How did we get to the point where we wanted to be involved in missions, knowing this was what God had led us to do and where He wanted us to go? Answering these questions could take many pages, but we will be brief.
I, Jonathan, was raised in a Christian family, and my parents were very keen on mission work. I remember at a young age going to church specifically to hear missionaries give their reports, which I found very interesting. When I was about the age of seven, my family and I went to another country to serve as support personnel. All these early experiences and more, I am sure, had an influence on me in my adult years.
But leaving school, getting a job and taking on extra college courses seemed to push out any thoughts or possibilities of becoming a missionary. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, late one evening while struggling to focus on study for an exam, that it came to me: through God’s strength I could pass this exam without any problems. Sitting at my study desk, I pondered that thought for a while and realised that God could use even me in His service. Although to be honest, I was studying to improve the chances of getting a better job and the pay packet that would go with it. But as I thought about “leaning on God” to get me through this exam, I also considered that God could use me and the things I was learning at college to serve Him in a fulltime capacity where technical support was hard to come by. Well, those thoughts got me all excited, and I put my focus back on my exam preparation.
All the hard work and study paid off. I did get better-paying jobs, and I was able to get lots of work experience. Also during this time, I met and married my wife, Janet. But my focus was still on working hard, studying hard and advancing myself. It seemed now that the prospect of becoming a missionary had long died. I kept getting better jobs and moving to various locations to work to improve myself – even to China for a nine-month contract. I was totally focused on myself, my family and what I could get out of work. But unbeknown to me, all along God was directing my paths through work and study, and therefore preparing myself and my family to serve Him overseas.
At the age of 38, a series of events led Janet to say, “I think God is calling us into missions”. These events included songs, sermons, talks with our pastor, and huge hailstorms whilst driving back from a working bee at a mission training site. It was at this point that all those thoughts and feelings about serving God in a fulltime capacity started coming back. I had no reservations in agreeing with Janet that we needed to seriously consider looking into joining a mission agency that could lead us into serving God somewhere overseas.
So how did I get to the point where I wanted to be involved in missions? It was God quietly working in my life as a young man. During that time, I thought I was in control of pursuing a career to better myself, but it was actually God putting me through various experiences such that in His perfect timing I would be adequately trained up to serve Him. At the time of writing this, I am thinking about how God gave Moses various experiences in Egypt and in the desert such that in His perfect timing, God would use Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage. During the initial times Moses was in Egypt and the desert, he was unaware of God’s great plan to use him to save the Israelites. So the lesson here that I have gleaned through my life experiences is that no matter what goals you have, or experiences you are currently going through, God has a plan for your life, and if you are faithful and obedient, He will use you to bring people to know of His saving grace.
The next question is: “How do I know this is what God has led me to do?” As we were going through missionary training, we remained open as to where God wanted us to serve, but we were clear at that early stage that village church-planting overseas (somewhere) was our deep-seated gut-rooted calling as to what God wanted us to do. Thinking back, there were many tempting opportunities to change our thoughts as to the “what God was calling us to do”. At times, well-meaning godly people would try to sway our God-given vision of village church-planting. So it was important for us both to be sure of what God was calling us to do.
As for “where does He wants me to go?”, we took that step-by-step, being flexible but always maintaining a sense of urgency and commitment, allowing God to open and shut the ways. We regularly listened to leadership and what they thought the best location would be for us to serve. Starting with a country, province, island then a village. I do remember when it came down to pinpoint the exact island, we asked the provincial leadership where the need was most desperate. They immediately pointed to a very small, all-sand island. So that was the decision made.
The following is a short true story that I hope helps others answer the questions of what God is leading them to do, and where…
During our first year in the country, a couple of seasoned missionaries sat down with us for a chat. Janet and I, being new to the field, were full of questions such that we could learn from those that had experience. Fifteen years after that “chat” we can still remember the advice that was lovingly passed on to us: we needed to be 100% sure of what God was wanting us to do and where He was positioning us; that is, there is to be no room for second-guessing God’s calling. This may sound simple, but as new missionaries eager to “get out there” and start working ASAP, this was very sound advice. The point in this advice is that when we have committed to a location, we need to know without a shadow of a doubt that this is exactly what God wants us to do and where He wants us to serve. So when the troubles come (and they did and still do), Janet and I can stand firm, knowing that what we are doing and where we are doing it is divinely appointed. So through all the fears, struggles, threats, black magic, court cases, tears, sickness and our children leaving PNG and returning to Australia, we could stand firm with an understanding and an unexplainable peace of mind that in all things God is still working out His plan through us, as He has from the very beginning in all those that are in Him.
May God bless you in your endeavours to serve Him.
by Jon & Janet Mitchell