An Autobiography of My Calling

Following God as He speaks to my heart

Twenty-two years ago, God called me to be a missionary.

At least I think he did.

I was 15 and overwhelmed with God’s love for me. In a moment of passionate thanksgiving for the One who had saved me, I held out my life to Him. I would be a missionary: I was convinced that that would be the best way to give Him my all.

I had spent several years in Latin America as a child. My parents, missionaries in rural Mexico, had partnered with many medical missionary teams throughout the years, and this had always fascinated me. And so I saw my calling narrow: I went to college and pursued a degree in biology with the intent to serve as a medical missionary.

In the middle of studying organic chemistry and human anatomy, I fell in love with Joshua Smith. I had never met anyone quite like him. He was vibrant and thoughtful and deeply passionate about Jesus. We began to dream about a future together. . . .

Suddenly, and oh-so subtly, I was confronted with a glitch in my calling. As I studied Scripture, I didn’t see a clear calling for me to serve God as a medical missionary. But I did see a clear calling for wives to take seriously the commitment of marriage and come under their husband’s leadership. If I were to marry, I would not only have to listen for my calling, I would also need to listen for our calling.

I chose Joshua. I was more convinced about him than I was about my individual calling to medical missions. I knew that I would still give Christ my all, but now my calling included Joshua.

Two years passed. Joshua and I were newly married. We had helped to lead a short-term missions trip to Zaragoza, Spain, a few years previous, and the missionary team there asked us to consider joining a new church-planting team in nearby Pamplona.

Joshua and I had both been overcome by God’s love. We knew we wanted to serve Him, and we were being invited to serve Him in a country known for its tremendous spiritual drought.

And so we were called to Spain.

At least I think we were.

Historic district of Pamplona, Spain. Photo by Naomi Smith. At top: the author’s family in 2007

In 2010, after almost eight years in Spain, Joshua spent a day in concentrated prayer. He came to me that evening and told me he thought that our time in Spain was coming to an end.

Could it be? Just two years earlier we had considered a different invitation to leave, and at that point, our hearts wouldn’t let us. So it came as a surprise to me that this time around, my heart didn’t resist. We began to seek council—from our church community in Spain, from our leaders in ReachGlobal, from our church family in the United States. Again and again, the prompting to leave Spain was confirmed.

God had clearly shown us that our ministry in Spain was done, and so we waited to hear from Him about the “what’s next.” We began praying, fasting and seeking godly council from those who knew us best; we begged God to show us where He would direct life and ministry.

We were met with silence.

There was no calling.

Plans didn’t fall into place for any specific ministry in the way they had for us as we went to Spain. We didn’t feel the same quiet, powerful certainty we had felt when we initially decided to stay in Spain . . . and then later when we decided to leave. There was only silence, only uncertainty.

At some point in the midst of the silence, Joshua was asked by ReachGlobal leadership to be the team leader in Mexico City. I told Joshua that I would move to Mexico if the heavens opened up and I could hear the angels sing; otherwise, I was pretty sure that Mexico City wasn’t the right place for us. After having spent so long in Europe, I wasn’t particularly excited about living in the urban mess that Mexico City promised to be.

Not only that, we weren’t convinced that Mexico (a country with a robust number of evangelical Christians according to Operation World) needed any more American missionaries messing up the good thing that seemed to be going on.

We visited Mexico City. I’m gonna be honest: It was a bit of a courtesy visit. And . . . the visit was rough. The contamination in the air was heavy; there were too many cars, too many people, too much noise. I didn’t see beauty anywhere. But we saw so much gospel need, so much potential. We didn’t hear the angels sing, but we heard a compelling whisper. We saw how God could use our gifts and experiences to serve the unique needs of the city and the Church. And we couldn’t say no.

We moved forward, called to Mexico City.

Kind of.

The author and her children overlooking their first neighborhood in Mexico City, in 2012. Photo by Joshua Smith

I was nervous, though. I kept asking Joshua, “What if we are wrong? What if we aren’t supposed to go to Mexico? Just because we couldn’t say no, does that mean that we are supposed to say yes?”

And Joshua would remind me that we served a kind God; that our heart’s desire was to follow Him; and that if Mexico City really wasn’t where we were supposed to be, He was big enough to correct our path and loving enough to tenderly care for us along the way.

The author’s son Josu (age 6 in 2011) celebrates the Mexican revolution with classmates. Photo by Naomi Smith

Our first year in Mexico City was so, so hard. The contamination in the air was heavy; there were too many cars, too many people, too much noise. I didn’t see beauty anywhere.

Six months into our move, I remember sitting on the couch with Joshua and crying—crying because I was sad and crying because I was tired of being sad and crying. Joshua tenderly asked me if we should just leave Mexico City. He reminded me that his calling to care for his family was more clear than his calling to serve God in Mexico City.

I remember telling him in between tears that, no, we shouldn’t leave Mexico. I was pretty sure that all I needed was time. I knew that there was goodness and beauty in Mexico City, but I just couldn’t see it yet. I had to keep looking. I had to keep investing.

A mouthwatering carne asada (Mexican barbecue). Photo by Naomi Smith

I can’t remember the first time I really felt a passion for Mexico City. But I truly love our city now. I think that this has been borne out of taking genuine ownership of the city: shopping here, playing here, eating here, sending our kids to school here, having long, long dinners with our friends and neighbors here.

Now the city is our city. Our hearts feel deeply satisfied with the men, women and children God has placed in our lives. We keenly sense His hand of blessing on our ministry. We are seeing the gospel transform individuals, families and communities.

The one-kilometer trek to bring home a Mexican Christmas tree. Photo by Naomi Smith

So,

Did God call me to missions?

Did He call me to Spain

And then away from Spain

And then to Mexico?

I think He did. He placed specific desires in our hearts. He opened and closed opportunities. He guided us through the insight of wise counselors. He reminded us of eternal truths, even in apparent silence

What I am most certain of is this: He called me to know Him and to make Him known . . . to delight in Him and love my neighbor as myself.

That’s where I’ll set my eyes. That’s where I’ll set my heart.

That’s my calling.

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