If you opened this article feeling skeptical in any measure…well, you’re not alone. My name is Taylor Lewis. Only a year ago, I volunteered in my church’s youth ministry, but had no intention to travel for international missions. What I tell you now, I surely would have questioned back then: that geeks can be excellent (if not some of the best!) missionaries who contribute to making Jesus’ grace known.
Why was I so hesitant before? Well, my first experience of a missions trip was bittersweet. I visited Cambodia (of Southeast Asia) for 2 weeks, and I think this photo begins to capture what it was like.
The alternate shot of me walking side-by-side, hand-in-hand with that same child is what received the most Facebook likes…yet this image is more true to the actual experience. My ponytailed, pasty-legged self from 2014 is out of focus in the background, exerting every ounce of strength for carrying and racing, simply to make this boy smile.
I had joined a team from my church in serving alongside Rapha House — a wonderful ministry to heal and empower girls and young women formerly trapped in sex trafficking. They also run children’s after-school clubs to protect at-risk youth, give sponsor support, and teach them the gospel of salvation. It was a serious honor to meet such joyful Cambodian believers, and I witnessed God working even for the short time we were there.
But I was in an unfamiliar country, figuring out my schedule by the day, and witnessing the pervasive spiritual darkness and sexual abuse surrounding us. Understandably, this took an emotional toll on my team and our interactions…and for my own part, I let these obstacles fester into resentment and isolation, instead of fighting for grace and unity.
All that to say, I am overwhelmingly grateful for what God faithfully did, but at the time my bitterness convinced me He didn’t work through me as much as He worked despite me. Since I love the comforts of home so much, I figured I was neither called nor cut out for missions involvement…and made up my mind to never leave the country again.
And here is my puffy jacket-clad, present self in Zambia, Africa from the summer of 2016. Yep. I’m glad the Lord is the one who makes the calls and guides our lives, not us.
In the two years between Cambodia and Zambia, I tried to plan out my future and career, only to watch it collapse. I was setting my life course based on desire for a relationship and a secure income…but realized my need to seek God alone for His will. When my pastor recommended I adapt to this transition by trying a multi-month missions and discipleship trip, I prayed “Lord, this could be very difficult, so please tell me if it is or isn’t from you, and you can even tell me in a dream, if you want.”
That night, I dreamed I already applied to the missions organization I had in mind, and not only that, but received funds for the full $7,000 cost to go! Five grand came from an individual, and the remaining sum was from various supporters. As soon as I woke up, I applied for real, and it was actually before my official acceptance that the same generous donor of my dream told me “I feel led by the Spirit to give $5,000 for you to go.”
It’s not like I see this kind of miraculous provision and confirmation in every life choice, but in this matter, God made things very clear. He wanted me to go. He trusted me to go. He would make a way for me as I went.
I was about to venture far from home, not for two weeks, but for three whole months. I was going to share (nearly) every hour of this time with 24 people I had never met, though I am introverted. Even as a homebody, gamer, and bookworm, I was about to learn practical skills like welding and auto mechanics between ministry trips into remote Subsaharan Africa.
It was all joy, and this is where I learned it isn’t so much despite our quirks, but through them that God works. That’s my story. To simply obey Him and know He is dwelling in us would be enough…yet I’m convinced there are aspects of our geeky selves which He redeems in an especially glorious way, making our subculture into a versatile force for the cross-cultural missions field.
After all, a missionary should be fully engaged where he or she serves. This was my previous mistake in Cambodia, daydreaming of America at every inconvenience, but an error I decided not to repeat as I took in every unique sight of Zambia. Who better than the geeks, who know how to completely lose themselves in the details of their favorite hobby or media? Your complex grasp of Orcish society may have no direct benefit outside roleplaying…but if you just apply that same level of passionate analysis for a strategic and sensitive ministry in Myanmar, then it was well worth every hour you invested to learn the lore of Azeroth.
Missions workers need to be immersed in a different culture, and geeks have already demonstrated their ability to, well, geek out and process a subject that others can’t find interest in, until a new (sub)culture is naturally created
Of course, this does lead to a second and very different attribute of the Christian geekdom. You see, a missionary will try to relate and adapt with his or her host country as best as possible… yet even if you speak the language fluently and live there for years, locals will inevitably view you as different. A geek missionary, though, is very likely familiar with being an outsider. For me, this brings up memories of when I sat alone for many days of 6th grade recess, or how the cliques in my junior high youth group mocked me for playing Pokémon. The isolation was crushing at the time, creating insecurities for the approval of others into adolescence…but through the constant presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit, I now have victory in this.
Geeks, you know better than most how being different doesn’t make you wrong – it actually gives you a unique perspective and set of skills to contribute – so I’m confident you can overcome loneliness in a strange country, with security in Christ and who He made you to be.
Lastly, Jesus said go, and there’s already a stirring the Lord places in a geek’s heart for adventure. This is a longing to embark and gladly embrace whatever uncertainty follows. For as much of an indoorsman as you might be, your tendency to think about some concept or story in your head is proof you’re made for more than a safe routine. When I was doubting my usefulness for missions, I assumed my friends who hunted and went backpacking were more qualified than me. Now I think about Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit — he missed the pastries, armchair, and warm fireplace of Bag End, true, but this reluctant adventurer played a pivotal role on the arduous quest against the dragon Smaug.
Jesus Himself has chosen you, and if you go feeling more like a humble hobbit than a mighty warrior, graceful archer, or noble wizard…well, that’s still your unique part to play, and God alone will receive the glory and draw diverse peoples to Himself.
He will do it through you.
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