By Joy Grace Chen
When I first felt God nudging me to attend the International Conference on Missions (ICOM) in 2013, I was frankly caught off guard. As a sophomore creative writing major at the University of Evansville, I was enjoying a comfortable life as a college student focused on my studies. My plans for after graduation only vaguely involved finding a job, getting married, and raising a family—but missions seemed an even fuzzier and more frightening idea. To me, missions represented the realm of giants like Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael or the dreams for the medical field that my mother had before marrying and settling down with two children.
No, ICOM was for people with real passion for unreached people groups and foreign nations, and God could not possibly be calling me to missions. But the nudges from God persisted, so I signed up to attend the conference with my campus Christian fellowship. It was the first step in God’s process of revolutionizing my paradigm and breaking down the plans and expectations I had for my own life.
My First ICOM
ICOM 2013 was intimidating. I walked into the exhibit hall in Kansas City’s conference center and felt absolutely overwhelmed by the number of booths, spread out like an ocean of possibilities that I didn’t even want to consider. I was still mentally arguing with God as I wandered down the aisles, prepared with my answer to everyone’s eager question—“Are you considering missions?” Yes, I was considering it, but only in the barest definition of that word. I was there because God told me to attend, even though I had never felt a passion or a calling.
I muddled my way through my first ICOM and later remembered very little from the overall weekend. But several moments did stick with me. I remember sitting in a corner and hearing the song “Here I Am” by the band Downhere playing overhead. The chorus is based on Isaiah 6:8, in which Isaiah stood in the presence of God and cried out, “Here am I. Send me!” For the rest of the weekend, this song played in an endless loop in my head.
I also remember the main session in which the speaker called to the front of the room everyone who felt called to pursue international missions. Around me, my peers surged forward one by one; I stayed where I was, hesitant and confused.
Finally, I remember a friend with an inspiring passion for God standing next to me by the prayer wall on the last day of ICOM and jabbing his finger at a map that showed clusters of unreached people groups in India. “Just drop me in the middle of all those,” he said, “and the devil had better watch out.” At the time I couldn’t understand his enthusiasm, but I distinctly wished I had it.
BEYOND MY PARADIGM
As I was soon to learn, ICOM 2013 was simply God’s way of priming the pump. He refused to let me escape the notion of missions. Over the summer of 2014, I interned at a church with a team of individuals who were radically inspiring. One of them felt called to become a missionary in Taiwan, while another was about to spend nine months in Africa. Both of these people, my close friends as well as coworkers, believed that everyone was called to missions, that everyone was called to serve and glorify God in whatever career path they pursued. I had honestly never fully grasped this idea before.
Fall semester of my junior year, I joined a campus Bible study that explored God’s heart for the nations. The lessons were powerfully convicting, and I started to understand the way God yearned to make his good news heard in every nation of the world. Looking at maps that highlighted the 10/40 window and every unreached people group, I realized the Great Commission was not an option but a command, and that seeking to serve and glorify God was not to be undertaken merely when convenient.
God truly pushed the boundaries of my faith that semester. He encouraged me to step over my lines of comfort and make friends with international students. He prompted me to register for my campus fellowship’s annual spring break mission trip to Florida. He slowly but surely tore down the infrastructure of the paradigm that I had built for myself—whether concerning my faith, my prayer life, or my dreams and goals—simply to show me that when my walls came down, his possibilities for my life were limitless.
That was how I found myself signing up for ICOM 2014. Now considerably more open to the prospect of missions in my life, I went to Columbus, Ohio, with one goal in mind: to find a way my majors of creative writing and literature could fit into the broader scheme of missions. I knew that God could use my gifts for his purposes, but deep down I was still skeptical. I walked into ICOM 2014 with a simple prayer: God, show me how you can use me. And out of his faithfulness and goodness, he answered.
At ICOM I attended workshops that addressed everything from fears to discipleship to short-term missions. Every message gave practical advice about getting involved in God’s kingdom. I realized that the fears I harbored toward the idea of missions were petty in comparison to the power of my sovereign God. I engaged in the walled-off prayer experience at the center of the exhibit hall and learned that prayer was powerful in moving the kingdom forward. Finally, I took a directory map of the exhibit hall and circled every booth that had any connection with writing and publishing, working my way through them and talking with ministries ranging from Standard Publishing to Open Door Libraries. Through the hours spent wandering these rows of booths—more purposefully than the year before—I was affirmed in my hope that there were indeed ways for me to use my love of writing for God’s glory.
The most significant result of ICOM 2014 was the connection I made with Graceland, a biblical ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry in Krakow, Poland. I talked with the representative only briefly and gave my name, and everything that followed was all God’s doing. After a series of follow-ups, I was offered a summer 2015 internship with Graceland, writing young teen curriculum for them. I would spend five weeks in Poland—my first overseas mission trip—getting to know the children and would then return to the U.S. to write the curriculum. The internship combined everything I was passionate about—God, reading, writing, children, and teaching. Such an amazing opportunity came only and entirely from a God who followed through on his promise to use me if I would simply let him.
I have no idea where this internship with Graceland will lead, but over the past few years God has used friends, peers, and ICOM to persuade me to put my future in his hands. My walls have come down, and I am willing to follow where he leads, whether to the mission field or somewhere else, because I finally trust that his plans for my life are better than my own.
Joy Grace Chen is a student, a writer, a thoughtful introvert, and a child seeking to follow God down the path that he has planned for her.