I Surrender Some

What does it mean to “surrender to missions”?  When I think about how these words must sound outside of our traditional Christian circles, it makes me laugh.  People must think of an unfortunate and unsuspecting person or family, minding their own business in the real world, when suddenly they are surrounded by so-great-a-cloud of mysterious smoke, and probably Africa-shaped glitter, then instantly zapped from normalcy into jean skirts and tennis shoes.  They are immediately filled with sudden urges to homeschool, start blogs about their experiences, and act confused in the cereal aisle. In desperation and fear, they finally drop to their knees and yell out in a slow-motion scramble amidst the smoke – “I surrender!!!”  They get commissioned. They purchase one-way tickets. They land in an unsuspecting country of their choosing. Start language school. Bam – surrendered!

But I grew up in the church and being a pastor’s kid; I knew better than this.  I knew that a “surrender” to missions was done only by the most elite, the supremely spiritual, and the highest educated Christians. These people weren’t surprised at all by “the call”.  In fact, they probably surrendered to missions before they were even saved, maybe even before they could talk as babies. That’s how amazing they were.  They already owned back-ups for their back-up jean skirts and already knew how to cook over coal and wash 100 dishes with 2 cups of water.  They never learned…they just knew.  Wrong again.

In reality, for our family, we didn’t experience a grand call to missions. It was more like, “Hey, God has graciously saved us. We believe that he has called us into the ministry, and it’s been confirmed by our elders and people in our lives. Our hearts keep drawing us to share the gospel with people who have never heard. Now, let’s see where He will lead us.”  Many open and closed doors later, and we found ourselves across the world in East Africa. Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple…but nevertheless…we “surrendered.”

I finally understood what surrender meant. I did it! I crossed that event off of my Christian bucket list. It meant leaving home, my family and friends, familiarity and landing in a place where every single thing made me feel either stupid or afraid.  Well, at least that is what I thought – and I was wrong once again.

After the big move overseas, I discovered that a one huge missionary-surrender was another giant lie. I could have never comprehended the continued grace and patience that I would need from God as I had to learn to daily surrender my will to His.  It wasn’t a “one-time move” or monumental act of obedience.  It was daily dependence as I woke up every morning in a foreign place,  missing family, missing understanding what was happening around me, and desperately missing being known as we were strangers to everyone around us.

Fast forward about eight years. Over time, Tanzania became home.  That daily dependence and surrender became easier as strangers became family, the foreign became familiar, a language which was once a frustrating barrier became a bridge into hearts and lives, and what once seemed peculiar and disturbing became ordinary.  Our family found our unconventional life in Tanzania to be more normal and coveted than even our visits to the States (okay, minus really missing chic-fil-a family). I often joke about our family and team “living the dream,” but that is really how we feel.  Even through the difficult, draining, and sometimes dangerous times, we have loved every year that we have been blessed to live in this beautiful country.  Over the years, America felt more and more foreign and strange as Tanzania became our home.

There we were, living out our ministry and missionary dreams. We woke up most days feeling like we hit some sort of proverbial mission’s jackpot. Okay, that may be a little bit of hyperbole and oversimplification. Still, we genuinely feel blessed and undeserving to live out our obedience to God in a context we enjoy and with people who we dearly love.

“Surrender” didn’t feel nearly as difficult in the new calm season.  I think, for a moment, I actually believed that we had finally made it into a time where we could coast more than struggle.  Well, I thought that for about five minutes until all of our plans and dreams came crashing down around us. At first, we weren’t too concerned when the government started enforcing a law that prohibits any foreign residents to stay longer than 5 years. Our lives are lived working around red tape, figuring ways around obstacles and confusing policies, dealing with changing visa and permit issues, and more. But gradually, what seemed like a small and lenient permit issue turned into us waving goodbye to family after family who were forced to leave.  Our team’s permits expire in July 2020, making it a real possibility that we will also be denied our next request.

Queue lament.

“No, God! We already surrendered!  Please, God, I already uprooted my family and moved out of our home. I tried desperately to obey you and to make this new country, this new language, this new culture, our home!  You can’t ask me to leave! Don’t make us give this up.”  

Here I am, right now and in real-time, digging my missionary heels down into the ground of our beloved country; our home.  Here I am clenching my missionary hands tightly around my relationships, my plans, and my life here in Tanzania – choking out any possibility for God to redirect.  “You won’t take this, God. I already gave up home once.” Crying turns to anger.  Anger quickly turns to despair.

It turns out that I still haven’t grasped the meaning of living in surrender.  I haven’t denied myself and surrendered as much as I thought.  Instead, I surrendered for a season, then progressively just transitioned my affections, my loyalty, my comfort, and even some of my identity to a new place; a new home.  And this time, I am not giving it up as easily.

I wish I could wrap this blog up into a nice sin-overcome bow, but I can’t yet.  I’m right in the middle of a new season when God is asking me to be obedient despite my feelings.  I’m learning, once again, how to walk in faith – how to surrender.

