Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord -- Well, Probably Not: A Bad Christian's Confessions on Faith

I grew up dreading missionary conferences at our church. Long hours (some lasting 70-80 minutes at least!) sitting in the Fellowship Hall listening to the good missionary families drone on and on about their work in India, or Formosa, or Kenya. Endless series of slides of people with unpronounceable names (at least to my Midwest tongue/ear). The pleas for money and more missionaries -- "who out there in the congregation is feeling God's call?" It wasn't me! And then chop suey. Yes, chop suey -- no matter if the missionaries were from Kenya, India, or Formosa -- where even they didn't eat chop suey. I still hate chop suey.

Then, as things were winding down, we'd sign that old missionary hymn, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord."

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
O’er mountain, or plain, or sea;
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

Except I'd always sing it under my breath like this:

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
Let's skip the mountain, or plain, or sea;
I'm happy right here in Ohio, dear Lord,
Africa is for others -- not me.

Yep, even as an adolescent I was a bad Christian, I guess, even though I wanted to be good. Sort of. Following God's call halfway sounded about as far as I honestly wanted to to go. My biggest fear as a kid was that somehow I would hear "the call" to Africa. Terrified me. All I knew about the "Dark Continent" came from missionary meetings and Tarzan on TV, but it was enough to know that it didn't appeal to me. So I was pretty sure that's where God would call me. The Lord and his mysterious ways, you know? God seemed like the sort of chap (and back then, God was male) who would send me right where I didn't want to go.

After all, He had a long history of doing that. Ask Jonah.

I was glad when I reached the age that my parents quit making me go to the missionary meetings. I had escaped without hearing the call.

Of course, I did sorta hear a call to other "missionary" work -- with high school kids in Young Life and various church related youth groups, as pastor in local congregations, and so on. But still, they didn't involve any huge move. Nice and safe in the Midwest. And very spiritually enriching.

But I still harbor the fear that the call will come to Africa. And I wonder what my response will be? I'm clinging to the wisdom (as I perceive it) of what the great writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said -- “The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet—something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.”

I'm trusting that God knows that I do want to go where "he wants me to go." Just, please, "dear Lord," not Africa!*

-- Brent

*of course, I know, that somehow I will end up in Africa before the end of my life. I once said, after a miserable night in a cheap hotel in a small city in Indiana (when I was from civilized Ohio) that I'd never been so glad to leave a town and would never, ever, under any circumstances return. Only to have God laugh and say, about 15 years later, "Oh yeah?" I ended up moving to New Castle and spending some of the happiest years of my life there. Hmmmmm....


Liz in the Mist said...

Interesting post. Suggestion--if you want to come visit to Rwanda I know someone who will be over there for the next 2 years :)

Brent Bill said...

I'm happy for folks like you who hear the call and obey. Of course, then it makes me feel like an even badder bad Christian.

Blessings on your work...

The Gyrovague said...

I was in Ukraine with a friend in 03 who was a well traveled short term missionary. I asked him where he had been and would never return to. India was what he said. I, being a novice in such things, said that I would never go to India.

In 05 God used his humor. I was supposed to go on a mission to Thailand under this friends leadership. Then the Tsunami happened and India really needed our help. Overnight our Visas got stamped and India was the place.

Go figure. I had the best mission trip I have ever had.

Dan Kasztelan said...

When I was ten I vowed that I would never live in Ohio (on account of James Michener's reporting about Kent State). I’ve spent my entire adult working life living within twenty miles of the Ohio border, or working in Ohio, or living and working in Ohio. I feel certain this is God's judgement on me for early self-righteousness. The jury is still out on whether Ohio is a "successful" "mission".