March 16, 2013
Day one of walking into the destiny I thought I was created for. I was 20 years old and serving as full-time staff with Youth With A Mission Orlando. I had just married the belle of the ball and we were preparing for a leadership school that we’d take alongside our best friends. My destiny was quickly becoming reality.
I loved working at YWAM Orlando. I was good at it. Discipling young people, calling them into who they were created to be, traveling overseas, sharing the gospel with people who had never heard it before. All of it with my wife at my side. The literal “dream,” and I was taking my ﬁrst steps into it.
Then everything changed.
Two weeks after getting married, my wife and I were in the car with our closest friends, probably on the way to get Mexican food. While driving they began to tell us that they felt God was calling them to move to the Middle East at the end of the year. They were full of life and excitement as they shared this big dream God had put on their hearts. I mean, it was perfect for them. They had been married for four years, were in their mid 20’s, had both graduated college and worked in full time ministry for the past 3 years. It made sense. Then they dropped the real bomb on us. They said, “… and we want you guys to come with us.” What a dumb idea, I thought, No I don’t want to do that. I was stepping into my destiny; why would I move to the Middle East instead? The city they were going to live in was almost completely unreached. No churches and not even one single believer in a city of 100,000 people. 99.8% Muslim. The kind of thing people write books about. They were gearing up to move in 9 months… and expected us to go with them.
Waste of time. No.
I was born in Mexico because my parents were missionaries there for three years. Growing up I’d always talked about wanting to play for the Minnesota Twins and in the off-season ride a horse around Mexico sharing the love of Jesus. But that was just big talk from a kid growing up in a town of 5,000. In high school I wrestled between a desire in my heart to pursue missions and the pressures of the world around me to go to college. I tried to convince myself of different majors I could pursue, but I knew none of them were actually what I wanted to do. So instead I decided to do a Discipleship Training School (DTS) where I would really fall in love with Jesus and also get to travel across the world.
Two years later, here I sat. Walking into my fullness, and my best friends are proposing I throw all that away to move to a place I’ve never been to, for two years. I’d never ministered to people from a Middle Eastern nation, much less Muslims. I would have no idea what to do there. My wife, on the other hand, bought into the idea almost immediately. She loved it, though I did not. I had everything I could hope for. I was doing something I was good at and only going to get better at. I worked alongside people I loved in a community I loved. And I was only 20. It was only going to get better. Surely God wouldn’t rip me away from the dreams of my heart for this. I knew I wanted to do long-term missions but I thought that would be when I was old and 30.
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Eventually, my wife and I prayed about whether we should move or not, and sure enough, we both felt like God was asking us to move overseas with our friends. As I wrestled with what this move would mean and why God was telling us to do it, I felt like He challenged me with a thought: If I move to the Middle East I would be walking in obedience, and when I follow him in obedience, greater intimacy and depth of relationship with Him would surely follow.
I’d be giving up my dream, everything I loved and all I was good at, to move to a place where I would be a nobody. They speak a language there that I do not speak. At the same time, if this was really God speaking then He must have something for me in that foreign place, not to mention the people in this nation, human beings that God created so that He could have relationship with them. Who would tell them of this Creator who longs for relationship with them? There was a daily battle going on in my mind. I wanted to go because they deserve to hear the name of Jesus and of His love for them, but I didn’t want to throw away all of my dreams for this.
Ultimately, I knew I just wanted more relationship with Jesus and if I moved in obedience to the Middle East, surely I would get just that. It was one of the hardest seasons of my life. Raising money to move overseas for two years, selling our car, telling our families we were moving to a Muslim nation in post 9/11 America. However, in the midst of all of the struggle, we’d hear Jesus promising us things that fueled our desire to be obedient. Promises that our encounter with the Middle Easterners would be worth it, that their eternal destiny being changed was worth our momentary hardship.
"If I move to the Middle East I would be walking in obedience, and when I follow him in obedience, greater intimacy and depth of relationship with Him would surely follow."
We moved January 26th, 2014.
I was 21, had been married for 10 months and was getting ready to live in the hardest and the darkest. My wife and I, along with a married couple (our friends from the car) and another close friend, joined a team of 7 other long-term YWAMers there.
And 2 months in, after the romance of “really doing it as a missionary” had worn off, reality set in. I quickly learned about the places in my faith and in my identity that weren’t as deeply rooted as I thought. In short, I was a mess and God was doing open surgery on my heart. Yet in the midst of this, I found myself drawn to spend more and more time with Jesus. Every morning, spending time with Him. He met me there and established things in me that were substantial and so much stronger and truer than anything I had known before.
Sooo…. it turns out when you spend enough time with someone you start to think how they think, talk how they talk, care about the things they care about, love the things they love. And as I began to understand more and more of my identity and the heart of the Father, my time ministering to and hanging out with locals began to change. In this nation, where statistics say it is almost impossible to ﬁnd Jesus, I began to ﬁnd Him everywhere. In the faces of mothers, and fathers, and children, and grandparents. Through their love and hospitality, my understanding of the Father’s heart began to grow. They too were created in His image, and I could see it more clearly than ever. In how they loved, how they laughed, how they cared for one another. They were acting so much like the Heavenly Father that they didn’t even know they had. There was a new excitement to interact with people who didn’t know of the love of Jesus. The more time I spent with Jesus, the more I longed to see the Middle Eastern people come into relationship with God.
Initially, I though I was sacrificing so much for the sake of the Gospel,
but that which I thought I was losing was nothing in comparison to what was being gained. Living in this intimacy with Jesus allowed me to access a new level of fullness and life that I didn’t even know was available for myself.
When I was leaving Orlando I was so sure I was going to miss out on fulfilling my calling. God knew what He made me for though, and He would not let me settle for anything less. I’d made up my mind on where my life was headed and, by the love of God, that all changed. By the love of God I was lead into a fullness I would’ve never experienced had I stayed in Orlando. By the love of God I became a missionary in a foreign country. By the love of God, not by my foresight or understanding.
God was not just ordering me around because He had bought my life and “now I owed Him one.” That’s not who He is. He is a God who invites us to see His beauty here and now. He doesn’t pull us in certain directions and say “suck it up”. He calls us into the deeper places of His heart. He says “Come with me and let me show you new and beautiful things.” It’s scary at times, and full of unknowns, and it’s a risk. However, there’s something so beautiful about risks. Beautiful, because it’s a place that cultivates an awareness of our need for Jesus. Risks almost force us to lean into Him. Frightening as it is, He’s faithful to lead us into a partnership with Him where we can experience a little bit of heaven here and now.
“For God so loved the world that He sent His only son…” Because He loves, He takes us deeper. Because He loves, He sends us out to nations where we are foreigners. Outsiders. Places where we are misunderstood and different and “dangerous”.
And because He loves us He asks us to go into all the world, but He promises He will meet us there.
Jesse M. & Joseph S.| YWAM Orlando Staff