At the time that I first sensed a calling toward vocational Christian ministry, I did not perceive that I was being called into any specific area of service. I just felt that God wanted me to go to seminary, study, and wait for further instruction. At first I just assumed that I was intended to pastor a church, which was the goal of the overwhelming number of students at the seminary. After my interim music position ended, I began applying to area churches that were in need of a pastor. After several months of not receiving any replies, one church finally contacted me. I preached before their church once and was even invited back for a second "tryout," but in the end they chose someone else. At that time, I sensed that God was telling me that He was not calling me to pastor at all, but to do something else.
One thing that I had NO interest in doing was serving as a foreign missionary. During the spring of my first year in seminary, the seminary held its annual Missions Conference, which was primarily a tool used by our denominational missions society for recruiting potential missionaries. There was a lot of hype and excitement about the conference. I decided to completely avoid it, so that I would not get caught up in a cloud of emotion, walk down the aisle, and sign myself and my family up for missions. After the conference was over, I thought to myself, "Whew! I dodged that bullet!"
But the "bullet" turned out to be more like a boomerang, wielded by none other than God Himself. It came back to hit me one day in the most unlikely of circumstances. One day I was sitting and reading a required textbook on Baptist History. I was reading a section about Baptist beginnings in Eastern Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. As I read about Western European missionaries spreading their faith in places such as Hungary, Romania, and Russia, I sensed that God was telling me, “This is what you are going to do.” Of course, God did not reveal to me that I was going to go there to become Orthodox. If he had, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I believe that God meets us where we are, and He rarely ever calls us to do something so radical that we just can’t (or better won’t) do it. Rather, He guides us down His path via baby steps.
(A miscellaneous note: God almost always uses books when calling me to follow Him in a new direction. I guess this is because I am such a “bookworm” [My daughter Audrey would say”nerd!”]. God obviously knows the best way to get my attention!)
Jennifer and I both struggled with this new calling, but in the end, we both felt peace about it. We spent the remaining two years of seminary preparing for a career as missionaries. We took an in-depth evangelism training course during my second and third years of seminary, and I even directed the course my third year. During my fourth year, we helped start a new church in south Fort Worth. We knew that we were supposed to go to Eastern Europe, but we had no idea to which country. So, I decided to try and find out by “scoping out” a country through a short-term mission trip.