Ready and Willing to Stay or Go

Last week I pondered the question all of us in ministry face from time to time, “Should I stay, or should I go?” It’s a question my wife, Iris, and I have had to answer many times since we first trusted Christ in Germany. As you wrestle with this question, I hope our experience will be of some encouragement to you.
For the first 17 years of my life, I was firmly planted in a rural area southeast of Tacoma, Washington. My world consisted of a five- or 10-square-mile area around my house. I had never been on an airplane, train, or ship. The number of states I’d visited could be counted on a few fingers. All that changed when I raised my hand and joined the army. A few months later, I found myself in Germany, and a year after that, I was married to a German girl.
The army sent us to a few choice locations and then, on a second assignment to Germany, we encountered Jesus, and everything changed in our lives. As we grew in Christ and eventually joined Navigator staff, we developed both a heart for Life-to-Life™ discipleship and a vision for the whole world. It was part of our culture that we should be willing and ready to move anywhere at any time for the sake of the gospel. I must admit that every time I watch a video or hear a testimony from a far-off place, I kind of want to go. 
Twice we’ve emptied our entire house and let go of most of our possessions. When our Navigator leaders asked us to move to Heidelberg, we sold everything in our house in one day. We figured it was a lot easier to transport cash than stuff. Eight years later, again with a house full of things, we gave everything away to our Lithuanian brothers and sisters. The first purging gave us a little more cash, the second one gave us a lot more joy. 
When we returned to the United States, we moved to Spanaway, that same rural area I had left when I joined the army. We were surrounded by family and neighbors who reflected the people group into which I was born—think Walmart shoppers. After a period of reverse culture shock, we began to enter into the rhythms of this new place and plant the gospel. We lived in Spanaway for 10 years. To that point, it was the longest our family had ever lived in one house. 
We moved to Seattle because I was asked to lead the Navigators City (Metro) ministry here. We chose to live in the central district of Seattle to be a part of a committed community of young Christ-followers with whom we had a relationship. During the next four years, we experienced some of the best local Christian community of our lives and learned so much. During these early years in Seattle, we began to awaken to the importance of place and of proximity. We started to realize that a movement of the gospel requires both mobility and rootedness.
How can it be that we need both seemingly contradictory postures? It has to do with the movement of the gospel to a place and the movement of the gospel into a place. To take the gospel to new places, we need mobile pioneering efforts. To keep the gospel moving into a place we need rooted, locally-led, committed communities, but also mobile people who will come to visit in order to strengthen and encourage the locally rooted laborers and help them be connected to the broader gospel-movement. 
As I mentioned in my last article, so much of this is tied to the heart attitude. We need thousands of people who make a long-term commitment to the place they are planted, weaving a fabric of love and care over a lifetime. This is the crying need in our fragmented society in which the meaning of true community has often been completely lost. We need people who do the hard work of rebuilding community and joining God in His work of restoring, renewing, and reconciling. By far, this is our biggest need.
The mobile people will need to work at this too, because all of us live in a place. Whether we are in that place for a long time or a short time, the command to love our neighbor with all of its implications still applies to us. In light of this, I see the Good Samaritan parable as a comparison of mobile people and their attitudes and actions relative to the need before them—two passed on, but one took the time to take action in place.
Our Navigator vision sees mobile pioneers who take the gospel into new cities and nations. It also speaks of people who are “rooted incarnationally in their local context” and who bring joy and hope to their surrounding environment. Through the years, this is how Iris and I have seen the gospel so effectively move into our communities . . . and beyond!

Al Engler is the director of Navigators Neighbors and Navigators Workplace. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.