In 2019, I went on a five-week vision trip to Niger, West Africa to discern if God was calling me to overseas missions. First, let me share with you three reasons why I went and one reason that trumps them all. Then, I will tell you what I experienced on my trip and what I am doing now.
Aerial view of Niger, West Africa, my home for 5 weeks.
REASON #1 – LIFE IS SHORT
I went on missions because I was convicted by the brevity of life and the urgency for the gospel.
Life is like a vapor. Our human lives are so fleeting and temporary. This reality becomes more real when disease and death draw closer to home, when our loved ones both young and old fall victim to sin’s curse (Romans 6:23). There is a redeeming quality though to this painful reality – a pressing reminder of the urgency and necessity of the gospel. The gospel has the power to save and promises life after death. The unrelenting sting of COVID-19 has brought some Christians to this needed wake-up call. In a similar manner, my job as an emergency medicine pharmacist witnessing God daily give and take away life brings about this constant ringing reminder.
Physical healing was an essential aspect of Jesus’s earthly ministry, but it was only a means to an end. While Jesus’ own compassion moved Him to heal, his miraculous healings were meant to point people to believe in his divinity and repentance from their sins (Mark 1:15). As much as Jesus was sensitive to physical needs, he was driven by the spiritual needs of people. This is what ultimately led Him to endure the cross with the joy set before Him of seeing people forgiven. In light of this good news and without undervaluing modern medicine, I began feeling the weighty futility of medicine developed by man to restore lost souls that only the medicine of the gospel could. This burden to play a more direct role in soul-care rather than medical-care began to take root in my heart and continues to grow today.
It was this fleeting nature of life and burden for the spiritual rather than the physical that made me ponder how I was spending my time and energy. While this perspective did not directly point me to consider global missions, it served as an unsettling springboard in that direction.
REASON #2 – LIFE CAN BE DISTRACTING
I went on missions because I wanted to live a meaningful undistracted life for Jesus.
Soon after graduating pharmacy school, I began going through what popular psychology coins a “quarter-life crisis.” Dictionary.com defines it as, “a crisis that may be experienced in one’s twenties, involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life.” No, I was not anxious about whether I would ever be married. Rather, I was pondering how I practically wanted to live a meaningful life for Jesus and experience Him in a deeper way. I felt more drawn towards a simple way of life. I did not want to get blindsided by the comforts of this world.
So, of course, what is the only solution to living a meaningful undistracted life for Jesus? To pick up my cross, sell all my possessions, and fly across the ocean to do missions, right? Well not really, but also maybe.
As Christians, we exist to glorify God and enjoy Him. In whatever we do, we are to bring Him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Bringing glory to God is not necessarily confined to how public or sacrificial our service to Him is. On the contrary, even by living quiet and faithful lives, we could do well (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). There is nothing magical about going to a foreign land that somehow makes our lives more meaningful. Life does not derive its meaning on what we do but WHO we do it for. Feelings of excitement and thrill eventually wear off once the glamour of a new land, culture, language, food, and people somehow become the new normal. Moreover, how far we leave our homes to serve God does not necessarily equate to greater growth in our spiritual lives either.
Going on global missions nevertheless can still be a way to live a simple and purposeful life for Jesus. Choosing to forego ordinary privileges and rights to love your neighbor in a new and challenging context may provide a deeper experience of Jesus a person would not experience otherwise. Ministering in a foreign context also carries the eternally-impacting privilege of bringing the gospel to people who otherwise, may have never heard of it.
Envisioning a life involving only the necessities while having undivided attention to ministry for Jesus attracted me to the idea of global missions. However, it would take more to get my feet off the ground.
REASON #3 – LIFE IS BETTER WITH CLARITY
I went on missions because I wanted to gain discernment on God’s calling in my life.
In the spring of 2019, I took the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course at FCBC Walnut. Driven by the brevity of life, the urgency for the gospel, and the desire to live a “monk-ish” type of life, I took the class to learn more about missions and consider my role as a goer. To my interest, an opportunity arose to consider a vision trip to Niger, West Africa through the mission agency, Serving in Mission (SIM). I would be hosted by two of FCBC’s veteran missionaries, Calvin and Erika Ma and would serve as a pharmacist at Galmi Hospital, a 180-bed hospital providing comprehensive medical care to the neighboring villages. Also, I would explore the missionary life and expose myself to the field. I would take everything I was learning in the classroom and experience it in real life.
