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Shelter in Place

By: William J. Stephens

I’ve been a missionary for over twenty years in Asia with OMF International, and now my wife and I are on Home Assignment, what used to be called “furlough” in days of yore. Our return to “the field” is uncertain. Like many, we abide by shelter in place orders. For now, our country of service has banned international flights, and our sending country has banned travel abroad.

Many have offered sage advice for how to spend time, from praying more, to spending more time in God’s word, to reading devotional literature or classics, to finding ways to serve locally, to taking on neglected tasks. We greet the day with yearning, or with a yawn. The time in confined spaces teems with new possibilities, or taunts with old patterns.

Sometimes I do well, inspired along the beautiful melodic lines of “You Are My Hiding Place.” Other times I don’t do well, having dark thoughts more in tune with “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, a cry of desperation.

I ponder the prospect of being a missionary without a mission, a sent one who merely stays at home. Now I question my identity. For many years I’ve thought of myself as a “missionary.” I sensed a call to mission in the early 1980s after hearing the song “Jesus Commands Us To Go” by the late Christian musician Keith Green. On my marriage certificate, I had either the faith or the audacity to put “missionary” for occupation.

So where do I belong? The British novelist W. Somerset Maughan wrote about people struggling in surroundings foreign or new to them. On a Chinese Screen subtly mocks an English woman in China: “Homeless, she was at home wherever her country had a diplomatic representative.”[1]

What Maugham meant disparagingly may be turned on its head for encouragement. For we are at home wherever our heavenly country (Philippians 3:20) has a representative, and that representative is the ever-present Christ. No matter where, what we may call “here” or “there” (Acts 1:8), to the end of the age Jesus, the ultimate leader who owns us as Lord, promises to be with us (Matthew 28:20) no matter what country we find ourselves in.

Our heavenly Father has adopted us as his children (Romans 8:15). Therefore, during this unusual time of the COVID-19 pandemic and societal slowdown let us re-learn what it means to live like one who is simply a member of God’s family. Is my identity of being a forgiven child of God greater than being a foreign missionary? Is my stronghold in “the field” or rather in the Lord who “alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:2). The mission to a beloved people in a far-away land where I’ve spent nearly half my life may pass away, but being an adopted son of the Lord of the universe will not fade away. Our heart’s cry for identity and purpose, for a good shelter is found in God alone being “our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1).

[1] Maugham, W. Somerset. (1990). On a Chinese Screen. London: Mandarin Paperbacks, p. 13. Originally published in 1922.

This article is submitted by William J. Stephens of OMF International. OMF International is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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