I asked Sam Werner of Missions Manual to share some ways a missionary can know if it is time to stay or go from the place of ministry where God has placed them. Here is his testimony:
Deep in the foothills of the Himalayas my wife and I stood, saddened. We were in Nepal on an outreach in the northern part of the country in the middle of nowhere. We had trekked 5 days straight, walking over 8 hours a day. It was tough, but looking back it was some of the most stretching times for us – especially for my wife. After that trip she was certain of this one thing: She hated back-country trekking. I, however, loved it. The one thing we both agreed upon though was that our hearts were alive. We were missionaries doing His will, preaching the Gospel to the remote places of the earth. Yet, when we stood there, staring at the face of the Himalayas, we were shocked. God had spoken to us about something that was even more challenging then what we had been doing:
God told us to go back to America, to leave the mission field.
At the age of 18, I was either in missions or saving money to be in missions. It was my life, still is, but in a different way. My heart is for diversity, culture, and adventure. That’s why missions have always drawn me. I wanted something different, non-traditional. I want life and life abundantly.
My wife was similar. Before we met she had done many trips to Mexico with her church and spent a few years in Brazil working with street kids. Her desire was to always be a missionary, serve God, and love people.
Back in Nepal, my wife and I came across this problem many missionaries face:
How do you know when you’re supposed to leave? How do you know if you’re supposed to stay?
That day in Nepal we learned one valuable lesson: when to stay and when to go.
In my missionary career I traveled around a lot. I spent time in Australia, the South Pacific, Indonesia, Africa, India, and Nepal. I always knew when it was time to move on. Sometimes I would wish it was time to move on, but there was one key I waited for; one sign that made it all clear. That same sign my wife and I learned in Nepal:
The only reason you should stay or go is because of this: God spoke to you.
The problem is God can speak in many ways. One way God can speak to you is through His peace. That was overwhelming for my wife and I. We had spent almost 2 years searching for a place to call our mission field, traveling around trying to find where God wanted us. When He spoke to us we had His clear and overwhelming peace that it was time to move on.
God could use your circumstances to move you on, though it’s not always the case. He could bind you up in a circumstance that would push you to a point where you need to leave. I was in that situation once before. I was living overseas and being forced to leave my current living condition and the only places open were not within my realm of suitable, meaning I wasn’t comfortable doing what needed to be done. On top of that I didn’t have the finances to push through it, nor did I have the time. My visa was running out. I had all these issues collide at once, as well as others, and I knew that it was time for me to go. I didn’t have a confirming word from God; I didn’t seek the wisdom of my superiors. I just left. I felt bad at the time for it, but looking back now I realized how right it was for me. There were subsequent events that followed after I left dissolving all ministry opportunities for me. God knew, so He paved the way for me to leave.
Maybe you don’t need to leave. Maybe you just need a break. Take a year off. It’s OK. Friends and family may not understand, even your supporters might not. But always remember this: you are more important than ministry. If taking a year off is what is needed then do it. Sometimes a sabbatical will give you fresh perspective of what God’s really calling you to do in your mission field. If you don’t take that much needed sabbatical it could lead to health problems, burnout, and a bunch of other problems that could force you out of the mission field for much longer, even indefinitely.
If anything, above all else, lean into God when weighing the decision to stay or leave. Give it time, wait on the Lord. His guidance, His peace, His voice and His word will guide you. Trust in that. God never, ever will abandon you. Let His voice be the only thing that keeps you in missions or out.
So standing before those mountains with my wife hearing God speak to us, telling us to move back to the States was one of the hardest to hear for us. We obeyed though and packed up our belongings. We were confident. We knew it was from Him. Looking back at that time we had overseas I will cherish it and keep it close to my heart. Now, looking back at what God spoke to us, He led us into a stronger ministry: a family. A year later my wife gave birth to our first born, our daughter and she is is our greatest ministry. Sometimes I think that’s what God wanted when He told us to go to America. He wanted us to learn to be parents, to minister to each other, to minister as a family. And maybe one day, when He says so, we’ll go out again as full-time missionaries, stronger than ever and closer that we could have ever been.
For the missionary or anyone interested in missions, I highly recommend a visit to Missions Manual for helpful articles on the missionary life.
If you have been in ministry of some type, how did God lead you to know whether it was time to stay or go?