Yours truly with Erika and Calvin Ma
On my way to Galmi Hospital
However, I was soon met with conflict within my own heart and mind. What were my intentions for going – for my own selfish desires or for God’s glory? Would this trip answer all my questions on what global missions was really like? What about other mission agencies and other countries? I continued to wrestle with my fear of the unknown and inability to control every variable I wanted to. My thoughts became so inwardly conflicting that I needed a few months to take a pause from thinking. After eventually addressing my heart issues of fear and control through the counsel of the Word of God and godly men and women, I grew more peace to go. It was also clear God was paving the way. The mission agency still had the opportunity available, my work granted me six weeks of unpaid leave, and my parents gained reassurance of my safety after talking with Calvin and Erika.
It was through living by faith in God and not by 20/20 vision of my uncertain future that finally got my gears in motion to go on missions. While clarity in God’s calling for my life could be helpfully discerned through prayer, bible reading, and Godly counsel, I learned it can also be discerned through actual doing, going, seeing, and trying. It is similar to other aspects of our lives such as: trying a new role at church, applying for that job, going on that date or in my case, traveling 7,000 miles to a distant land.
GOD’S GLORY AS THE MAIN REASON FOR MISSIONS
Having an urgency for the gospel, a preference in lifestyle lived for Jesus, and a search for clarity in God’s calling for our lives are not wrong reasons to consider global missions. They just cannot be the main reasons that ultimately propel us. Banchan in Korean BBQ may get us through the doors of a restaurant, but it is ultimately the Bulgogi and Galbi that keep us at the table. Similarly, love for a culture or language, compassion for people, or my own above personal reasons may get us on the plane to the mission field. However, desire for Christ and His glory will be what keeps us there for the long-haul. Our dominant desire must be for God’s name to be “hallowed” throughout all the nations (Matthew 6:9-10) such that His name be made known, revered, worshiped, adored, magnified, and glorified by all peoples, especially those who have not heard of Him yet. Do not get me wrong. Personal reasons can sustain us on the field too, but the advancement of God’s glory must always serve as our foundational motivation for missions.
MY VISION TRIP TO AFRICA
So, what did I even do and learn in Africa?
When I was in Africa, I did and learned a lot. I worked as a full-time pharmacist at the local hospital, participated in local ministries, engaged with local people and culture, and learned from the missionary community.
I learned how quality healthcare can still function in a third-world environment. An uncertain supply of medications, medical supplies, or even clean water is expected and must be prepared. Spiritual care is a priority rather than an afterthought. At a Christian hospital like Galmi Hospital, there are hospital evangelists who daily pray and preach the gospel to patients and follow up with them after discharge.
I learned about the challenges of ministry in a new context. Barriers of entry and growth in the Christian faith do exist. This can include poverty, lack of education, and persecution. Understanding the local society and culture are vital to building relationships with locals, understanding their worldview, and sharing about Christ. Missionaries must invest in the marathon, (not a sprint) to make disciples for the Kingdom.
I learned how missionary life may look like. There can be the joys of learning a new dialect, eating interesting foods, or befriending locals with hopes of sharing the gospel. There can also be the difficulties of interpersonal conflict between missionaries, loneliness for the single, or frustration for the mom doing day-to-day tasks like cooking everything from scratch. Being adaptable and having a sense of humor can go a long way.
Lastly, I also learned that missionaries are normal Christians like you and me. All are beset with their own God-given strengths and flesh-driven weaknesses. Yet all have the same passion for others to know Jesus.
LIVING FAITHFULLY AMIDST THE ORDINARY
And where is God leading me now?
I definitely gained more clarity by going on this vision trip. While I did not feel led to immediately sell all my possessions, quit my day job, and jump on the next return flight to Africa, I am open to going long-term in the future.
For now, I continue to be a faithful steward at my workplace and a member of my church at FCBC Walnut. I am nurturing my personal walk with God, seeking to be more Biblically equipped, and exploring and developing my spiritual gifts.
I still feel an urgency for the gospel, the desire to live a simple life, and the yearning to have more spiritual clarity in my life. However, I now know that I can faithfully witness to individuals who God has placed in my life, live intentionally by learning to give generously, and discern God’s will by daily seeking Him and loving His people.