We sat down recently with a friend of Upstream to get deeper insight into the beauty of being called & equipped to serve overseas in The Marketspace.
This conversation is an excellent example of the stories & experiences which motivated Larry's book, The Marketspace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team out now!
Tell us some of your story. If you are currently in or planning on serving in a cross-cultural setting, how did God move you in this direction?
In 2015, we found ourselves selling our house, downsizing our belongings to a small storage container, and moving from Tennessee to Texas. This move was work-related. My company was starting a new location in Austin, Texas, and I was asked to relocate to help launch the facility. I didn’t realize it then, but this move was where it all began.
Months before, we started to feel something stirring inside us. The winds of change were starting to blow, but we couldn’t figure out what that meant or what that looked like. We had spent our entire lives being consumed with the idea of “more”. We were interested in material things, status, and everything else that society tells you that you should be interested in. But when things started to shift, we began to find freedom in letting go of material things, status, and all the preconceived notions that went along with that lifestyle.
We were going to seminary for Christian Studies with a focus on missions. We were not sure how that was relevant because his plan was to become a youth pastor. We were not remotely interested in missions, other cultures, or anything of that nature. Then slowly, God began to break our hearts for people who were different than us. We found ourselves attending a church in Texas that was more missionally-minded than any place we had ever been. We learned what it meant to serve and be served. It was both the hardest time in our lives and the most beautiful.
A year later, we found ourselves back in Nashville. Our time in Texas was over and we were trying to settle back into our old lives, but the pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit. We were not the same couple that had left twelve months earlier. Something had shifted and our desires had completely changed.
After a few months of trying to find a church close to our new home, we gave up and started going to a church that we had attended shortly before we moved. It was a much larger church than we were used to and we knew that we were going to have to get involved in order to find the community that we desired. Our first Sunday back was “Sending Sunday”. There were tables set up in the concourse and we picked up a flyer on a trip to Brussels, Belgium. We knew almost immediately that God was moving. We felt an unsettling feeling, sensing that the winds of change were starting again, but we had no idea what was next.
We signed up for the trip. Through that process, our hearts began to love people we had never met, in a country we had never been to, in a culture we knew nothing about. It was at that point, we discovered that God had been preparing our hearts for a long-term role in a place we had never dreamt of going.
Sometimes when believers are called overseas, they feel pressured to fit into a “traditional” model of service. How have your church and others affirmed and supported you in the direction you are pursuing? Has anyone seemed confused or surprised when you explain your vision to them?
We are so blessed to be part of LifePoint Church. I know our experience, preparation, and affirmation process has been shaped by the people of this church. They have been incredibly supportive, always championing the calling that God has given us. At the same time, they are open and honest about the struggles and hardships that we will face. They know because they have gone before us. They have lived those struggles and they are eager to impart their wisdom to help prepare us for what God has in store.
From the first time that we began to talk about what we were feeling called to, they have never seemed confused or surprised. They have just offered support. I think the only surprising thing to them was our willingness to take the initiative in certain areas of preparation. We searched for and found Upstream and signed up for the training weekend without being guided to do so because we want to be as prepared as possible for what God has for us.
How do you anticipate work life and ministry goals being balanced to fit into your limited schedule? Do you see these things as competing or complementary parts of life?
When pursuing missions as a way of life, we have no choice but to view work life and ministry goals as complementary parts of our journey. We are placed by God in a role for a season for a specific reason. If our work life and our ministry life are competing for our focus, then one part is going to lose and we will fail to take full advantage of the role that God has placed us in to bring glory to himself. I believe that the key to keeping our limited schedules balanced is to view every area of our lives as a place where we are doing ministry.
Our entire goal is to go where God sends us, to stay there until he moves us, and to give ourselves 100% to the things that he is asking of us. That is my ministry goal. So as long as I am at a job, I am operating on the thought process that God has placed me there until he releases me and I am to love the people around me and be the hands and feet to God to them as long as I am here. As long as I am in a community, my focus is the same. And I let this carry over into every area of my life, which helps make my work life and ministry goals compliment each other and not compete for my focus and attention.
What are some pros and cons to remaining in the marketplace? What opportunities might be available to you that aren’t available to a traditional sent one?
Remaining in the marketplace is a fantastic way to gain access to people exactly where they are. This gives you an opportunity to interact with people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Because you are meeting through work, you automatically have a level of credibility. This may offer you the opportunity to be invited into someone’s life where you will eventually have the chance to share the gospel with them.
On the flip side of that, when you move into a new place and you are adjusting to a new job, language, community, and friends, that doesn’t offer a lot of time for anything else. When you go as a traditional sent one, you often have more time to focus on language learning and serving the local church. Nevertheless, that can really limit your circle of influence because you tend to not meet as many people and to not be as intentional as a marketplace worker has to be.
Do you see yourself as playing a unique part in a larger team? What gifts and perspectives do you add that were lacking?
Once we are settled in, we see ourselves being about extending the ministries of the church where there simply are not enough volunteers or leaders. Being bi-vocational, we will have the opportunity to reach locals by teaching English and the chance to reach refugees by partnering with other organizations on the ground who are already doing that well. We also have a passion to get Bible studies translated into the French language to broaden the available material in a native language to the people of Belgium.
Are you planning to work using some expertize you previously developed, or have you had to learn new professional skills in order to prepare for work in a new context?
To allow for long-term sustainability, our goal is to be bi-vocational. We were recently accepted into the CELTA program at the University of Texas and will begin coursework in February. We are scheduled to complete the program at the end of April 2019. We hope to acquire part-time positions teaching English at a language school and devote the rest of our time working with our local church in Brussels.
How has Upstream played a role in your development?
Yes, the Upstream training weekend and the Tradecraft Workbook have been tremendous in our preparation for the field. We meet bi-weekly with our sending pastor, where we go over content from the Tradecraft Workbook and other missionally-minded books. The Workbook does a fantastic job of breaking down focus areas, and it certainly bring your attention to important aspects like mapping and cultural exegesis.
How would you encourage others with a similar vision to invest their time in development?
The most important thing that others can do is to use the time they have to learn as much as possible. Once you begin to prepare to step into what God has for you, it’s easy to focus on what things will be like once you step into that calling. But it’s so important to use the time that you have to invest in things that will prepare you once you are on the field.
Upstream’s training is a fantastic way to spend part of that time. It’s a very easy way gain a lot of great knowledge and resources from people who have been where you are. If you are moving to an area where you do not speak the language, try to learn as much as possible before you go. And most importantly, set yourself up to leave well. Do not pull away when you realize that your time where you are is numbered. Make every single interaction count. The way you leave has a greater impact on those that you are leaving than it ever will on you, so make sure that you think about that intentionally and develop a plan to make the most of it.