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Benjamin and Christine’s Missionary Journey: Discerning God’s Call to Serve in West Africa

By Maggie Watts  ·  7 minute read
Learning Center  »  Benjamin and Christine’s Missionary Journey: Discerning God’s Call to Serve in West Africa

God Changes Our Plans

Benjamin and Christine’s journey as global missionaries began with a desire to be involved in church leadership training in a predominantly Muslim part of the world. God gave them a longing to join a team working in a mother tongue language that was preparing and equipping African church leaders.

After attending new missionary orientation at SIM USA’s Charlotte campus, they felt confident that God was leading them to go to a specific, secure country in Africa to work at a Bible school. But to their surprise, God quickly redirected their path to a different creative access country in West Africa.

How to Discern God’s Will? By Prayer!

In modern global missions, potential workers rarely decide on their own where God is leading them to serve overseas and simply go there.

SIM’s heart is to help the church disciple, identify, and send mission workers who are humbly submitted to God’s will and His perfect plans—even if it doesn’t match their own plans or preconceived notions.

This type of future missionary usually has some ideas about where God may be leading them, and even what He may be calling them to do overseas, and these ideas are great places to start.

However, most often, it’s a relief for preparing missionaries to learn that discerning what country to serve in and what they should do when they get there is not entirely up to them.

Instead, workers who go in partnership with SIM walk through a process of discernment alongside a community of believers as they all prayerfully seek the Lord for His will. This community includes four important parties:

  • The potential missionary (all members of the family!)
  • The future worker’s sending church
  • The future worker’s SIM USA coordinator
  • The international ministry teams seeking workers

Discerning God’s Will in Prayerful Community

While Benjamin and Christine had specific ideas about the country they wanted to serve in, another future missionary—also discerning a ministry location—felt drawn toward the same open ministry opportunity.

Since Benjamin and Christine had three young children, it would take longer for them to raise their financial and prayer support and then move their family of five abroad. The other missionary candidate’s preparation and launch timeline better aligned with the needs of the overseas ministry team in the receiving country.

God’s direction became clear as all these parties prayerfully explored the possibilities and considered all the logistics together.

In response to this unexpected situation, Benjamin and Christine opened their hearts to the possibility that God was directing them to serve in a different place.

They surrendered their plans and preferences to the One who made them and prepared them in advance for the work He would lead them to do!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Eph. 2:8-10

Surrendering to God’s Leading Brings Suprise and Delight

Benjamin and Christine met with a SIM director, who presented them with open ministry opportunities to serve at Bible schools in a part of Africa the couple hadn’t initially considered.

Immediately, Christine felt excitement rising in her spirit.

“A number of years earlier, I met a missionary who worked at a mission hospital very close to this Bible school. They had been praying that the Lord would help them finish their translation of the Bible in that language and that the Lord would provide further education for the young pastors leading churches there with very little training. I had been praying for that,” Christine said.

“When it was proposed to us that one of our choices was to work in that very language, next to that very hospital, I thought,

‘Is it possible that God is asking us to be a part of answering my prayers from years before?!’”

“By the end of that session, we were both very open to considering that possibility. And since then, we’ve been very thankful that the Lord led us there,” Christine said. “We really wanted to work in a Muslim context, but I had a sense that God was asking us to help prepare the churches for the inevitability of the rise of Islam in that (other) country.”

Joy Results When God Guides the Journey

Benjamin and Christine served in West Africa for over 30 years, working with local believers in an isolated people group where the Bible translation project Christine had been praying for over the years was still in progress.

Benjamin wrote Bible courses in French and the local language, which reached local Christian universities and helped equip local pastors and church leaders where access to Bible reference and study resources is surprisingly rare.

They also helped plant a church with university students. Through the shared effort, God opened doors for the missionary couple to invest in the lives of these young believers, helping to mentor and disciple the next generation of church leaders.

“We didn’t do it. The Lord did it through us. The Lord enabled us by His grace. You just look at what your giftings are, what your heartthrob is, and what you’re willing to do,” Christine said.

“It is a tremendous privilege to be a part of what God’s doing. It wasn’t because of us—we were only a part of what God is doing.”

“Carrying The Tree” as a Way to Consider Where God May Be Calling

In the years since returning to North America from West Africa, God has given Benjamin and Christine a passion for guiding new missionaries as they discern where to serve.

As part of the community surrounding future workers as they discern God’s leading and consider where to go, Benjamin often references a Keith Green metaphor.

“Imagine a massive, 100-ft tree that falls and is de-limbed. You have 100 people to carry that massive tree from point A to point B. Where would you put each of those people? Immediately, you think that the strongest people need to be down at the heaviest end. The people who can’t lift as much should be at lighter spots,” Benjamin explained.

