The first time I visited Arkansas I had a panic attack. Now unless you’re visiting a Wal-Mart in the backcountry, Arkansas isn’t exactly a state whose people or scenery incites fear. Nevertheless, crossing the border from Texas during a long road trip, I realized I had never been through the state before and started freaking out. That scary feeling of entering the unknown would become even more familiar in the ensuing months.
After I calmed my breathing by slowly inhaling and exhaling into a Cheetoh’s bag, my compassionate wife helped me understand what was happening. “Are you really scared of moving to Europe and Arkansas is just a symbol of bigger changes coming?”
Allison and I were newly married when we told Jesus, “we are burdened for Europe and will go wherever there is a need.” It all started when Allie and I took a short-term mission trip to Milan, Italy, where we caught a glimpse of God’s heart for Europeans. For me, there was suddenly so much more of God to explore beyond the borders of Texas.
Our little foray into European missions infected us with adventure. We saw how ordinary Italians were impacting their neighborhoods, workplaces, and relationships through simple obedience to Jesus. “We can do this,” we thought as we returned to the US. And so we did, and then the Lord began stirring up our affections for Europeans once again.
A few years later, we answered the call to join a team of church planters in Budapest, Hungary. So we loaded up our car, traveled through the South, and headed towards the East Coast, set to attend training for missionaries going abroad. Five short months later, we were catapulted into the heart of Central Europe—it was the biggest adventure of our young lives and marriage.
When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” we rarely know where we are going. Much like the first disciples, we are simply invited to “come and see” who Jesus is and what He is doing in our world (John 1:39, 46). It’s an invitation to relationship that produces the actions of those we can only describe as lovesick. As is the case for anyone who falls in love, we catch a glimpse of God’s heart and find ourselves willing to go anywhere and do anything in pursuit of this love.
To be led by faith means to remain in perpetual contact with the Source & to have no desire to seek one's own adventure- Balthasar (via AJ Sherril)
I was certainly willing to go anywhere. But what I didn’t realize is that Jesus would also take me to new places emotionally and relationally. Whatever walls I had built to keep God from being King over all of my life were soon to fall in a context where everything would be stripped away.
When we stepped off the plane in Budapest, we quickly realized our adventure with Jesus followed the following cycle: life, death, resurrection—repeat. We saw our faith grow as we prayed for people on the streets and witnessed eyes, ears, and teeth being healed. We were also challenged by the miscarriage of our first baby. We were stirred by movements of the Holy Spirit in the areas of prayer, spiritual formation, and church planting. And our marriage grew through bouts of depression and despair. We lived a lot of life during our first two years on the mission field.
Through the cycles of life with Jesus and life together as a family, Allison and I grew to know Him as the good and present God of all circumstances. Emotional, relational, and even physical walls cannot contain the wild goodness of Jesus. It was a simple lesson about the unflinchingly pure character of God, learned in a high-pressure environment.
We have come to know that no matter what circumstance may arise, God is with us. Through doubt, fears, joys, celebration, panic, love, and even despair, Jesus refuses to leave. He is with us always (Matthew 28:18-20)—in every circumstance. And even in the face of death, His presence is enough for us.
In Texas, Arkansas, or even Hungary, adventure with Jesus is much less about the actual, meandering journey and much more about intimacy with the One leading us along. I may not be able to see the way ahead or know what’s over the horizon, but I now know the hand I hold is sure, steady, and never failing. In every changing season, I find myself reciting the following words from a cherished hymn:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life's tempestuous sea Unknown waves before me roll Hiding rock and treacherous shoal Chart and compass come from Thee Jesus, Savior, pilot me
When at last I near the shore And the fearful breakers roar Grant me and the peaceful rest Then, while leaning on Your chest May I hear You say to me Fear not, I will pilot thee