We don’t know what the future holds for us in Tanzania.  No one does (James 4:13-15).  We are praying to stay.  We are asking God to allow us to stay.  But obedience may look different than I had pictured.  Obedience may be the laying down of another dream, of another home.  It could look like God using this time to reveal new truth to us and then miraculously allow us to stay.  It could also look like a completely different direction of missions and expansion of our team into a new place in East Africa that we wouldn’t have considered, but that God had already ordained.  We have no idea.

All I can do in this season of waiting is continually pray a prayer something like this: Lord, help my unbelief. Pry my hands open again and help me to believe the truth that heaven is my home (Hebrews 11:13-16).  I do believe this, but stated belief is different than functioning belief.  I can say it. I can type it and post it for people to admire, perhaps, but living it is a new surrender, and I feel like I am kicking and screaming all the way.  But you, Father, have taught me through your Word that you are okay with my laments and my questions.  You have taught me that you are near to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18).  You find joy in comforting Your children, in being our refuge in times of trouble (Psalms 46:1), and in offering peace and comfort in our sorrows.  You have taught me from your Word, through Your Spirit, and through experience that you are trustworthy.  Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

This “surrender” or laying down of our lives is not a missionary call.  It’s a call to all who have been saved by grace. Every single Christian is called to the kind of surrender that daily hourly has to depend on Him and re-surrender our will to His will (Luke 22:42). Each of us is called to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26).

What is God asking you to give up?  What dream or comfort or home has become your “you can’t have this”?  The good news is that just like surrender isn’t a one-time thing, neither is God’s willingness to forgive and renew our hearts.  Join me in repenting of our idols (Ezekiel 14:3 – plans, money, safety, security, family, home, anything taking the place of God in our life…anything that we depend on more than God for our happiness and security).  Lay them down (even if it’s reluctantly and with a broken heart, like me right now).  Let’s see what God does. We may be surprised.  We may feel pain and loss.  But I believe that we will never regret removing the limits that we have placed on our obedience to Him, for He is worthy.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelations 4:11

*Though permits are a big issue for our family and team, we have no plans (Lord willing) of leaving East Africa. Our Tanzanian partners and ministries are all praying together as we trust God to continue to use Sifa, Grace Mission, Mama Love and house church planting movement in powerful ways in Tanzania and throughout East Africa.  Our work continues in confidence that God is working all things out for His glory & for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

  1. Ah, yes! That constant horrid surrender that He requires. My impatient self says, “Can’t we just get this lesson over with and move on?” 🤪 Growing up an mk, I knew I wanted to be a missionary from the age of 8, but God made me surrender that. I had to be willing to live in my “hated” passport country and embrace its culture. Finally, at 28 and after almost 6 years of marriage, God moved in my husband’s heart to take us overseas.

    There were many surrenderings along the way, but none so soul shattering as this.
    After 12 + years in a region I loved, doing something I adored, God made me surrender again and go to the city my family had lived in during my early teens, a town that held many bad feelings/memories, that I had vowed I would NEVER return to . . . We have been here 2 years. I love my job. I love “my people.” I can tolerate most of the co-workers who were part of the problem 30+ years ago and even work graciously with them. The city is growing on me. Surrender is good.

    God is good.

    Even when I am not.

  2. As I sat reading I felt my heart hurting and wetness on my checks. Sometimes I wonder why life is so hard then I realize that I make it hard. Just expecting my world will always be good all the time
    Then I feel selfish like when I asked God for my life Wanting a transplant so I could live then stopping … because someone would have to die for that wish. How selfish. But I prayed then if it was His wish for me to die I was ok too,cause I knew He would be with me no matter what happened. I found myself writing letters to my family and then prayers for our David to get a transplant also. We get too comfortable in our lives when things go our way. Not that He sends problems to us but that he prepares us for what is next keeping us safe or maybe showing us we can do whatever is presented to us as His children. She thankful that he watches over all of you and all in Tanzania. He loves you and with the love and knowledge he gives the answer will come just be still don’t worry and listen. I have been talking to Joseph and Apollo every few days leaving them with prayers
    Our God is a good God all the time. The answer will come.
    I love each and everyone of you. Prayers everyday for you.all for HIm.
    Love Debbie Lutes

    Psalms 23

  3. My heart is hurting for you all and I get it. Hourly surrendering to what you thought or hoped would be. Praying for clarity and guidance and understanding as you navigate this next step. We love you all. ❤️

  4. I get excited when I see a new e-mail saying that you have put up a new blog post. You have a gift for writing and I always enjoy your newest ones. I appreciate your candor and then pointing back to Jesus. It’s encouraging to me and I’m sure many others. We’ll be praying for your family and our other Tanzanian missionary friends. ❤

  5. We were called back to America after 18 years in Romania. We’ve been back 9 months. It was more difficult than moving to Romania!!

  6. Thank you for a fantastic, thoughtful post. Amen about the need for “ongoing” surrender. Praying for you and the family as you navigate where and how the Lord leads you forward, and as you wrestle with loss and change on the journey.

  7. ♥️ It’s so hard to feel good about myself and my “lack” of sacrifices, when I read about yours. You truly are a blessing to so many. Your whole extended family included.

    Praying for God’s perfect will for each of you, that many others will be saved because of your obedience and sacrifices. Love you all so very much! tina

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