What does it mean to know God in all his sovereignty and kingship over the world, but also relate to him individually as the Father who intimately knows us, and our needs, and patiently leads us? I can’t answer that question with a neat theological bow, but I can offer my story of how God took me from my home country to the nations and knew me deeply along the way.
A Child of 9/11
I’m a child of 9/11. What do I mean by that? I was 9 years old when I watched Muslim extremists fly airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. And for those of us that were kids at the time, we can attest that 9/11 had a profound impact on our lives. We suddenly knew evil, death, and disaster to be real on a colossal scale and were left to grapple with it as we tried to understand the world in our youth and adolescence.
As a child of 9/11, I remember in the weeks and years following there was a growing animosity towards our Muslim neighbors in America. These sentiments were prevalent both outside and inside the church. I specifically remember one Sunday School teacher when talking about the Middle East and Muslims during a Bible lesson saying, “We need to just bomb them all.”
Something in my heart immediately pushed back on that remark. I realize now it was the Holy Spirit, but at the time I simply knew that what this man had said was not in line with the Jesus I was reading about in the Bible and starting to believe in and follow.
From that moment on God began to do work in my life. And even though I was a child of 9/11, he began to cultivate in me a love for Muslims and a desire to do ministry among them.
Onward to Baylor
Years later I went to university at Baylor University where I majored in Linguistics. I still had a heart for my Muslim neighbor and a nerdy fascination with languages and culture — but I had ZERO ideas on how these two things could practically intersect for God’s glory among the nations.
So one day I was walking across campus and I prayed this prayer:
God, I know you’ve given me a heart for Muslims, and I have this linguistics degree. But how am I supposed to use this overseas and on mission?
Later that week I was walking to class when I suddenly saw a booth set up in the middle of the quad. Over the booth was a banner that said, “GoCorps, use your degree overseas!”
I was intrigued so I drew closer while keeping a safe distance and noticed that on the banner was also a list of majors that could be used overseas. I saw all the expected cool majors one would expect: Engineering, Medicine, Business; but then, Linguistics.
My intrigue changed to commitment, and in my senior year, I applied and was accepted into GoCorps on a Linguistics track that was going to allow me to go to the Middle East as an Arabic student where I’d both learn the language and get to work with refugees in a major city.
The Next Step
For me, this move overseas just made sense in light of everything I knew about God and how he was leading me at the time. My friends trying to be doctors left for med school, my accountant friends went off to internships in New York City, but for me the next logical step with how God wired me simply meant moving overseas to study Arabic.
The funny thing is though, I had no idea how all of this would turn out. I didn’t have a five or ten-year plan that this fit into. All I knew was that God had given me a heart for these things and that this was simply the next step in obedience to Him.
The Train Wreck
And so, in 2015 I shipped off to the Middle East and landed knee-deep in a desert mega-city and the Arabic language — and it was an absolute train wreck.
I quickly realized I was far less patient, compassionate, and Spirit-led than I thought I was, and when stripped away from everything that had made me ‘me’ in my home culture I was suddenly left to wrestle with so much brokenness that I never knew was there. I kid you not, on my worst days, you would have found a man more likely to throw a chair out of a window in frustration than tell someone about Jesus.
Looking back now, I can clearly see God was at work. During those first six difficult months overseas, God was stripping away so much of the missionary identity that I had built up in order to show me that all that was left was a deep need and dependence on him. You see, he was showing me that God didn’t NEED me for anything; instead, he was inviting me to be part of what he was already doing in a place.
God’s Invitation to What He’s Already Doing
I remember experiencing this reality that God was already at work and simply inviting me to be part of it after I had been in the country for about a year. I had reached a place of deep frustration because it seemed that no matter how many friends I made, or how good my Arabic got, sharing Jesus was starting to feel like a game of cat and mouse and I was losing the game. At the end of the day, no one seemed that interested in Jesus.
So I got frustrated and told God, “I’m not going to chase anyone anymore, you’re either at work or you’re not. So I’m just going to sit around and pray until you decide to do something.”
Little did I know, he was at work. I had one more meeting that week with some new refugee friends that I couldn’t cancel. So I showed up out of politeness, but somewhere around our second cup of tea one of the men spoke up:
“Do you have a Bible?” He asked. “Because, we couldn’t get Bibles in our home country, but we’ve heard a few things about it and would like to know more, and were wondering if you would read yours to us.”
I was floored. God was at work. But it was so much in spite of me, not because of me.
I remember seeing this at play again when I moved neighborhoods.
My roommate was also an American learning Arabic. We made a pact to move out of an affluent neighborhood and to plant ourselves in a rougher part of town where we wouldn’t ever come across other foreigners or people who spoke English. In no uncertain terms, it was either learn Arabic or die.
So we moved across town to a new neighborhood that we’d soon come to learn was full of gangs, drug dealers, and at least one angry ostrich that would roam the streets.
We were absolutely terrified. We quickly began to wonder if we’d made a terrible mistake for lack of wisdom. But as we prayed, something was telling us to stay. There wasn’t a warm fuzzy peaceful feeling. Remember, we were terrified. But nonetheless, we decided to stay.
What we’d come to find out over the following months was that our neighborhood was actually an intersection of the Yemeni and Sudanese refugee communities of the city. Strangely enough, my roommate had a heart for the Sudanese, and I for the Yemeni. It turns out God had placed us right where we needed to be.
Our apartment became a revolving door for young Sudanese and Yemeni men. They lived with us. We ate meals together. And a beautiful ministry popped up out of nowhere as we prayed, read Scripture with them, and Bibles even went missing from our house. All of this was not because we were good missionaries (remember we were terrified!), but simply because we were saying ‘Yes’ to the next steps God had for us, whether it was a meeting we didn’t want to be at or a new neighborhood to move into.
The God of the Next Steps
Those events were years ago, but I’ve seen that this is consistently the way God has worked in my life. Even when I left the Middle East and wasn’t sure what was next — God would simply pave the way as I said yes to Him.
For me, this looked like moving from Texas to New York City simply because that’s where I heard Muslim immigrants from the Middle East were landing. Even in that move, not knowing a single soul in the city, and having no idea what would come of it, I watched God pave the way, giving me community, family, and a ministry to Muslim families living in Brooklyn.
Seeing God work this way in my life for nearly a decade now has reoriented what I think it looks like to follow him, and this is what I extend to others as they ponder what God has for them and what to do with their lives.
What would it look like for you to tune out all the voices of this world that are telling you to do the safe thing, the financially expedient thing, the expected thing? And to instead simply do the next thing in line with how God has wired and called you?
Because as I lived my 20s in surrender to how God called me I began to see that our God is truly the God of the nations, calling men, women, and children from every tribe and tongue to Himself — but He’s also the God of the intimate next steps of our lives. So what are your next steps, and will you take them?