I had a wonderful conversation today with a friend from church. He’s a fascinating faith-filled person who thinks about and intentionally practices his faith, always seeking to live more faithfully. Talking with him is a real blessing.
We got to talking about discipleship, living into our vocations, and using our gifts for the good of the world and Christ’s church. And I asked him, "Why aren’t I in Peru?" I then explained to him that I once thought I would serve as a missionary in Latin America, teaching, preaching, and doing ministry side-by-side with the poor and oppressed. I majored in Latin American Studies, spent time in Chile, Ecuador, Cuba and elsewhere, and received a Latino Ministry Concentration with my Master of Divinity. I was primed for Spanish-speaking ministry, either here or abroad.
My plans for entering Latino ministry were thwarted when I dropped out of seminary back in 1999. Dropping out of seminary was one of the dumber decisions I ever made, a prelude to a few years of deep personal introspection (ie, therapy) in which I ripped opened some serious emotional baggage. I would eventually repack that baggage in a more orderly fashion, and I got my life back in gear within a few years.
During those years my focus was on getting myself to a better emotional state, and pastoral ministry was temporarily out of the question. I worked in public education and later two non-ordained positions in church institutions. As life progressed I necessarily concerned myself with things such as paychecks, where I might live, and how I could convince this girl named Jessicah to marry me. I dabbled in MBA and M.Ed programs. I got married. Had children. Three of them. And moved three times from PA to NJ, back to PA, and then to VA. I returned to the Candidacy process. Worked as a hospital chaplain for 9 months. And now I’m an intern in a congregation, looking forward to an approval decision in May.
I never made a conscious decision to drop the Latino ministry dream. It just kind of fell to the background, as other life factors took center stage. And since those days another vision for my ministry has emerged – a more conventional ministry, to be sure – yet I can’t get the call to Latino ministry out of my head.
And so the faithfulness conversation I had this morning . . . sometimes I wonder why is it that I’m in Fairfax, VA, rather than Cuzco, Peru. What does it mean for me to be faithful to my calling, to use my gifts in ways that God would have me us them, to serve others while also providing for my growing family?
I love what I’m currently doing and the church I’m currently serving. I can see myself in this kind of setting for the long term. We have a more-than-adequate townhouse, my wife is thrilled about her new job as a professor of Christian Education and Formation, and our whole life situation – from church to neighborhood to schools – is extremely kid friendly. Life is good, and we have many reasons to give thanks to God.
But there’s a lingering question . . . and I don’t know if it is a literal or rhetorical question . . . but the question is . . . Why aren’t I in Peru?