I became a Christian when I was eighteen years old at Indiana University—while rushing a fraternity of all times. It was in my fraternity that I began walking deeply with the Lord, growing in ministry skills, and developing a burden for the lost.
During the fall of my junior year, my mentor asked if I would consider joining him and his wife on a mission trip to East Asia and I remember telling him that I would pray about it… but I actually had no intention of taking the challenge seriously. The Lord had other plans, thankfully, and six months later I found myself in the middle of a massive city I had only just learned about a few weeks prior. It was hot, dusty and so much fun. God used that summer to change the trajectory of my life. Two years later I moved to East Asia to serve long-term as a missionary.
What I Learned from My East Asian Friends
It was in East Asia that I learned that the mission was God’s and God’s alone. When I landed in the country where I was serving, my thoughts were largely about myself—thinking that I was bringing the gospel to a lost nation. I was humbled to see that God had been at work in that country for centuries and that I was simply being invited to participate in his work. When I arrived, I thought I had a lot to offer, but I quickly learned that I also had a lot to learn.
It was through a local friend named Rose* that I began to understand God’s calling on my life. I learned that his call is more important than my marital status and that he will provide abundantly for all of my needs as an unmarried person. Rose demonstrated that as well—finding deep joy in the Lord despite her parents’ fury that she refused to marry a non-believer.
I also learned valuable lessons from my local friend, Peter*. He taught me that the Lord is my refuge in times of trial. After all, governmental intimidation was something he’d experience first-hand. He was visited—and harassed—by the police because of his ministry when we took the risk to meet without cellphones at a busy KFC to touch base and make sure he and his family were okay. I was shocked to find him laughing because of how the Lord has been his comfort in the midst of his trial. He even sought opportunities to share the gospel with his interrogators.
My coworker, Autumn*, also helped me grow during my time in East Asia. She constantly stopped our meetings to pray. I sometimes found myself rolling my eyes because of the insistence to stop what felt like progress to do what was actually the only profitable thing we could do at the time—pray. Because of her, my prayer life grew and flourished, and I noticed the Lord answering our prayers.
What I Learned from East Asian Hospitality
It was through my friends who owned the convenience store near my apartment that I learned what it means to be hospitable, a noticeable part of East Asian culture. These friends took me in when I found myself alone during a major holiday. Most of my friends were in their hometowns or out of the country for conferences. I, on the other hand, was dealing with passport issues and unable to travel. Rather than let me spend the holiday alone, this family invited me to spend it with them. I still remember how special it was as we sat on the floor in their store, eating a huge meal and later shooting off fireworks. I experienced a really special holiday with them in that convenience store. God used that moment, and many others, to teach me the biblical concept of hospitality—what it looks like to welcome a stranger.
I grew closer to the Lord because of these and so many other people from different cultures who poured into me. I began realizing that I need the whole body of Christ in my discipleship—to more fully understand the gospel and how to live it out.
As I was influencing East Asians to Christ (or trying to, at least), they were having the same impact on me. It was not a narrative I heard before my feet hit the ground and I entered into the crucible that is international missions. I had always been told that we go because the nations need the Lord.
What I realize now is that the experiences I gained in a foreign country and the people I met also revealed my need for more of the Lord.
As a college student, I failed to consider that God is a God of the nations and that he was at work outside of my little bubble at IU. I found myself challenged by the reality that there are people on this planet who do not know a Christ-follower, let alone have access to the gospel. I am invigorated by the reality that God has invited me to participate in his ongoing work to bring people to himself.
When we go to the nations, we are participating in the global mission of God to take the gospel to sheep without a shepherd with his global family —a family that spans the nations; a family that can shape and mold us into men and women who can more fully live out the gospel because of its influence on our lives.
*Names have been changed for the safety of those involved.