I am about a third of the way through a book my sister gave me for my birthday. It’s titled The Insanity of God, written by Nik Ripken. (The author writes under a pseudonym because of the nature of his work.)
The Insanity of God is gripping, the kind of story that makes you laugh and cry, and sometimes both at the same time. It slices you in half with the poignant questions of God’s presence in the darkest places on earth. If you have a heart for underprivileged people in the world, you need to read it!
Nik Ripken was converted when he heard God speaking to him in the corner of the cheese factory where he worked, and his natural follow-up to that was to go into missions. His wife Ruth was much more properly prepared for the red tape of working for an organization, being raised as a minister’s daughter and always being one to help with church events. I laughed when I read this about what happened when they went to the mission organization to receive an overseas assignment:
“The committee members were clearly impressed with Ruth from the start. She told her story of being called to serve God overseas as a third-grader, how her sixth-grade writing project had helped confirm a specific calling to Africa, and how her summer experience in Zambia during college had given her a realistic picture of third-world living and erased any doubts that she might have had about her career plans.
“When they asked me the same question about when I had received my call, I looked around the meeting room and simply said, ‘I read Matthew 28.’
“They thought that maybe I had misunderstood the question. They patiently explained that a special calling was required before someone could go out into the world and do this kind of work. I was not trying to be clever or disrespectful, but I responded, ‘No, you don’t understand. I read Matthew 28 where Jesus told his followers, “GO!” So I’m here trying to go.’
“That prompted a thirty-minute explanation about the distinction between the call to salvation and the call to ministry. What was required, I was told, was then a call to take the Gospel out into the world, and perhaps even a fourth call to a specific place in the world. Then they asked me what I thought about what they had said.
“I was young and naïve enough to think that when they asked me that, they really wanted my opinion. So I gave them my opinion. ‘Well, it appears to me,’ I told them, ‘that you all have created a “call” to missions that allows people to be disobedient to what Jesus has already commanded all of us to do.” (The Insanity of God, pg. 69-70)
I laughed, and then I cried.
I have never doubted that Jesus wants all of us to go into all the world with the Gospel. But so often I don’t know how to go.
A few years ago, I decided to help more with the various projects my church had going. I enjoy serving, and I thought it would be good for me to get more involved. So when they asked for volunteers, I signed up to help with the cookie booth at the Mennonite Relief Sale.
Mixing up cookies with a bunch of other cheery, flour-dusted ladies was fun, and I enjoyed my hours of working at the sale. Or at least I thought I did.
On my way home, my chest ached with emptiness. The emptiness grew and grew until it screamed through my being and roared in my ears. What had I just done? Mixed and baked cookies to save the world?
That night, I woke up during the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. My heart was shattering. I crept out to the living room and keeled over the couch, weeping. Is this all the Christian life is about? Go to church every Sunday and help with cookies and things several times a year? Is this all that God expects of me?
Later when I told a few of my church friends about that experience, they seemed a little puzzled. What’s wrong with baking cookies for a relief sale? Isn’t that part of building God’s kingdom, too? I could not explain how such an innocent thing felt fake to me; like such a trite offering in response to the weight of God’s call, such a cheap penance for my easy life.
Reading Ripken’s story, I understood a little his deep longing to follow Jesus coupled with the misunderstanding of his faith-community. I understood his desire to extend a loving hand to the desperately needy people around him.
My life is posh compared to what Ripken experienced working in Somaliland. I love my town, but I still don’t know how to reach the broken people. My background, although it is precious to me, did not fully prepare me for touching life outside of that Christian context. I feel a tearing-apart in my soul. God, I hear your call. I know the call to missions is for everyone. But I don’t know how to follow it. How do you want me to answer your call?
How do you answer His call?