God’s Calling is Often a Process
How patient are you? How patient are you when it comes to God’s leading in your life? Retired OMF missionary, Jerry Wibberly, reflects on the journey he and his wife, Barbara, had in Thailand. It was a journey that would require patience as there were times when Jerry felt he was doing something he didn’t feel called to do.
(Listen to the audio version of this article.)
By Jerry Wibberly
After having followed what we felt was God leading us to serve Him in Asia, the day finally came when we disembarked from the ship that had brought us to Thailand. It was dark, very humid, and hot. But, fortunately, the Field Secretary was there to receive us and took us to what would be our home for the next year while we studied Thai.
Thai is nothing like English. They don’t use our alphabet. It is tonal, which means if you do not use the precise tone called for, you would be saying things you wished you’d never said. It is, however, the key to sharing the Good News of the gospel–so we tried our best to learn the language.
For the next couple of years I sought to stretch my language skills by trying to preach to anyone I could get to listen–in the market, at tea shops, in Bible study groups, and even at medical clinics. I made progress, though I suspect some of my errors with the language must have made the Thai people cringe.
By our second term, we were moved to another province. My role was to care for small groups of Christians scattered over an area of four provinces, as well as continue with evangelism. Despite my growing fluency, it quickly became obvious that I could not preach in eight different places every Sunday morning, although it was not for lack of trying.
Since it was our ultimate goal to have the Thai themselves teaching other Thai, I started a monthly training day where the obvious leader from each group came to a central location and spent the day learning what the Word had to say to them, learning how to share this with their own groups, getting answers to their questions in dealing with local problems, and closing the day by praying together.
The leaders’ Thai fluency was far better than mine! And they could be in more places than I could. Each one would return home with four sermon outlines to help him teach through the month ahead. I began to feel that maybe I was getting closer to the ministry where my gifts could be used to maximum advantage. But then came the next term and we were sent to a very rural district to do pioneer evangelism and church planting. This was not what I felt called to do.
One day we had a visitor, our field supervisor. Since he rarely ever came out to our very remote district, I wondered why he had come for this visit. He explained that a problem had arisen and one of our OMF missionaries had been called back to his home country.
He went on to tell me that this had caused a shortage of staff at the mission’s residential Bible school located in the mountainous area in North Thailand. He had noticed that we seemed to be gifted more as teachers and that our work of training lay church leaders the previous term had been effective. The more he explained things the more excited I became. Maybe this is what God had called us to Thailand to do.
Shortly after this visit we found ourselves and all our worldly goods loaded on the back of a rice truck. We headed off into the mountains to work at a school we’d never seen, teaching Thai college-age students, an age level we’d never taught before.
We’d hardly unloaded our belongings when we were told we’d be teaching about ten hours a week, on topics we had yet to prepare. Just in case I had too much free time, they also assigned me to be the Dean of Men while my wife Barbara was the Dean of Women, as well as the school librarian. I thought that we would never again complain to the Lord about not having enough to do.
As time went on, the school grew, our language improved, our love for teaching The Word became more precious, and we became convinced that this was what God had called us here to do. Our subjects varied from year to year as well as our roles. Later I would become the Academic Dean, and one of my favorite jobs was interviewing and accepting new students every year. What a blessing it was to be preparing Thai young people to take the Gospel to their own people with a fluency we as foreigners could never match.
Reflecting on our journey, I learned that finding what God wants of us is often not a sudden thing that happens as much as a process. In our case, it took nearly ten years. God had much to teach us before we would be prepared to teach others.
When we finally got to that place, we found that our path did not necessarily get easier, but it was more fulfilling. We were blessed to develop relationships with each of the students and to see them grow spiritually and in ministry, so that they could then go out to serve the Lord faithfully in the difficult places where God is still using them today.
About the Author: Jerry and his wife, Barbara, retired in 2002 and located in Phoenix, AZ, to look after Barbara’s parents until their deaths a decade or so later. Now the Wibberlys are themselves in their 80’s and have relocated to Richmond, VA, living with their son. They have continued to be active in ministry, teaching Sunday school for about 12 years in Arizona and volunteering in the areas of prayer and missions in both Arizona and Virginia.