "Why not us?" When we probed that question, we realized there was really no reason for us not to go. Some of the basic, tangible things that are barriers for other people are not barriers for us. For example, the idea of living in a hut in Africa doesn't dissuade us from going there. We aren't fancy people. We're people who predominantly wear jeans and T-shirts, who don't shower every day, and who love being outside. When termites started building mounds inside our house in Cameroon, we were intrigued more than anything (although I will admit that the cockroaches in the kitchen cupboards started to bother me by the end). Another example: neither Eli or I have the need to live close to home. While we love our families dearly, we don't need to live down the street from them in order to thrive. I left my hometown when I ventured to Bethel for college, 12 hours away, and haven't lived close since I left nearly fourteen years ago. Eli, similarly, has never felt the need to return home permanently. In fact, when we were in college, Eli's mom once said that she anticipated him living anywhere but close to home. We are independent adventure-seekers and although we'd love the chance to live near our families again, we don't have a need to. Besides, what we are doing is nothing compared to missionaries throughout history, who left home and family without email, Skype, and cell phones. We are not taking a boat to China (like Eli's great-uncle and great-aunt did) nor are we packing our coffins with us (like countless missionaries did throughout history, knowing they'd likely never see home again). We are flying to Africa in the 21st century. Even so, we recognized that doing mission work internationally is not something that everyone could sign up for. But we could. So when we asked the question, "Why not us?" there were no reasons great enough to keep us from doing missions.
Over time, our call has become more specific. We felt a nudge toward Africa from the very beginning. We can't explain it beyond that. Eventually, Eli felt a specific tug toward teaching. We learned of a residency training program in Kenya that's currently seeking faculty to teach Family Medicine, so we veered in that direction. The specifics of the call are being revealed as time goes on, but the call to missions itself remains firm.
How do we know that we are called to missions? Because God nudged us and we responded to the nudge. Because we explored the idea He planted and invited Him to speak through that exploration. And because we looked at ourselves and realized God was matching the essence of who we are with serving Him in Africa.