One day while canoeing down a small river with my friend Eileen Richardson, she told me about a book she had been reading. The book detailed the heinous conditions that missionaries endured while preaching the Gospel message in Israel. After detailing all the spiritual needs and abuses many of these missionaries endured, she went on to tell me about the hungry and thirsty hearts that go without spiritual food because so few missionaries are there to teach them truth. Handing me the paddle for my turn at navigating us down the river, Eileen looked up at me said, “Matthew, I believe God has called me to be a missionary in Jerusalem.”
I was a prayer partner for Eileen as she waged her uphill battle to be a missionary in the Middle East. The odds were certainly stacked against her. The 50-year-old, divorced mother of two was not the ideal candidate for missionary work. At least, that’s what she was told. Her pastor said it was a long shot for a divorced mother to do any such thing. Her seminary professor told her that she should pursue children’s work instead of missionary work. Her friends simply thought she was crazy for wanting to live in the Middle East during such tumultuous times. Even I was a bit skeptical—but hopeful. Eileen didn’t care what others thought. She’d listen to them intently, and then thank them for their opinion—but she always moved on, keeping her eyes and heart on Jesus. Eileen knew in her heart that she was called to be a missionary in Jerusalem, and that’s what she intended to do.
She faced moments of discouragement—times when she felt depressed, unsure of her calling and beaten up. But the grace of God sustained her. Every time she had a bad day, it only seemed to stoke the embers of her soul to keep pursuing her goal. Eileen didn’t run away from the risks.
It was a long, hard battle, but after four years of missionary and counseling training at a seminary in Colorado, a year touring around the country to raise financial and prayer support and many months of figuring out the basic logistics of moving to another country—a full six years after Eileen and I had that conversation in the canoe—she went to Jerusalem to teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus to Jewish college students.
Eileen told me many times that her freedom in Christ was often her closest and only friend in her quest to become a missionary. “I refused to listen to the naysayers,” she told me. “I don’t play by the rules of the church or an individual. God called me to this position, and He is who gives me the freedom to go forward, not the church.”
We all need Eileen’s kind of freedom in Christ. It’s contagious. She didn’t listen to those who said a woman shouldn’t be a missionary. She ignored the legalists who wouldn’t support her financially because she was divorced. She was free of all that—free to pursue the dream God had for her.
We should all be so free.
One who is completely free in Christ knows he’ll be maneuvering his way through many trials, experiences, people and fear meant to steal away freedom. But that same individual refuses to be defined by such things. I am reminded of this verse from Romans: “If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.”
If we embrace that kind of freedom with all of our hearts, we are giving God full permission to do anything He wants with our lives. And I believe that’s right where He wants us!