“The question to ask is this: how far down can you be before it’s too heavy for you?”

Benjamin uses the tree concept to challenge future workers to think honestly and realistically about what sacrifices missionary work in various locations may require and the difficulties of cross-cultural life in different mission contexts.

“The heaviest part of the tree is the Muslim world. It’s so hard and it takes so long before you see any fruit, and then half of the fruit turns around and goes back,” he said. “So, the question I would ask is, ‘How far down the tree do you think God is calling you?’”

Workers Should Consider Discomfort When Thinking About Where They Fit

Benjamin and Christine urge new missionaries to consider this question as they pray about which country to serve.

“The most unreached people are not living in the most comfortable parts of the world,” Benjamin said. “When someone says, ‘I want to go where no one else has gone, what they’re saying is ‘I want to live in the toughest contexts.’”

God has created us each unique, and there are vital roles in global mission for all types of believers, no matter their ability (or lack thereof) to grit their teeth in the face of all possible discomfort.

Some missionaries will feel led to the heaviest parts of the tree. But these areas are not for everyone, and that is okay. It is important to go exactly where God wants you, and that requires knowing yourself.

How God Created You Hints at Where He’s Leading You

When thinking about where God could be calling you to serve in global mission, Benjamin and Christine recommend that you remember the clues He’s already given you: your abilities, affinities, interests, passions, skills, etcetera.

  • What issues do you feel passionate about?
  • What skills and attributes do you have that God could use?
  • Is there a people group or culture you have an affinity for?

As future missionaries walk the journey of discernment in prayerful community with their SIM USA coach, their church, and different international ministry leaders, they explore the answers to many such questions together.

As they do, God begins to reveal meaningful connections, areas of overlap, and clearer possibilities for the next steps.

Bid Goodbye to Idealized Fantasy so You Can Say Yes to Fulfilling Reality

Benjamin and Christine also caution new missionaries that serving God overseas may require them to set aside cherished ideas of travel and adventure. They use common misconceptions about mission work in Africa to illustrate the point:

“When God calls us, we have to die to ourselves. And part of the dying is this: we’d like to have something adventurous and beautiful, to go to the beautiful parts of Africa where the zebras and giraffes are. We’d love to go to the African coast and swim. Part of you can be attracted to a bit of tourism and safari. We have to die to that,” Benjamin said, encouraging potential mission workers to examine their motives.

However, Christine added that no matter where He takes you, God will give you an eye for His beauty.

“I’m from Canada, so I’m very aware of the four seasons. We were going to Africa, where it’s summer all the time. But there are actually four different summer seasons in their year if you take the time to notice it. There is beauty. But if you’re looking for an East African safari, you won’t find it,” Christine said.

“Even more than that is the beauty of the people. We’ve worked in a context where we have appreciated the welcome and have grown to appreciate how much grace they show accepting us as strangers in their culture,” she said.

“Dying To Self” Doesn’t Mean a Life of Misery

Ultimately, so much of the journey into ministry—whether in the United States or among an isolated people group in Africa—depends on this core aspect of discipleship: dying to self.

Like Jesus, who humbled Himself unto death to bring about our salvation, we are invited to subdue our selfish desires and submit our wills to His.

But remember that dying to self does not mean choosing the most challenging lifestyle imaginable. Instead, it means surrendering to God—your perfect, loving Father, who knows exactly what you need.

Benjamin and Christine initially thought they would be serving in one country, but God led them to a different place—one that ended up being a perfect fit!

Dying to self and letting God lead you outside your plans also does not mean you will be alone.

SIM journeyed with Benjamin and Christine, walking with them through the discernment process. Benjamin and Christine’s family, sending church, SIM, and their receiving country all provided them with a community of believers to walk with as they considered and made the decision that would plant them in a new place for the next three decades.

Ultimately and most importantly, in whatever context God leads you to glorify Him, He promises to be with you always.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Reflection Questions for People Considering Global Mission and Wondering Where to Go

Benjamin and Christine offer these five areas of personal reflection for potential missionaries discerning God’s direction for future ministry:

  1. What skills and experience do you have that God may want to use in an international context?
  2. What sort of ministry are you interested in? What issues are you most passionate about?
  3. What countries or cultures do you feel yourself drawn toward?
  4. What is your spiritual gifting? In what ways do you feel especially equipped to help others come to know and experience Jesus?
  5. What needs do you have? For example: Do you have medical conditions that require a doctor within driving distance? Do you need to be near an international school? Can you live at high altitude?

Today, Benjamin and Christine live in the United States, where Benjamin works as a teacher and course curriculum writer. They both enjoy talking to young people about global mission and love sharing about God’s work in West Africa.

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