(How a patient God is leading a broken man to China)
Today’s story is by Phil Martin, who attends Palmyra Grace Brethren Church in Palmyra, Pa. (Dan Travis, pastor). Phil and his wife Sara’s ministry is called Gospel To China, and they are partnering with Palmyra Grace Church and Project China to reach China with the Gospel.
“Lord, please protect Steve from the landmines in Cambodia.” That prayer as a four-year-old is one of my earliest memories of church. Exposure to missions at a young age certainly had an impact on me. Yet my story to becoming a missionary is not that simple.
In 2008, during my freshman fall at the University of Maryland, a cute girl asked me why I had never been on a mission trip. So I did what any college guy would do–I signed up for a mission trip to impress her.
To my dismay, the trip was canceled just as quickly as it was offered. That seemed to ruin all of God’s perfect plans for my life. Discouraged, I asked my Bible study group to pray for me. One friend sent me information about an internship in China. I was immediately intrigued, but also hesitant. Missions as a hobby seemed doable, but “evangelism and discipleship in China’s underground church” gave me pause. The internship sounded like it was only for the all-stars, which meant I was out.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the trip. My pastor called me out: “If you keep making excuses you will never go anywhere!” With no more excuses, I was off to China.
What I saw in China was a church that was alive, a gospel message that changed hearts, and a country full of millions of people cut off from God. The beauty of gospel life conspired with the reality of lost souls and abducted my heart. What right did I have to think that those in China, trapped in human traditions and demonic deceptions, should not hear this good news?
I headed back to UMD full of confident plans. What awaited me was my sinful pride, fear, laziness, and ignorance. The following two years culminated in a study abroad semester in Beijing. Thousands of miles away from my Christian community, I plunged into sin. I astonished myself with how much I could sin in five months. It took the tragic death of a close friend a few months later to shake me out of my rebellion.
I returned to campus spiritually broken. For two years God had systematically emptied me so that I would cry out to Him. He was not willing to let me serve out of my arrogance and pride. I asked a friend to start at zero, to tell me about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At that point, my confidence that I should be a missionary was around five percent. I had just made a mess of my time in Beijing. Why should God send me back?
It has taken me another five years to learn that God is gentle. He provides precisely what we need in order to take the next step. Leaving home and moving to China to plant churches is a huge challenge. Each decision to move forward has been terrifying in its own way. Each time, God has given me exactly enough faith to take the next step.
In the fall of 2011, he introduced me to Jon Smith, Angel Cabrera, and others (including my future wife Sara) from Covenant Life Church near my college campus. They modeled and taught new ideas that profoundly shaped my life.
Sara and I got married in 2013, convinced of our missions call but knowing that we needed training. A mentor I had worked with in 2009 offered to train us. During that year-long internship in Taiwan, we practiced and learned discipleship, preaching, and cross-cultural ministry. Halfway through our internship, Sara and I finally had the confidence (in Christ!) to pursue full-time missions. Since our return in November, we have been developing a strategy, church partnerships, and a dedicated support team. By God’s grace, we will take a vision trip in Spring 2017 with a view toward relocating in the summer.
What does it take to make a missionary? As my story shows, it’s not just for all-stars. Through the power of the gospel, messed-up people become ambassadors for the kingdom. God knows just what we need and gives it to us one step at a time. –by Phil Martin
Editor’s note: To learn more about Phil and Sara’s vision and strategy, visitgospeltochina.com.To read the full version of the story, click here. Send a letter of encouragement and find out how you can pray by emailing them here.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.