How does one know that you are called to be a cross-cultural missionary? This can be as confusing as plotting a course through a storm. Bill Taylor in a work book entitled "Send Me! Your Journey to the Nations", co-authored with Steve Hoke (World Evangelical Fellowship, William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA, 1999, 36-37), lists four main paths that lead to the missionary call.
Path 1: Some kind of personalized call, vision, powerful encounter, or voice from the Lord. "They feel a deep sense of having received a mandate from God. It's incontrovertible." However, Taylor adds a wise word of caution: "..a 'personal call' is not a built-in guarantee that one will be a successful missionary."
Path 2: A matter of obedience to God's will made clear through a combination of circumstances and relationships. To me, this is little too subjective...circumstances are open to all sorts of interpretations and sincere, well-meaning people can often be as misled as we are. Taylor says: "This route isn't easy." It leaves one susceptible to doubt and questioning.
Path 3: A "serious evaluation of prime factors: deep commitment and obedience to Christ, plus a personal assessment of interests, gifts, experience, and dreams, combined with a heart of compassion for the lost and the poor, and an opportunity to serve to make a difference in the world...more a case of the best job fit, with conclusions made after much prayer and evaluation."
Path 4: A "radical obedience to Christ that meant a willingness to do anything, go anywhere, pay any price, plus an identification of their gifts and other's needs. Discovering this great need provided the final indicator of where and what would constitute a strategic investment of their life and gifts."
Taylor then lists certain crucial components that are common to all four. "In all there is a passion to serve Christ in a risky venture larger than one's own life. All call for radical obedience to God. All involve an overall process of wise evaluation and of confirmation and guidance from trusted colleagues and spiritual leaders. And in all there is a final, profound, unshaking (sic) conviction from the Spirit of God that 'this is what God truly has for me'...'this is what I've got to do with my life'."
I think this list is very helpful in answering the questions Christians may have with regard to knowing whether they are, indeed, called to cross-cultural mission work.
For Louise and me...I wish I could say path 1...a clear-cut word from the Lord, "Go forth and serve in..." would be great...but this path is dangerous for me. The call to Global Missions has always been very strong and I know I am far too willing "to do anything, go anywhere, pay any price", and so I can quite easily mistake God's voice for my own. Which sort of answers my own personal question of how God has led and is leading us. For us, I think it is a combination of paths 3 and 4 and, perhaps most importantly for us, "confirmation and guidance from trusted colleagues and spiritual leaders" as well as the growing conviction that the Spirit of the Lord is leading us in this direction. For us, the pillar of fire and cloud is clearly on the move!