The Importance of Discipleship

Over the past two years we’ve learned a lot about what it means to be “missionaries”. Missionaries are ultimately charged with spreading the Gospel to a world in need of a savior. But rarely does a missionary meet spiritual needs without first meeting some immediate and desperate physical needs. Thus, missions are often a combination of humanitarian and spiritual intentions. Certainly, the cause of ending the sexual exploitation of children was, and remains, the primary humanitarian calling on our family. It’s the reason we were motivated to travel across the world to a place we had never seen before. It’s the emotional drive that lit the fire of change in our lives. Without that cause, I’m ashamed to say that we likely never would have ventured away from our comfortable existence. And that’s unfortunate, because we’ve discovered so much more than a place and a job. We’ve discovered the transformative power of Christ in a very real and tangible way. We’ve seen this power in the lives of the girls we went to serve, and in the process we’ve also seen it in ourselves and in those we’ve served alongside.

My heart continues to break for children who are exploited for what sinful men desire. I’m thankful for that burden. It reminds me of the urgency of our mission. It wakes me up at night and fuels a righteous anger over the injustice of the theft of innocence that drives this evil economy.

Yet, as strange as it may sound, it is possible to become blinded by the humanitarian cause and discount the greatest gift we have to offer. We come with the message of hope, forgiveness and healing through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. For children who have been told they are worthless, unlovable and unwanted, what could possibly be better than the knowledge that God willingly gave everything He had just for a chance to have a relationship with them?

These girls are not worthless. They are more valuable than any material possession in all of creation. They are not unloved. The Creator of the universe made His greatest sacrifice to prove His love for them. They are not unwanted. Our Father is desperate to know them and to spend an eternity in their company.

As important as our humanitarian cause is, the above message should not be a footnote. It should not be something we check off a list of things to tell the girls. There should be no expiration date imposed by us on the acceptance and understanding of the truth of God’s love.

In short, we must continually refocus our mission on the directive given by Jesus in his Great Commission:  To “go”. To “make disciples”. To “baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. If we lose focus on this core directive, we lose everything. As someone recently quipped: “We are not doing all of this to make their trip to hell more comfortable.”

That might sound harsh. It’s certainly not the easy path. But through many months of prayer and seeking, we firmly believe that discipleship is the real mission to which God has called our family. The vehicle we use to reach the lost is rescue from sexual exploitation. But physical rescue is only the first step. That step does indeed make their path more comfortable. It removes what would otherwise be an overpowering reality that makes it extremely difficult to take the time necessary to grow a relationship with the Father.

It is this point that has caused us to reconsider the direction of our mission. We have been blessed to know many incredible brothers and sisters within the organization that we served who believe exactly as we do – that Jesus is the only source for true healing. But as an organization, the focus has begun to emphasize the humanitarian cause over the eternal cause.

We understand why. There is an excellent argument to be made for rescuing as many children as possible in order to provide a fighting chance at a real future. In the old starfish thrower example, this would be represented by the boy throwing large handfuls of starfish toward the shoreline. Some starfish would be swept out to sea and survive, while others might remain stuck in the sand and perish. But at the end of the day, the boy would have succeeded in saving a large number of starfish. More, probably, than if he had taken the time to careful throw one starfish at a time into deep water.

This is an excruciatingly difficult reality. We are forced to make a choice. Do we throw handfuls of starfish at once, or do we invest in one starfish at a time to ensure their long-term survival. The former guarantees that some will perish, while the latter guarantees that some will never be reached at all. If it were simply a numbers game, the answer would be clear and our family would be on the wrong side of the answer.

This is not a decision that someone else can make for you. Each of us must examine our hearts and the calling that God has placed on our lives. There may be no universal “right” answer. But we believe that God has given us the answer for our family. For us, the answer is to emphasize depth over breadth.

Just over a year ago, we were blessed with a new child in the family. Our sweet Gunya. Even before she came to live with us we knew she was special. She has a love for Jesus that permeates everything around her. It’s impossible to spend any amount of time with her and not be reminded of the incredible goodness and power of our great God. Gunya represents what we’ve come to call “God’s economy”. She is just one girl. Could she really be worth such an investment in time, love and resources? What about all the other girls like her who have similar stories? Those who are not able to come into our home?

You can probably guess the answer to this one. We did not simply invest in Gunya. She has invested in us. Her diligent study of the Word has convicted us and encouraged us to spend more time with the Lord than ever before. Her incredible work ethic has motivated us to push harder. She even makes me eat healthier. Or at least she tries. Bringing Gunya into our family is one of the best things we’ve ever done. And maybe it’s been good for her too, but it’s been an immeasurable blessing to us.

We can’t bring every child into our home the way we did with Gunya and her younger siblings. We get that. But she has become an anchor for us as we move forward with our family’s ministry. She is a living reminder of what is possible when we as a church body invest in others. We are not the first to love Gunya, and we won’t be the last. Everyone who shares in her story should be encouraged by the fruit her life is bearing, and we should all be very excited for the road that lies ahead of this amazing young woman.

