What My Children Learned About Jesus When I Boarded A Plane To India
Before my children even had an opinion on the matter, simply because they were too young when the original desire was birthed in 2010, I had made up in my mind that being a wife and mother disqualified me from going to the nations for Jesus. I erroneously stood on the conviction that it was selfish of me to pursue following Christ in this specific way, that the international mission field was just for the single men, single women, and the retired who didn't have to consider or forsake their families. After all, our eldest son Isaac was 9, Kenneth was 5, and Hannah-Marie was just 3. What kind of mother would I be? I resolved to pray, I fasted, I spent time with the Lord in His word, and Chris and I conversed for countless hours in my seeking to hear from God. The Lord responded to my prayer six years later in Jan of this year. That's right, six years later.
THE RESPONSE TO THE SILENCE OF GOD
It's easy to become discouraged when God is silent. In fact, it's in those moments when the voice of our flesh, the voices of the naysayers and critics, and the voice of the Enemy seem to be the loudest. We can easily be led to believe that God does not care about our desires, that His silence is His way of saying no. It was of utmost necessity to ground my response to His silence in the truths of Scripture instead of allowing my emotions to undermine the character of God. I was immediately comforted by the fact that God is God of order and peace, not confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). He will answer. I held onto the truth that His children can trust that He's leading them according to His perfect will (Psalm 18:30) in His perfect time (Eccl. 3:1). I kept in perspective that He would not be a good God for expanding my service for Him without me proving, through responsible stewardship, that I was committed to the ministry He'd already given me in my husband, children, role at church, and with my business (Lk. 16:10). And more importantly, I knew that He would not allow anything (even ministry) to become an idol in my life that would draw my heart away from being fully devoted to my relationship with Him.
Oswald Chambers once said, "Your duty in service and ministry is to make sure there is nothing between Jesus and yourself." Toward that end, Colossians 1:9-10 became a regular prayer in my life. I consistently prayed, "God fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Empower me Holy Spirit to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects." I needed my desires to align to His. I wanted His will for my life and not my own. And more than that, I wanted to ensure that He alone and His glory, not merely His work, remained what my heart desired more than anything. So I sought His face in spite of the silence, I served my family, served my church, and waited for Him to respond.
Looking back now, I am beyond grateful for His timing. I was not mature enough spiritually or emotionally for what He'd end up calling me to do and my family was very young. Additionally, a couple of months after my initial prayer, the church we called home would suffer a devastating blow when both the Lead Pastor and Associate Pastor would be removed from their offices for sexual immorality, which would place this thriving albeit very fragile church in the under-shepherding care of my husband.
WHEN PROMPTED, IN FAITH, I MOVED FORWARD.
Without having heard from the Lord clearly, in the middle of one night in December of 2015, I took a huge step of faith. I googled Missions Photography to see if it was even "a thing". I found and researched an organization that had a program specific to using photography to build relationships to share the Gospel with people all over the world. The next morning I prayed, talked with Chris, then applied to be a part of the team. My application was received Dec. 15th, 2015, and after my references were checked, lots of email exchanging, and a few phone interviews, I was selected to be a part of the team on January 25th! Chris hugged me tightly and was ecstatic, I then proceeded to jump on our bed while crying tears of joy repetitiously saying, "thank you Jesus!" The Lord gave me my answer, He said yes, He said the time is now.
THE TALK AFTER SCHOOL
I was excited to tell my children about this incredible opportunity. That Mommy had been given the privilege to serve God by introducing His Son Jesus to teens and young adults across the world. I anticipated Isaac's joyful response, Kenneth's squeal of excitement, but I also foresaw Hannah's tears of sadness. I waited for them to get home, praying the entire day for the Lord to give me the right words to communicate why I'm choosing to spend a period of time away from them, why I needed to go.
When they were all home, I called them into our living room. I will never forget the look on their faces. I began to share about how God had stirred in me a deep desire to share His Gospel beyond our country's borders. I talked to them about the disciples in the first century, how the Gospel spread all over the world because men and women were dedicated to ensuring that everyone heard the message of the Cross and Jesus' subsequent resurrection so that they could be saved, and how God had called my name, to do the same through photography. I explained to them that there were children, teens, and young adults in other parts of the world who never heard of Jesus. After a series of questions and answers, Isaac and Kenneth were completely overjoyed. My precious Hannah was consumed with sadness as I had anticipated. "All of that is good Mommy, but you're leaving me and I don't want you to go," she said softly as she cried.
I comforted her in my arms while Isaac and Kenneth fired away with smiles, laughs, and more questions about what I was going to eat, how I was going to teach if I didn't know the language, and of course, if there would be wi-fi so that we could FaceTime and text. After about 40 minutes, they were in full support mode and ready to kick off Mommy's fundraising campaign! Here's a short commercial they put together. Suffice it to say, I absolutely adore my children!
