Many have heard the term “Go and Make Disciples” but do we practice it? I can tell you that for almost 40 years this phrase didn’t resonate with me. I had always thought that this was for someone else. The words were good but meant for someone called a “missionary”. This all changed for me as I began boarding a plane for the Middle East in January of 2016 for a “vision quest”. But first, let me rewind.
On September 11, 2001, I was in Olympia, WA, getting ready for work when my roommate told me that the Twin Towers had been hit. Watching the news, I was in disbelief at what was occurring before my eyes. I thought about a friend that worked for a brokerage company on the 95th floor of Tower One. As I saw the first tower fall my disbelief became real with tears streaming down. At that moment, I thought about the children that would never see their parents again and the wives and husbands that would never come home for dinner. I couldn’t comprehend the tragic loss of people that close. I thought to myself, “How could God let this happen?” and “There must be consequences for this—having loved ones ripped away in one brief moment”.
Later I found out my friend had left the Friday before and was safe, but I still wanted revenge on the people who did this to my country. When it came out that the hijackers were Muslims from the Middle East, I wanted the U.S. to invade their country and wipe them all out. I was a staunch proponent for getting even and was relieved when we launched the Afghan War to root out the Taliban.
Didn’t the Bible say an eye for an eye?
My heart had been calloused over and nothing could break this hatred toward those I held responsible for September 11th. But, as I learned in politics, I let others see a façade so that my true feelings could be kept hidden from the outside world. I concealed from everyone my hatred for the Muslim people. For nine years, I kept these feelings pent up inside of me.
My life started taking a different turn when I was attending Grace City Church in 2010. At that time I had applied for an internship to work with a federal agency in Washington DC, which meant I would be packing up my family and moving in the fall of 2010. Little did I know that God had a completely different path for me. After a church service in August 2010, I looked at my wife and said, “I think God wants us to stay here in Wenatchee and attend Grace City Church”. I abandoned my plans to work for the federal agency and instead invested my time in what God had for me in the Wenatchee Valley. My heart at this point was still calloused over, but it began to show signs of breaking open. The preaching that I heard tore at me and I was starting to see Jesus for who He truly is. The Holy Spirit was convicting me of my beliefs and that I myself am depraved apart from God's grace. I was leading my family, a part of a Gospel Community, and was baptized during my first two years attending Grace City Church. Then the event happened that would change my world forever: October 26, 2013.
My wife and I were invited to a Missions Night at a friend’s house to hear from a young couple preparing to go and preach to an unreached people group in Iraq. I was astonished that someone would risk life and limb to proclaim the gospel to Muslims living in the Middle East. The couple started their slideshow with pictures of the Middle East and people who live there. They then talked about a shopkeeper who had attentively listened to them talk about the gospel. At the end of their conversation, he told them point blank “we need more people like you to come and tell this gospel so more people could be saved.” These words echoed in my mind the rest of the evening. I realized that Muslims can also be saved. Jesus died for the Muslims, even those who committed the September 11 attacks. At this thought, my calloused heart was torn open. I now saw the gospel for what it is, a lifeline not just to Americans, but also Muslims throughout the world. If God could reach down and choose me, He could do this for anyone who called upon His name. I knew right then and there I needed to repent about my feelings towards Muslims and ask God for forgiveness for my sins.
After this encounter with the Holy Spirit and a new found heart for the Muslim people, I heard about an opportunity to learn more about the mission field at a 6-week class called Perspectives. In short, Perspectives teaches a global approach to being missional and what it means to go out to the ends of the earth. I signed up immediately and was hooked from day one. Before Perspectives had begun I indicated that our family would be interested in hosting a missionary for an evening. I heard back a week later—a missionary would be staying with us from Frontiers, the same missions organization that was sending the couple we had listened to previously. The missionary’s story was compelling and got me excited about possibly traveling to the Middle East. The mission’s mobilizer came over to our house; my wife and I stayed up talking to him late into that evening. He had written a book called Coffee and Orange Blossoms, and after reading it, my wife and I began to hunger to learn more about Frontiers and possibly serve in the Middle East.
At Perspectives, I learned about missionaries who made changes to their daily life to step out into faith and let God lead them throughout their life. Leaving teaching was a sabbatical for my life to instead focus on my spiritual wellbeing and devote more time to be in prayer and go deeper in scripture. This has truly prepared me to go into other cultures and preach the goodness of Christ to others. The scripture that I have followed and has been instrumental in my life is Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
In 2016, when I was about to board that plane for “vision quest” to the Middle East, the words from Matthew 28 “Go and Make Disciples” took on a much more tangible meaning for me. Sometimes disciple making requires getting on a plane, whereas other times we are called to invest in the people in our local community. After experiencing the joy of meeting new people, new cultures, and visiting new countries, I stand in awe and wonder of God’s creation and His love for all people. Since 2016, I’ve had the opportunity to make disciples who make disciples in 4 countries (Qatar, Vietnam, Italy, United Arab Emirates). “Imago Dei” means created in the image of God. I believe all human beings have dignity and worth no matter what country they live in, their socio-economic status, or religious adherence. When looking back at God’s faithfulness in my life, it’s amazing to see how God used September 11th 2001 to harden and then soften my heart to “Go and Make Disciples”. No one could have ever imagined me going to the Middle East before that day in 2013, but God’s plan is perfect and this experience showed me I needed to continue to trust in him for everything.
By Jeremy Kelley