Several of my acquaintances in the mission world are struggling to return to their field of mission due to difficulties getting visas. It prompts me to reflect on how people are facing the challenges of not being at home, having to homeschool children, not being able to do their work, and trying hard to support their colleagues remotely. Often these people have also overstayed their welcome in family homes, inadvertently found they’ve become liable for UK taxation, and had to hand back the Syzygy car they’ve borrowed because somebody else had already booked it.
This situation has led to many feelings of frustration and confusion. Some people struggle to connect with God, and some are angry with God, because they know they have a calling to do a specific work and God has not opened the door for them to do it. They feel as if their life and ministry has been derailed, and the longer it goes on, the more confused they become: “Why is God stopping me what he has called me to do?”
Paul appears to have experienced this problem too (Acts 16:6-10). He and his team were trying to move on and couldn’t figure out where to go next. It appears that they were prevented from going to several different places. Yet at no stage does Luke attribute the blockages to demonic activity or human opposition – it is always God who has stopped them going somewhere. One gets the sense that God was shutting doors that they were tempted to take in order to get them to take seriously the new one he was about to open. That was immediately prior to the Macedonian vision which took Paul into Europe for the first time.
Some years ago I participated in a security briefing where hostage negotiator Phil Harper pointed out that our mission to reach out to other people with the gospel never ceases, even if we are kidnapped! Many of us think in the narrow terms of our specialist focus, rather than broader calling we all share. If you have a calling (for example) to Nepal but can’t get back there, why not think a bit broader? What about seeking out a Nepali community in the UK and working with them? Or going to India where there are many Nepali economic migrants?
Sometimes God shuts doors before he opens new ones. Mission workers of the China Inland Mission, ejected from China after the communist revolution, realised for the first time that they could go to the Chinese diaspora instead, in cities like Bangkok and Singapore. Then they realised that other Asian peoples needed the gospel too, and OMF came into being, now working in many east Asian countries and with diaspora groups globally. This might never have happened if they’d all stayed in China.
If you know people with visa problems, please pray for this specific area of their lives, that God would open doors for them that nobody else can shut. Even if they’re doors they didn’t expect. Pray that they would experience clear guidance. Pray that they will not feel ‘derailed’ but will take the opportunity to do mission work wherever they are.