By Anna McShane — China was the last place he was going. Teaching English was also not even on the radar when Sam* began university as a physics major. He was a science geek – forget the humanities. But somewhere in the last two years of university, as a Resident Advisor, Sam found international students “interesting.” Then he decided to take a semester of Japanese. That was the beginning.

We’ve known Sam since he was a child, but when his father wrote us last spring saying Sam was graduating from university, I almost started counting on my fingers. Could he possibly be 21?

“Sam has developed a keen interest in teaching English, and is going to apply to a company that hires English teachers in Japan. I thought maybe teaching English with you in China would be a good experience for him if you still have any room on the team,” his Dad wrote in late March.

The team was formed, but we too thought this would be a good experience for Sam. It might make or break his desire to teach English. “If you can have all your paperwork in in one week, we can consider you,” I told him.

In one week, all his paperwork was in. Two months later he came through our area with his Dad. Sam had grown up, but he was shy and unsure of himself. “I’ve never actually led anyone to the Lord,” he confessed to me. “I don’t know if I know how. And I really want to teach in Japan, not China. But you know, I’ve never actually taught so I don’t know if I can even do it.”

I assured him that he wasn’t responsible to bring all of China into the Kingdom, that he didn’t have to commit to China for more than four weeks, and that he’d have lots of help teaching. Assurances he took to heart as he arrived a month later in China.


From timid to teacher

But China got him. He was petrified that he’d be a failure in the classroom, but after a somewhat rocky first week of orientation and training, he walked into class the first day and became a teacher. Over four weeks he worked with his students, ate with them, played basketball and musical instruments with them. One young man made significant emotional strides because of Sam’s care and concern.

The summer ended, but we were in his home again in the early fall. Sam hosted us like we were his long lost best friends. His parents were amazed. He had a job to earn money for college debts, but he was volunteering to tutor immigrants and studying Chinese on the side. He’d applied to Japan, but China was now an option. We were recruiting teachers on the campus where his dad is a prof, and met a representative from ELIC. I texted Sam to stop by, and the rep talked to him for an hour. “It sounds good,” he told us afterward, “but I don’t know about that support raising thing.”

Fast forward a few more months. We got a letter from Sam telling us he’s heading to China to teach with ELIC. First a year, “but it may well turn into more than that, you know,” he wrote. “Hey, can we talk on Skype? I realize there are so many things I should have asked you last summer, but I missed the opportunity.”


‘The right choice for me’

Was this Sam? This outgoing, confident young man who was talking about how much God had taught him this year? Where was the shy young man of a year ago who wasn’t sure about his future or his faith? His fears about sharing his faith are gone because his faith is now his.

Where was the fear of support raising? “I’m amazed how support is just coming in,” he said. He knows now from experience that God leads, and God provides. He’s eager to get to China and teach, and see what doors that opens for the next step.

We talked about how God’s leading has often been packaged into “a certain spot, a certain person, a certain job, and if you miss it you are stuck for life.” Sam said that was what he had feared – that he would make the wrong choices and miss God’s will for his life. Now Sam realizes that choices come one at a time — you make them, step out, and ask God to lead to the next choice.

“Oh, by the way,” Sam said in an aside, “The company that hires teachers in Japan rejected me, but that same week ELIC accepted me. This is the right choice for me.”

China was the last place he was going but now he can’t wait to get there.

*not his real name


More on becoming a missionary 

5 myths of the missionary call — Rethinking when and how God draws people into cross-cultural service.

5 more missionary myths — Don’t let these common misconceptions stand in your way of growing God’s family. 

Just don’t do it — Eight pitfalls to avoid now if you suspect long-term missions might be part of your future. 

How to grow missionaries from your congregation(s) — Practical ways to create a safe space where potential cross-cultural workers can explore their call. 

As many missionary calls as there are missionaries — God’s call is very personal. He knows how best to use our dreams, passions and experiences. 

Four ways high-schoolers can prepare for missions — Teens can seize opportunities to create community and experience other cultures in order to clarify their role in the Great Commission. 

Developing church missions — A set of resources to help any church, big or small, engage the congregation with missions and develop new missionaries. 

Considering missions — Questions to ask as your discern God’s leading.

Why go with SEND — Some of the benefits your family will receive if you become missionaries with us.