Living in southern California, I never thought I’d speak French again, until one Sunday morning when our church pews were especially crowded and I found myself dusting off my second language like an old pair of boots.
My parents moved our family from California to France for full-time missions work when I was seven. After language school, they partnered with local pastors and churches to grow disciples and breathe new life into dying congregations. Over the next dozen years, I saw with my own eyes what God could do when willing people used their gifts for His glory.
It was only natural that years later, once I had moved back to the States and finished college, I would feel the itch to serve God in big and mighty ways. One Sunday, I found myself sitting in a church basement with a few dozen others who were going through a membership class. We listened to a summary of all the ministries this church was involved with and all the ways in which they could use our help. Then the leaders handed us a spiritual gift survey to determine each of our particular strengths. I took great care in circling my answers and tallying my responses. I flipped to the results section, eager to discover which spiritual gift was mine.
The Bible is clear that each of us is gifted in different ways and even goes on to name several spiritual gifts in more than one place in the New Testament. Gifts like those listed in Romans 12 (exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, and teaching) are broad categories and are helpful in pointing to where our strengths may lie. The Bible is not specific, however, in the day-to-day use of our gifts, other than that we are to practice them with love (1 Corinthians 13). In fact, it can become easy to hide behind our spiritual gifts when we are faced with a need. When God called Moses to speak to Pharaoh and lead His people out of Egypt, I imagine Moses would have found it very handy to show the Lord the results of his spiritual gifts survey as proof that he was not qualified for the job. “Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
Romans 12:1 tells us that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, as an act of spiritual worship. When we are following Christ, we offer up our whole selves for His glory: our interests, our hobbies, our passions, our past experiences, even our mistakes. Everything about us is fair game when it comes to furthering His kingdom.
So there I was that crowded Sunday morning, sitting near the aisle, with just one free space on my left. Halfway through the first worship song, a very pregnant lady sat next to me, and I noticed her husband found a single seat a few rows over. During meet-and-greet time, I turned to her and introduced myself, quick to mention that I was the coordinator of our local moms group, and would she be interested in joining us and getting to know other moms?
When Luiza answered me, it was clear she had only caught some of what I was saying. In her halting English, she explained that she and her husband and daughter had moved here from Brazil and that they spoke Portuguese. They belonged to a Presbyterian church back home, and they were looking to join this one. Through simple words and gestures, we were able to share a bit about our families, but it took both of us a lot of effort. When it was finally time to sit down, Luiza casually mentioned that French is her second language. Delighted, I switched to French to let her know that I spoke it too!
The look of relief on Luiza’s face was immediate. We chatted more after the service and our friendship grew from there. When her son was born, she invited me over to meet him and share her banana bread. When her husband was traveling for work, I helped drive her daughter to preschool. We sat together in Bible study, and I tried to make sure she knew what was going on as her English improved.
As I take stock of my adult life, it’s easy to see I never did do anything “big and mighty” for God. I didn’t give up a career to move to a foreign country. I didn’t start a non-profit. I didn’t risk my life for the sake of the gospel. But I’m finally starting to believe my mother when she would tell the children in American Sunday schools: “Remember kids, whether it’s across the street or across the ocean, everyone can be a missionary!” Your missions field starts with your neighbor, sometimes even the very person sitting next to you.
And your service, whatever your spiritual gift may be, starts with open eyes and a willing heart. This is how God pours His grace into our hurting world through each of us — no matter the need, no matter the neighbor.
Your missions field starts with your neighbor, sometimes even the very person sitting next to you. -@notablysarah: Click To Tweet