“So, how is everything going with your visa process? I mean, do you guys know when you will be able to get to Bulgaria yet?” This is the most obvious and repeated question that we are being asked these days. I am thankful for this question, because it shows a level of care and understanding that defines a desire to journey with us. I am grateful for it. However, I hate the answer. I always try to do better, but the honest answer to that question is, “I don’t know.” This is a frustrating and humbling answer to give to any question. I think we sometimes makeup answers in order to avoid this response. Nevertheless, it is the answer to many questions these days.
Currently, I am reading through Acts for Everyone, by N.T. Wright, as a part of my daily devotional rhythm as I read through the book of Acts. It has been an incredible blessing to journey with the likes of James, Stephen, Paul, Timothy, Silas, Peter, and Barnabas. These “heroes” often seem to struggle with the same troubles and answers (or lack thereof) that I do these days. Sometimes, it seems like history is repeating itself as their calling and ministry seems to mirror my own. This really hit home as I read through Wright’s chapter on Acts 16:6-10. This is one of those passages that is often neglected. It follows the event of Timothy joining Paul and Silas on their missionary journey. Timothy has just accepted this incredible calling to leave his home, family, and life behind in order to be obedient to Christ’s missionary call on his life. I can imagine him going through the pain (literal and figurative) of this surrender and comforting himself by imagining all of the earth shattering, mind blowing, life changing, ministry that he would be a part of. After all, he is going to be on the front lines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ spreading throughout the world! I bet he set off with Paul and Silas with all the joy, anticipation, and confidence in the world.
But then something strange happens… or rather I should say, nothing strange happens! In fact, nothing happens at all. The missionary trio tries to go to Asia, but, “the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in the province of Asia.” (16:6) Then, they tried to go to Bithynia to share Christ, but then again, “the Spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them to do so.” (16:7) This great, gifted, passionate, able, ready, and surrendered missionary trio is literally walking around in circles in the desert desperate to share Christ, but bound up in a Spirit-directed limbo! Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Timothy? You have just surrendered everything with a passion and hope of sharing Christ with others, with a sense of urgency, and a desire to go and be used, but instead you find yourself living in limbo, unable to go anywhere. Can you imagine? Well, I don’t have to. I know how he felt.
Back in the Spring we accepted God’s missionary call on our lives. We sold all of our possessions (besides our vehicle and 9 totes of clothes and memories), we sold our house, and we set off on our journey with all the joy, passion, confidence, and urgency in the world! But then, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Visa stipulations have given us headaches, COVID-19 issues have closed borders, and we have moved from one generous family to another in the midst of some strange limbo that we could never have expected. Needless to say, we have run the emotional, spiritual, and relational gambit. Like Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Acts 16:8, when asked questions of when and where we have often found ourselves answering with shrugging shoulders. As N.T. Wright puts it: “It’s one thing to trust God’s guidance when it’s actually quite obvious what to do next. It’s something else entirely when you seem to be going on and on up a blind alley.”
Did this mean that Timothy did not have a missionary call on his life? Did this mean that God or Timothy made a mistake? Did this mean that the trio should turn back? Absolutely not! In fact, it was precisely in this limbo space that we see Paul, Silas, and Timothy in one of their greatest acts of obedience. They continued forward. They continued to pursue God’s calling. They trusted in their calling and believed in the Savior who had extended it in the first place. Then, in verse 9 the breakthrough comes and we find that all the road blocks had come in order to prepare the way for the time and place of greatest need. Paul receives the vision and the result will be an experience of miraculous works of the Spirit, of the salvation of many individuals, and the establishment of the Philippian church. This was what they had been waiting for. Wright describes the situation better than I could: “And then it happened. A vision at night. Paul sees a man from – Macedon! Northern Greece! Across the sea and into a totally new area! ‘Come over and help us!’ pleads the man. The weeks of walking and waiting, of wondering and praying, had led to this.”
There are, indeed, some questions with that terrible answer. But then, there others with very emphatically clear ones. Can we trust our calling? Has God made a mistake? Should we turn back? These questions have clear answers. We continue to believe, even in this “in-between” time, that God has called us and is preparing the time and place to use us where the need is greatest and the door is open. We are leaning on the good word that Paul shared with the believers of that church that resulted from his time in limbo, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”