We never choose to leave the field. We may be asked to leave by officials. We may have to leave for the sake of family needs or safety. Sinfulness may force us from the field, or we may willingly walk away because God has asked that of us.
The manner of leaving is of no consequence because God intends goodness even in exiting. However, there are healthy ways to leave the field and there are destructive ways. The manner in which we chose to walk forward reveals more about the state of our heart than the reason for leaving.
The Reluctant Leaver
Leaving in an unhealthy way often looks like resistance, anger, depression, blaming, avoidance, and regret. There are many reasons we leave feeling this way. It may involve missed expectations, hurt from leadership, our hard-heartedness, an unhealthy hold or pride over the ministry, a felt injustice, or personal feelings of failure. Our reluctance to name these sinful spots in our heart only holds us back from God’s truest desire in the transition—to make us whole so we can see his kingdom rightly.
One of the hardest aspects of leaving the field for me was the question of, did I do enough and did it matter? This is one of the quickest way we cross-cultural workers miss the point of mission. We think the kingdom of God, the work of lost souls coming to Christ, somehow depends on us and what we give, do, and say. Our reluctance to leave often comes down to feeling as though we didn’t do enough for the kingdom. What our heart is really saying is; we didn’t leave the mark we’d hoped for ourselves in this place or among these people.
I don’t blame us for feeling this way. The church and sending agencies feed into this misconception. Our effectiveness is seen by numerical results counted in church plants, converts, home bible studies, businesses, trainings, and more. They mark our value, and though these are worthy efforts, they are not the sum total of our effectiveness for God’s kingdom. God invests in hearts, including our own, but when we operate out of a number-results mindset by the time we return from the field we feel we’ve failed if those expectations seem unmet. But God’s truth is that he has accomplished a good work in you and those you touched, no matter the time spent, souls saved, or churches planted. Each redemptive act of obedience on our part makes way for God’s kingdom here on earth.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.Matthew 13:31
What we sow on the field often seems small or hidden like the mustard seed, but nonetheless powerful in kingdom commerce. Like a gardener, most of what we did was tend the soil and plant seeds. We may never know what or how life will grow, but we must learn to trust that what God plants and tends will flourish in the fullness of time. Furthermore, leaving one field of service for another doesn’t mean our hand in tending God’s kingdom is over. I am thankful that Isaiah reminds us of God’s attentiveness to all matters of life that bear fruit.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,Isaiah 59:9-11
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
The Willing Leaver
Walking away from a calling overseas to return home, even with a willing spirit, holds challenges too. Having a healthy perspective of leaving can be filled with depression, loss of identity, grieving, and anxiety. The difference is the willingness of the heart in the face of God’s desires.
When our family faced leaving China I felt very remiss. So many changes were occurring around us causing us to give pause about staying. We spent months in prayer ending in closed doors. I struggled desperately to seek a way to stay, but the more I rent my heart and entrusted it to God, the more he assured me it was time to let an old dream fade. I’d spent the whole of my adult life dreaming of serving in China. Every decision I’d made till now revolved around going. Finally living and serving there was truly a dream come true; I finally felt at home. I believed I’d live out the rest of my adult days in China, until the day came when I wouldn’t.
Facing Lost Dreams
Grappling with a lost dream forced me to ask myself, “What did I love more? The dream of China or God?” After months of wrestling in prayer I laid my dreams before God because I knew he’d given me the dream, the calling. It was a precious gift I’d never deserved, but in his grace he allowed me to live and raise my family in China. With a grateful and tearful heart I embraced my one true love which allowed me then to hear him say it was time to let go of the dream in order to follow the dream-maker.
I never would have been able to board the plane to move to a new state, culture, and climate in order to start life all over if it weren’t for trusting my life into God’s capable hands.
Trust gave me courage to leave, but the path ahead still held struggles. I had to grieve my loss, walk my children through transition and grief, learn how to live in a new system, consider how to live with my identity being in Christ rather than purpose, struggle with church-life in America, wonder what God had for me next with no seen path, make new friends which meant vulnerability, become a proper homeowner, and rediscover what God means when he says to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” without being on the “mission field.” If my heart hadn’t been fully devoted to God’s will rather than my own, then I’d never have been able to accept leaving in order to embrace God’s new dream for my life.
Living Presently for God’s Kingdom
Today I can whole-heartedly say that whatever seeds, words, or love I gave in China are not wasted. I do not need results-based success to know God did a good and mighty work in that season of life for me and others. It’s been almost four years since leaving the land I love and it’s taken more than two years to fully grieve. Only recently do I sense God starting to break through my cloud of sadness, loss, and confusion in order to give me the hope-filled plans he promises for my future. (Jeremiah 29:11) There is no timeline or prescribed way to process leaving the field. God is patient with us whether we leave reluctantly or willingly. Each state of loss is worthy of God’s tender care and he will meet us wherever we are in that grief as long as we rend our hearts in response to his reshaping. Returning to your passport country doesn’t equal failure. He will not abandon your kingdom investment; he will not abandon you in the new path planned for you. He is Emmanual, God with us, in all manners of life, and we are as much a part of kingdom redemption work here as we were there. God is not bound by location, nor are you.
Beth Forshee studied journalism and public relations at Baylor University in Waco, TX and has been serving in various aspects of ministry to China for over 13 years. Her love for China’s culture and people started on her first short-term trip in 2001. Later Beth and her family served in …View Full Bio
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