They had embraced this journey as their own. While I would be leaving them behind with Daddy, we were a family, holistically rallied around the work of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
DEPARTING, ARRIVING, & THE WORK
Saying our goodbyes was utterly bittersweet. When they dropped me off we all cried and our hugs never seemed to end. I waved and they waved until we could no longer see each other. And just like that I was en route to India. After a 21 hour flight, leaving on a Wednesday afternoon, I arrived full of Divine love and exhausted on a Friday morning. I spent the next 23 days days traveling India with my team teaching photography and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I texted and FaceTimed Chris and our littles every single time I could with respect to the 12.5 hour time difference. I sacrificed sleep to see their faces and to share with them all that the Lord had done. I missed their first day at school and celebrated my 35th birthday away from them and Chris for the first time over the course of the 16 years we'd been a family. It was all for good reason, people were being added the family of God, the eternal destination for many bound in false religions was forever changed.
RETURNING HOME & FAMILIAL LIFE LESSONS
After spending the last month adjusting to life back in America, overcoming jet-lag, and processing all that the Lord had not only done for the people there but reflecting on how He radically changed my life there, it was time to debrief with my children. My husband and I have grown to live our lives like "Acts in a modern context" so it has been really great to continuously share stories from my time abroad with him. My children were different, and each of them learned unique lessons while I was away.
LESSON #1: HE'S WORTH OUR LIVES
When I asked Isaac what my time in India showed him about a relationship with Jesus he replied, "You going showed me that you were willing to risk your life for Him. I am proud of you Mommy." Of course my eyes immediately filled with tears. Isaac had gotten saved very early in his life and after being extensively discipled by Chris, last September he was baptized. Isaac has learned through his time studying the Bible that there are real risks for following Jesus, real consequences for going into hostile parts of the world for sharing the Gospel. But over the horizon of temporal risks and consequences await the eternal rewards of fruitful labor, the partnering with Jesus Himself in the redemptive plan of His lost sheep and gathering them unto Himself. My son had the opportunity to witness what it really means to abandon our comforts, desires, and even the closest people to us, for the sake of Christ, the One who gave His life for us.
“..there are real risks for following Jesus, real consequences.."
LESSON #2: HE MUST BE KNOWN
Shortly after talking to Isaac I called Kenneth downstairs and asked him the same question. He took a moment to formulate his thoughts then said, "Well when you're saved, you have to share Him, like you have to." Kenneth is our brainchild who gets a 4.0 every single grading period effortlessly, so I'm always expecting something "extra deep" when he speaks. And while His answer was simple, it was so very rich in truth. In the NLT, Romans 10:14-15 is translated in this way: "But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?" My youngest son learned that really following Jesus means sharing Jesus wherever He's called you because eternity is at stake, it means really living out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), it means that there is no plan B.
LESSON #3: HE MUST BE LOVED ABOVE ALL
I waited for the boys to leave the room before asking our precious Hannah the same question and with a smile she said, "Mommy you went because you really love Jesus." My beloved daughter was the least in favor of me going abroad and hearing her answer brought an indescribable joy to my heart. My daughter learned that while I love her, her brothers, and Daddy more than any other human beings on this earth, she learned that Mommy loves Jesus more. In Matthew 10, we find Jesus saying things we would bookmark as "don't take this literal." We think to ourselves, how could Jesus actually say "I came to set a daughter against her mother" and "He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." It's true, He literally meant those statements. And while we are to love and steward our families in a manner that's pleasing to the Lord, the love we have for our families must never be greater than our love for Jesus. Loving Jesus is loving Him more than anyone, and more than everything.
A prayer was answered after talking to our trio. Prior to my flight's departure I prayed that God would comfort them while I was away and teach them through this journey. My children have stumbled upon Chris and I praying and doing bible study. They observe us counseling married couples and families. They watch us serve at our church and give money (we really can't afford to spend) on homeless people and families in our city. And through this opportunity, I was able to show our children another component of discipleship, one of great importance. The part that involves going into all of the world to preach the Gospel (Mk. 16:15) and loving Jesus by intentionally going after His lost for the sake of His name and their salvation, enduring all of the trials and potential danger involved (2 Tim. 2:10).
I want nothing more than for my children to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, and strength. To exhaust their lives and expend all of their talents and gifts, for His glory in service to His Great Commission. I thank the Lord for giving me such an incredible opportunity to exemplify what that looks like to my children, for being able to safely return home and celebrate God's work in other parts of the earth, and for spurring them on to chase after God at all costs.
Here’s what we should learn: If we want our children to hear the gospel from us, they must see the gospel’s impact upon us. How we live before them powerfully preaches the gospel and its implications for our lives. —Jim Elliff