It’s been a lot of years since my AP English class in high school. Yet, picking this classic-Jane Eyre- for the first time, I became curious.
During the second half of the book, we find Jane Eyre with a broken heart. She hastily leaves her employer, then in dire need, stumbles upon a cottage and develops a friendship with the two sisters who live there-and their brother, called St. John. His heart and passion is to go to India and serve as a missionary, so Jane helps him as he prepares, studying language and teaching students.
Finally, he asks her to join him as a missionary and become his wife. Despite his persistence, [spoiler alert] she refuses to marry him, knowing they wouldn’t be a good fit for marriage.
There are other factors to their story, but as I read, I’ll admit, I’d been thinking the same thing as St. John. Jane seemed suited to ministry overseas: demonstrating an eager willingness to learn, a deep love and care for others, and her ability to adapt in challenging circumstances.
So, I wondered, what if she’d said yes?
When We Don’t Feel Called
During our years of church planting in Africa, it surprised me to discover how many wives serving alongside their husbands didn’t feel "called" to missions. These women left their homes, families, and security, faithfully going with their spouses to carry the gospel to the unreached.
They said yes.
But it wasn’t easy. The struggle was real. Like Moses, they had been desperately praying for God to send someone else. Yet, here they were, learning a new language, washing cloth diapers by hand, and cooking over charcoal, living before the audience of One.
Sharing this experience was often kept a closely guarded secret. A layer of shame existed, that somehow they didn't measure up to the high spiritual standards expected of missionaries. But, I think their stories teach us a lot about servanthood.
If we’ve not felt “the call” does it mean we’re not called? Are we then exempt from doing hard things?
Serving Where God Has Us
To serve means to perform duties or service for someone else. In a culture where we habitually look first to ourselves - and our sinful bent to do so - the idea of sacrifice when we don't feel "called" both startles and unsettles us.
Yet, the heart of servanthood is looking not only to your “own interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). Jesus also reminded his disciples, “if anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). We’re to live for the glory of God and the good of others in everything we do, wherever we are and however we’re following Him.
Though we may feel where we are isn’t where we’d prefer to be, God has set the race before us. We can work hard, with all our hearts, for His glory, living every moment in His presence with the confidence we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up (Gal 6:9).
Obedience Doesn’t Equal Easy
For us, my husband and I both felt called when we pursued overseas ministry. But the uncomfortable truth sank in after our first 6 months on the field…just because we’re acting in obedience doesn’t mean our life will be easy.
Whether we felt called, or not, there are still challenges to face: relying on rainwater for cooking and washing, sharing the gospel with a tongue trying to form new words, not to mention the tropical ailments which we carried around like heavy sack of potatoes.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering, yet his goal wasn’t to boast in his strengths, but in his weaknesses. It was the hardships, persecutions, insults and difficulties where he could proclaim, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10), not because of his own abilities, but because of the total sufficiency of God’s grace.
Trusting the Shepherd
Following God in obedience may mean walking through the valley of darkness, even in the shadow of death, guided by the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. Serving and sacrifice don’t lead us along the easy path, but there is the promise of nourishment and rest as we trust the One who leads us.
The lives of women who go remind us that God doesn’t always send someone else, that our service is right where He has us, and that bumpy roads are more guaranteed than not. These are the character forming places where we must “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chr 16:11), discovering-perhaps for the first time-the absolute sufficiency of grace to hold us and sustain us through the race he has called us to.
Pray for your missionaries, for those in ministry, that they will continually seek the Lord's presence and his strength, and for a willingness in our own hearts to faithfully and courageously serve God and his church.
Will you say yes?
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jam 1:12).