The Call of Paul: Crossing Cultures

By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee

There were few Jewish boys who could rival Saul of Tarsus for pure Jewishness: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Ephesians 3:5,6). He was convinced not only that the Jews were God’s chosen people but they were superior in every way to any people with whom they happened to share the planet.

But after the Lord got hold of him, he was reborn, realigned, redirected to places and paths he could never have imagined. He found out that, of all people, this Hebrew of the Hebrews, this boy that any Jewish mother would be proud to claim was not to have a ministry to his fellow Jews but to with the very people he previously despised. The joy of that service was filling his life when God spoke again.

Having evangelized throughout the area that is now modern Turkey and Palestine, when Paul tried to continue as he had done, he was surprised to find his way blocked. The Lord clearly revealed that he was to go to another people. “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9,10).

What happened to Paul has been repeated countless times. Many, having accepted the call to full-time vocational service, then find that they have a further clarification, a new challenge to leave their home culture and people and serve in places that are sometimes faraway in distance and in every other way.

Often when such a call comes, there are a host of questions. Are there not unsaved people at home that need my witness? What of leaving family behind? Will I be able to learn the language and customs? What if the people there don’t receive me? What if I get sick? But like any great work of God, there are always reasons why something might fail and only one good reason why we must obey—because that is what God has revealed.

Not that going will be easy. This is not an extended overseas tourist visit where we send a few postcards home and describe the scenery. It is an investment that requires an emptying of expectations, an abandonment of privilege. As Paul found out, with whatever regard he was held in the Jewish community, it had no bearing among the new people that he served. Our names might be gold in our hometown, but that press doesn’t carry over into the new country.

There are a thousand and one challenges to the one serving outside their home country and culture. Every culture has its own subtleties that seem so natural that it is surprising that people don’t do the same things everywhere. There are few occasions where this is more evident than in rituals such as funerals and marriages. Humility dictates that if we are to serve, we are to honor whatever is not contrary to the Christian faith and silence ourselves in doing so. How we do it back home really doesn’t matter.

It comes in the many new aromas, sounds and tastes. I recall meeting a retired missionary who gave decades of service in one of the most challenging countries in the world. Speaking of the food, she quoted a little ditty:

Where He leads me I will follow;

What He feeds me I will swallow.

Paul learned and modeled the servant approach to working with new people groups. Witness how he picked up tent-making to supply his own expenses in one place. In another, after giving lifesaving counsel to his fellow shipwreck victims, he set himself about the humble task of gathering wood to warm everyone (Acts 28:3).

The person called by God to serve another people cannot go as the colonialist who is there to favor people with his wisdom, knowledge and superior ways. It is to listen diligently so as to understand, catapult preconceptions, to do what needs to be done so that we don’t get in the way of the message for the people God has sent us to serve.

Is God calling you to leave home to serve another people? How can you remain if He has?