On my most recent trip to India, I was able to observe something that I had never seen before. Something that, as I witnessed it, had me tingling with anxiety. On my various trips to India, I’ve seen a multitude of strange and exciting things. However, I’ve never witnessed something so downright precarious; something so foolish, yet inspiring. As I sat outside a restaurant in a crowded downtown area, I watched as a blind man approached an extremely busy street and began walking across.
There I sat in Pune, India, a city known for having more two-wheel vehicles on the road than any other in the world with a bustling population that is densely packed together. The man was undaunted as horns blared and traffic moved around him. He was unable to see whether one of those vehicles was swerving in his direction without warning, but he patiently pressed on, clearly trusting that he had calculated his path correctly. Despite the unknown, the man kept his pace and safely reached the other side.
This image replayed in my mind for the next few hours and as I continued to ponder it, I was reminded of how symbolic it was of the very gospel mission that we engage in every day. A mission where we often step out into the unknown despite the dangers that surround us, blind as to what may happen next. By observing this man, I also realized that he wasn’t arbitrarily crossing the road; in fact, he had a plan for how he was going to reach his goal and many of his tactics are things that can be applied to our own mission.
First, the man listened. As he stood on the side of the street, he intently listened to the ebb and flow of traffic to determine if it was indeed a safe time to cross. Similarly, listening for the voice of God is essential for determining when we are to act and where we are to go. In Acts 16:6-10, Paul, Timothy, and Silas are able to go confidently when God confirmed to them where he wanted them to go and minister:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In this instance, they were forbidden from going to Asia and were instead instructed to go to Macedon. Had they not listened, they would have found themselves going the complete opposite direction, both geographically and within God’s will for them. By listening, we ourselves can hear when God is saying to go, and where he is sending us. When we respond in faith, God will unveil the path with each subsequent step we take in obedience to him. Like carrying a lantern in a pitch-black night, we can only see the ground that is around our feet, not what lies far off. However, as we faithfully step forward in what we do know, more of the unknown enters the periphery of light and we can proceed in the confidence of God’s direction.
Second, the man was patient. He did not immediately approach the street and begin to cross. Instead, he waited for the right time, standing patiently on the side of the street, not letting his eagerness to cross cause him to move too quickly. Likewise, when we approach mission, an attitude of patience can help us to operate on God’s timing rather than our own.
After my first trip to India in 2010, I returned home and immediately quit my job because I knew God was calling me to go back and serve for a greater amount of time. I foolishly thought that I would be back in country within a few months, however this was my ideal timing, not God’s. It ended up taking an entire year before I would set foot back in the country and begin serving. When I look back, I can see that God was sovereignly working through this for his purposes and for my good. During this time of waiting, I learned a great deal of patience and an understanding of how much I needed to rely on God before I would go serve cross-culturally. At times, jumping the gun can place us in situations of unpreparedness that can be detrimental to the mission itself.
Finally, the man walked boldly. Having listened and waited patiently for the right time to cross, the man raised his cane in the air and began to walk. Once he started walking, he did not break his stride or make any erratic movements. He moved at a quick pace and did not go backwards once he had started walking.
Those who carry the gospel must display a similar manner: walking forward in faith, not turning to the side or stepping back. To do so takes confidence in the Lord’s protection and sovereignty to work through the situations of our own insecurity. As our Savior put it, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In the context of this passage, Jesus had just instructed a man to go and proclaim the Kingdom of God (v. 60), yet the man was hesitant. Jesus is looking for those who, when they receive the call, respond and boldly step out into the unknown with a trusting heart that is wholly reliant on him.
By observing this man crossing the road, I was struck with how similar the situation seemed to my own mission of proclaiming the gospel. At times, things can become so unpredictable and it would be easy to quit and cower in fear. However, doing so leaves us exposed and vulnerable, making us an easy target for the enemy. This man’s example taught me that a little planning, preparedness, and trust in God’s providence can help me do the Lord’s work with a much greater confidence. When we listen to God, wait on him, and walk boldly in his name, we can go forth with the message of the gospel through the power of the Spirit.
Cross the Road
These lessons have spurred me on toward a much more purposeful and obedient gospel mission, at home and abroad. I currently serve at a church where we have just recently seen God introduce several oversea mission opportunities. It is an exciting time and we can tell that God is up to something, yet we are still uncertain what that is entirely. We’ve been blessed to have before us more mission opportunities than our small congregation can even carry out. We are all anxious to begin work, but we must do it on God’s terms and not our own. To do so obediently, we must all be like the blind man: waiting patiently and listening for God’s direction. Then, once God has issued the call, we can submit ourselves to the unknown with a confidence that God’s providence will lead us.
We can cross the road, and reach the people and places that God has intended for us to reach.
Mark Hampton is currently a student at Criswell College and serves at Metrocrest Community Church where he plays a role in music, media, and missions. He has served on foreign fields such as Russia and Spain, and in 2012 he spent six months in Northern India. He is currently learning the Hindi language and he just returned from a month of working with pastors in rural parts of Maharashtra, India. You can follow him on Twitter: @markismoving.