The truth is that we have no way to know what impact Gunya, or Gohm, or any of the other amazing kids we meet might make on this world. We don’t know if Gunya’s ministry in India or Thailand or America will result in bringing the lost to Christ. We don’t know if Gohm will end up devoting his life to ministry. We don’t get to know any of those things. God simply asks us to do the next right thing, and the next and the next. He alone has a plan in place, and we are mere partners in that plan. We humans struggle to see value in anything we can’t measure. Yet we have an entire Bible filled with stories of inexplicable things that were part of God’s greater plan. Things that those involved would have had no way to measure at the time. Why did Moses suffer? Why did David? Or Joshua? Why did Abraham have to wait so long for God to fulfill His promise?

Herein lies the danger of taking things into our own hands. What if Moses had fought Pharaoh directly for the release of his people while he was still in Egypt? What if David had stood his ground against Saul instead of hiding away in caves? What if Abraham had disobeyed God when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac? If we believe that we know better than God, we are fools. We act as partners in God’s plans because that’s how He wants things to work. God doesn’t need us, he wants us. So if our role is to take action when and where God leads us, why would we feel responsible for anything more than that?

By investing in the opportunities God lays before us, we can be assured that we are contributing to God’s perfect purposes. Whether we are the harvesters who reap greatly as a direct result of our efforts, or if we are simply part of the process.

People often ask us what’s next for our family. Will we stay in Thailand? Move back to the States? Serve in a new country somewhere? Will we return to our old way of life and rebuild the life we once had? Many of you have probably been frustrated by our noncommittal answers to these questions. But those answers are intentional. We do not presume to know the long-term will of God for our family. We don’t have all the answers. But we do know a few things:

  1. If God allows, we desire continue to minister to children who have been hurt, abandoned and abused. We want this to be our life’s work, if only God chooses to use us in this way.
  2. We have more to do in Thailand. Over the next six months we plan to work with a new aftercare project that aligns with the vision God has given our family for ministry. This project, called Alpha Renew, will be the first of what we hope will be many ministry partnerships which will form the foundation of our long-term ministry based in the States.
  3. Our current season in Thailand is coming to an end. We believe we can accomplish the tasks God has laid before us in roughly six months. After that time we intend to return to the States, where we will begin working to provide support for Alpha Renew and other projects.
  4. One of our “other projects” is the creation of a trafficking aftercare project in the States. God has given us an intense passion for this project. We will open a transitional home for child sex trafficking victims and provide placement assistance in foster homes. We will be recruiting Christian parents who will be thoroughly trained, strongly supported and intensely focused on the challenge of loving children who have survived sexual abuse.
  5. We are saying goodbye (for now) to Boise. Boise has been our home for nealy our entire lives. It’s where we met, married, had our kids and built our career. Boise is where our family and friends are. So it hasn’t been an easy decision to leave, but we want to go where God leads us and for now that will be elsewhere. We’ll talk more about the details soon, but for now I’ll just say that when you want to fight trafficking, it’s good to go where the need is greatest. Boise enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the country. And while that’s amazing for raising a family, it does complicate things a bit when you are wanted to help victims of crime. It has taken the better part of a year for us to pray and seek God’s leading in this area, and we are relieved to finally have an answer even if it’s not the answer we might have chosen. It will be the best because following the Lord is always the best. Not the easiest, but certainly the best.
  6. We are in the process of registering a USA nonprofit. This is necessary for us to have a legal conduit for financially supporting our overseas partners. We will also use this organization to open our aftercare project in the States.
  7. We want to increase our capacity for ministry. If we are to spend the rest of our lives in ministry, I believe it would be very beneficial to pursue a deeper theological foundation through seminary training.
  8. We refuse to be God’s limiting factor. If all of this sounds ambitious and a little crazy, consider this: If you define your own vision for success, it can cloud whatever purposes God might have in mind for you. We want to be partners with God is His awesome plans. But they are HIS plans. For now we know that this involves a few specific things, like Alpha Renew and our USA project. And if that’s all, that’s great! But we will work diligently to structure things in a way that will allow God to open doors as He sees fit. Success in the kingdom of God is defined by how well you are able to respond to His leading. So more than buildings and fundraising targets and numbers of kids in our programs, it will be God’s measuring stick that we use to know how we’ll we’re doing.

The future is very exciting! We know that it won’t be easy, and that’s ok. I’m sure there will be times when we wonder why in the world we chose this life. But we will always have the past to look back on. Times when we’ve gone through difficult situations only to become stronger and closer to our Lord. I still have a lot of growing to do, and I’m excited (if a little nervous) to see what trials God will allow before us as he lovingly pursues a deeper relationship with us. What a blessed life this is. I am deeply moved every time I think about the lives God will change through the work he has blessed us with. I am not worthy of the honor, not by a long shot. But I am so very thankful that He has chosen my family.

 

2 Comments

  1. Wheeler family- you have impacted my life and continue to impact my heart to turn towards Jesus by your lives and ministry. Soooooo thankful for each of you ❤️

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