On my mission trip to Peru, I kept having flashbacks to the awful breakup I’d been through a year prior.

A trusted mentor prayed for me before I left. She said she sensed that God was going to bring me to a place of healing. I said, “Bring it the heck on.” I was more than ready. I’d spent a year struggling and failing to forgive. I was on the verge of desperation. When my friend told me what she’d heard in prayer, I imagined with glee that my healing would at long last trend upwards: that I would improve out of nowhere and finally be “over it.”.

Walking the road of grief in Peru

Instead, my arrival in Peru seemed to reverse the healing process. I couldn’t stop thinking about the hurt I’d been through, even though it had all gone down a year before. Crammed into a taxi with five other people (ah yes, the pre-COVID days) on our way to campus, I would snap at my teammates, not wanting them to see that my heart was heavy with grief. I felt disengaged and ashamed that, out of nowhere, I was deeply sad. I didn’t feel like I had the energy to learn from my Peruvian friends in their work with their campus fellowship—I just wanted to be alone. I asked God why he had brought me all the way to Peru when I couldn’t even focus.

Any missionary will tell you that being on the mission field will blow up whatever is going on in your heart––and, well, amen to that. God used my mission trip to reveal the things in me that he wanted to heal. He gave me a loving community that came around me as I processed. My discipler just so happened (ahem, was God-ordained) to speak into the exact things I was struggling with, giving me painful and loving truth when I needed it the most. She was the first person to name the fact that I might be dealing with trauma. It was there in Peru that things got worse before they got better. God had to take me deep into my hurting heart before he was going to bring me out.

In a recent podcast, Jackie Hill Perry discussed how in the Bible, deliverance often refers to a movement from one physical place to another. God delivered the Israelites from slavery into desert wandering, and eventually to the Promised Land, leading them every step of the way. Jesus delivers us out of the kingdom of darkness, and into the kingdom of light. Note that God doesn’t magically whisk people out of their problems. Deliverance is the slow accompaniment of the Spirit in us and alongside us, carrying us through our circumstances in a testament of his faithfulness to us. For God to deliver me out of suffering, he didn’t just magic my feelings or pain away –– instead, he moved me through them. It was a process. Just in the same way that a baby is born or delivered, deliverance as given by God is arduous and never instantaneous. 

I only began to understand this, may I remind you, against the backdrop of my first time on a mission trip, my first time in a Spanish-speaking country, and my first time shepherding a team of students. God didn’t send me to Peru just so I could practise my Spanish and learn evangelism strategies. He sent me because he wanted to heal me there. Through discipleship, living in community, and being purposeful with my time, God gave me a new understanding of his role as a loving Father. Even now, years later, I still get to share the story of my breakup and healing with friends who have been through similar things. It has created a point of connection and vulnerability with so many people and bears witness to the work of a God who cares for us personally. God still bears fruit in my life—fruit that glorifies him—from that painful season.

As I’ve continued on in missions and ministry (being a student leader and then intern with P2C-Students, and now working for a missions organization in Toronto), I can see how the mission of God displays both God’s care for the entire world and his personal and specific love for me. 

Capital-M Mission of God

God seeks to restore people of all nations, tribes, and tongues to himself through his body, the church. This is also called the Missio Dei––the capital-M mission of God. This is more than just going on an overseas trip or participating in a missions “activity”. The Mission of glorifying God and restoring all peoples to himself flows through every Christian and community that follows Jesus Christ. 

God also wants me, on a micro-scale –– my one single heart and my one single life –– to glorify him and be restored every day. God doesn’t just send out his children on his mission and dust his hands off as if that’s all there is to it. He intimately cares about us and has invited us to partner with him every step of the way. 

This is the lifestyle of being on mission, not just doing things for God, but being with God.

A lifestyle of being on mission with God

Our spiritual formation is inextricably tied to the way we live on mission: as we trust God and see him move, we know him more. If we never take faith steps, we will miss out on opportunities to witness more incredible moments where God blows our mind with his power and sufficiency. Living on mission with God provides more opportunities to enter into obedience, bringing us to the end of our own capabilities. That’s when we recognize even more the work of the Holy Spirit in us and how much we need him.

In my case, being on mission set me on a collision course with the Father’s will for me. Why? Because there was something he had to show me once I was obedient following him. From steps of faith to travelling overseas, to seeking to love students on my campus––these small acts of obedience in following God led to God revealing more of his heart to me. 

A missional lifestyle is a pathway of obedience: it grows our faith and reliance in the Lord. Our love and knowledge of him grow, and we reflect his missional heart even more. When God sends us, whether to our neighbour next door or to our neighbour on the other side of the world, we get to be part of what God is doing in that place. We get to partner with the Spirit and with other Christians to see the Great Commission fulfilled, not as if we are their saviours, but because Jesus is the only Saviour. How could we not be intimately and deeply formed by this kind of life?

From steps of faith to travelling overseas, to seeking to love students on my campus––these small acts of obedience in following God led to God revealing more of his heart to me. 

Missions, then, is not just an invitation to obedience and love, but to knowing and experiencing more of God himself. Missions forms us by showing us God’s heart for us and for the world. 

[Editor’s Note: This article belongs to our series on “What forms us?” Of course, it’s ultimately God who shapes us toward Christ-likeness. But we hope these reflections encourage awareness and inspire intentionality in how we live. For more articles in this series, click the #whatformsus tag.]

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About the Author

Julia Bartel

In addition to spending 5 years with the campus chapter of Power to Change, Julia studied literature, writing, and media at the University of Toronto. She’s passionate about missions, discipleship, the intersection of the gospel with arts and culture, and whatever new movie Timothée Chalamet is starring in. She now works with the Missions Hub in downtown Toronto. Learn more about the Hub at missionshub.ca.

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