I remember our church talking about being “on mission.” Being on mission in the workplace. Being on mission in your neighborhood. Being on mission with your community. Being on mission at the gym. Being on mission was something we tried to live, but honestly it felt like a switch we could flip on and off. I read articles of urban pastors and heard stories of third-world country missionaries. It was something we were talking about, teaching about and doing when we had some free time.
Then we moved.
We moved far away from our loving community, out of our nicely reformed theological bubble and away from our comfortable non-Christian relationships. Some friends questioned us and even parts of our families didn’t support our decision. People in the grocery store asked how I could be okay raising my children in “that city.” Other’s wrongly judged what we were moving for and questioned our intentions. While on one hand this was unfortunate, on the other hand it caused us to seek intentional wisdom from people we trusted and most importantly, as a couple before the Lord. We sought the Lord more deeply than ever before together and asked God to help us be faithful to only him.
We made the unpopular choice.
We didn't know why, but God was calling us to leave our beloved home. And now here we are a good deal later; God has softened hearts, stripped us of our comforts, revealed our pride, drawn us together, challenged our faith, questioned our ideals, allowed us to be exhausted and brought us to our knees.
We are on mission.
It’s only now some of the initial transition fog is starting to lift and we are able to see some things a little more clearly.
God is strategic. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. Psalm 57:2
He waited until just the right moment to bring our family to a new place. We probably would have both said that we were willing to do whatever God called us to do. I knew when I got married that there were many things that I was willingly giving up. I assumed moving to a new place was one of them. But what I wasn’t counting on is that God would ask my entire family to do something extreme. Choosing to do something on my own is entirely different than choosing to do something as a family. We are not just risking our own comfortable lifestyles; we are risking the trajectory of our children’s lives, the culture they know, the schools they attend and the experiences they have. But God. Our story is that he is using us as an entire family to make an impact.
God is faithful. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
The truth is, we had no idea what we were truly committing to when we said yes to living such an urban life. And we knew that we didn’t know when we agreed to it. We were “warned,” given tips and heard the cautionary tales that city life is not for everyone. We read encouraging articles about families that have done it successfully. But no amount of knowledge would have prepared us to be here and to live life this way. We knew it was a risk. We knew it looked foolish to some. And we knew it was exactly what we needed to do. But what we didn’t know is that we were saying yes to being "serious" missionaries, the kind we read about. Not because we were being supported by a mission board, but because being nominally Christian here isn't a livable option. True city life, real urban grind, the daily tasks and exhaustion that comes with this type of life were completely foreign to us. It's not a way of life our conservative, evangelical communities natural gravitate towards with the large families (we live in 700 square feet), stay at home moms (unreal rent prices make that incredibly hard) and the hospitality expectations (we don't have a dining room table, full-size oven or refrigerator). But moving here wasn’t in our stupidity, it was and is God’s grace towards us. He has forced us to be creative in how we serve others. He has forced us to see him. He has forced us to see beauty. He has forced us to seek his face. He has forced us passed our comforts. He has forced us to experience his faithfulness.
God is surprising. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, his steadfast love endures forever; to him alone who does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:3-4
I could never have guessed this is what our life would look like. In his gloriousness he has surprised me with gifts beyond measure to remember his goodness. From rich architectural culture to my personal prayer life, God has provided in the most shocking ways since we began this journey. The only way we have survived this transition has been through loving prayers, lavish gifts, unexpected relationships, group text-messaging and FaceTime. But mostly, He has surprised us by literally sustaining us. We could never have made up this narrative for our family. Doing life here is ugly and hard, amazing and beautiful, unbelievably challenging and yet rewarding. It has brought me to tears and caused me to worship.
God is in the present. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. Psalm 46:1-2
We are often asked how long we will stay here. “How long can you sustain this kind of life as a family?” I’ve read article after article, had conversation one after another about how families move out of the city for one reason or another. A dear friend who has lived here the last 20 years with her family told me she’s spent the last 20 years wishing to leave the struggle behind. She went on to mention pastors and their families who have come here for a couple of years only to leave it behind, not being able to sustain the city life. This made her lament that Christians weren't really committed to being here. Because of experiences like that, the southern transplant "New Yorker" is often viewed as skeptical at best. When I look at our future I have no idea what it holds. But I know today, God is in the present. It doesn’t matter where we will be 10 years from now. It matters that we get through this day faithfully . . . and the next, and then the next, and the next. God is present now and is only calling me to be faithful with what He has given me today. I pray that 10-20 years from now we can look back as a family and say we were faithful to the Lord and the Great Commission.
And while God is a brilliant strategist, incredibly faithful, always surprising us and an ever-present help, he never promised that it would be easy. He never promised that it wouldn’t be exhausting, that our kids would always feel safe on the subway or that our savings accounts wouldn’t suffer. But he did promise that with him we could have deep satisfaction and joy that only comes from having an eternal hope and eternal purpose. I want to be able to say I was willing to do the hard things, to go the distance, to risk my comforts for the sake of others because I love him. I want to be able to share stories of adventures with God and loving people in outrageous ways, not that we made choices as a family that everyone else was comfortable with, even myself.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.