It took us more than seven years of focused preparation to finally move to Austria as missionaries. Linda and I were excited to follow Jesus into this new chapter of our lives. We both had seen God provide in amazing ways to get us there, and by faith, we were expecting Him to work in and through us.
I’ve always thrown myself fully into whatever I’m doing and being in Austria was no different. I fully intended to spend the rest of my life there. I had sold my English library and began collecting books in German. God gave both Linda and me the gift of fluency in the language and we adopted Austrian customs and lifestyle quickly.
The Austrian people became very dear to us and we cultivated some deep relationships. The Lord was pleased to use us to help establish two churches, one in Baden and the other in Wiener Neustadt. By His grace, both churches continue to grow under Austrian leadership more than 30 years later. We praise Him for this!
But then, something happened for which we had not planned or prepared. Following the establishment of the second church, God clearly led us back to the US. I cannot fully describe the challenges and struggles this posed me. Nothing we had experienced till then even began to compare with what we now faced.
You see, in the mission literature back then, there were only two terms for a career missionary who left the mission field early (i.e., before they die or are no longer fit to serve). Those two terms were: missionary casualty and missionary dropout.
Even though we had experienced tremendous success in Austria as missionaries, I returned to the States feeling like a failure. I consciously rejected the idea that I was a casualty or dropout, but those seeds had been planted in my mind. I remember arguing with myself, “I spent three years in the Army, and they call me a Veteran. I spent six years as a missionary in Austria, and they call me a casualty and a dropout?!!”
I didn’t realize it in the heat of the struggle, but I had accepted someone else’s story. “Casualty” and “dropout” were not my story! But for the next two years I wrestled with this stigma and it didn’t help that some in the church saw us those negative ways. I recognize now that my identity was defined by my career, so when my career changed, I no longer knew who I was. Today, I understand the fallacy of that thinking, but I didn’t see it back then.
Meanwhile, Linda and I continued following the Lord, though there were some really tough times. Then, one day, I was reading in Acts 14. In the previous chapter, the Holy Spirit had commissioned Paul and Barnabas to depart on what we refer to as their first missionary journey. God’s call on their lives was crystal clear and public.
But as I read through the account of where they traveled, the churches they launched, and how they strengthened these new disciples, I saw something I had never seen before. In Acts 14:26 it says, “From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed the grace of God for the work they had now completed.”
And as I read those final words, the Lord tenderly spoke to me saying, “Rob, you did exactly what I called you to do in Austria. You completed the work I had given you to do.” For two years I had been living by a false story. Now I was freed from that. I also realized my identity is defined by who I am in Christ, not by what I do for a living. By God’s grace, I am a child of the King!
Recently, I’ve interviewed dozens of men and women who are either victims of sexual abuse or have suffered the aftermath of a past abortion. Like me, they too had believed the lies that what they had done or what was done to them defined their identity.
But it’s not what we have done, what was done to us, or even our career that defines who we are. For when we are in Christ, He makes all things new. Jesus has reconciled us with the Father and made us His children. You and I are sons and daughters of the King, so don’t let any past sin, experience, or anyone or anything else tell you differently.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)