It’s 3 a.m., there’s no moon, and I’m shuffling up the second-tallest mountain in Africa. In the last forty-eight hours, I’ve been robbed and rained on, and I had a stressful interaction with an alcoholic park guide. I’m dirty, freezing, and feeling the impact of insufficient caffeine consumption. The journey isn’t even halfway over yet, and I’m longing for comfort and home.
As my feet fight for traction on the Mount Kenya trail, I watch gravel and loose rock roll back down the mountain, and I pray that I won’t fall with those scattering stones. I wonder (not for the first time), how in the world did I get here?
It’s important for you to know that I am not the most adventurous. I am not the person you would pick to scale mountains or raft rivers. I am a fan of lattes and pedicures and reliable internet. I love home and settledness, family and tradition, patterns and rhythms, and things you can count on.
But as much as I love home, I’m enamored by the beauty and diversity of our world, and I’m brokenhearted over the injustice and disparity that seem universal.
This love of the world has led me to leave home multiple times.
Opportunity, interest, and what I believe to be calling converged, allowing me to spend most of the last fifteen years in East Africa, particularly Uganda, South Sudan, and now Kenya.
In each of those places, I found new patterns and rhythms, and things to count on. But I’ve also been confronted with the fact that our world is more broken than I initially thought and that I’m not as nice or competent as I used to think.
In fact, I’m just as likely to mess things up as to be helpful. To climb a mountain seems hard, but to transform places of poverty and trauma and loss—well, that’s pretty much impossible.
But I believe in a God who does impossible things. One who brings water from rocks, makes dead things alive, and is making everything new. A God who always is doing more than we can ask or imagine. A God of resurrection.
This God also loves the poor and the unjustly accused, the fearful and the lonely, the depressed and the angry, the sinner and the stranger, and the saint.
He understands our longing for home and has promised to prepare a place for us.
For those of us reborn in Him, we have a calling to bring God’s love into places of poverty, injustice, and isolation. We can begin to bring tastes of home to the wilderness.
Now, I’m not saying you need to move to Uganda or South Sudan (though maybe you should consider doing that). And I’m not saying you have to become a missionary or give away your possessions or start preaching all the time (though I’m not ruling those things out!)
What I am saying is this:
God’s grace reorders our lives so that we move out from ourselves and toward those who need to receive what seems as yet impossible.
Paradoxically, as we move out from ourselves, we also gain more for ourselves because God meets us in new ways with the good news of His love for us.
I have a friend who jokingly said, “I was so nervous to become a Christian and to ask for God’s calling on my life because I just knew God would call me to leave everything and move to the middle of Africa.” I cannot disprove that concern because when God began working in my life, I did leave everything and move to the middle of Africa! I still look around and wonder how I got here.
But I also know that finding life in broken places has been a great gift of God to me.
The gift God has for you will not look the same as mine.
But grace and love and mission are woven into all our days, so it is important to pay attention to how God’s Spirit is calling you and bringing them into your story.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t want you to be a little bit impressed by the image of me scaling a challenging mountain. And part of me also wants you to see that working in areas of injustice and poverty is an exciting adventure, full of accomplishment and mountaintop experiences.
But in more than a decade of international missions work, I’ve learned that this life is also marked by seasons of valleys, seasons of deserts, seasons of doubt, and sometimes seasons of death.
And it is often in these unglamorous, unexciting, and grief-filled places that God shows us new parts of his redemptive work.
A year after the Mount Kenya climb, I found myself in a valley of sorts. Much of the work I did in South Sudan seemed to be crumbling: cities I had worked in had destabilized, and people I cared about had fled from their homes. Some of them had died.
I returned from Kenya for a season in the United States. I was frustrated by the complexities of working in areas of poverty and injustice, and I wondered if it was all worth it. I looked at the racial sins and injustices in my passport country and read articles about how people trying to help in Africa were actually hurting things, and I wondered how we kept getting it so wrong.
I wondered if I had chased the mountaintop experiences but missed the reality that things weren’t actually getting better.
I was longing for home, but I had no idea how to find it.
But God gave me grace in that valley of homesickness by allowing me to write a book. It is a reminder of the grace that followed me up the mountain and also met me in the valley.
This grace is wider and more beautiful than I imagined. It meets me—meets us—in the confidence and in the questions, in the adventure and in the mundane, in our living rooms and at the ends of the earth, on the mountaintops and in the valleys.
Maybe you are wondering how God’s grace redirects your life, and you are looking for what it means to live missionally right where you are.
Perhaps you are considering stepping into areas of poverty or injustice, whether in a place across town or across the globe.
Maybe you have been working in these areas for a while and are wondering how you got here or what will sustain you. Maybe you’re wondering if it is all worth it.
As I have reflected on these same questions, a pattern has emerged:
As we experience God’s grace in our lives, it frees us to move out into the world.
But that movement into a needy world brings new struggles.
It causes us to grow still closer to God and receive more of His love in fresh ways. This in turn moves us out still farther into places that are desperate to know the grace we’ve received, and the pattern repeats.
The book I wrote is about rhythms of missional living. It’s about how God meets us, moves us forward, gives us reasons to celebrate, and draws us deeper into himself. It’s about finding possibilities within the impossible and being transformed as we discover grace in the broken places.
Three a.m., climbing Mount Kenya, I happened to look up.
And for some reason, at that moment, I was overcome with joy.
Perhaps my thinking was clouded due to less oxygen at such an altitude. But I believe the joy came then because we often experience God’s richest grace in the midst of the hardest struggles.
As I looked up, I couldn’t see the top of the mountain because it was still so dark. But I saw the brilliance of constellations and planets, so close I felt I could almost touch them.
In the midst of night’s deepest darkness, my path was paved with unexpected brightness seen only because the lights I usually depended on were absent.
With friends, surrounded by stars, and anticipating the dawn, I reached for a deep breath and gratefully took the next step in the darkness, knowing that I was finding my way home.
This post is an adapted excerpt from The Mission-Centered Life, by Bethany Ferguson—an insightful bible study on finding the confidence to move out of your comfort zone to join God’s mission in the world.