Called to the Body of Christ

"So, how were you called?” During this past year and a half of studying at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in preparation for mission work in Chad, I’ve been asked that question more than a couple of times. What does it mean to be called?

The first time the idea of being a missionary ever crossed my mind was when I was about six years old, riding in the car with my dad. We must have been talking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and he got kind of serious and said, “You know what would be really cool? A missionary.” I had heard about missionaries but wasn’t sure what they were, so he explained. It sounded important and exciting. I doubt I had fully grasped the gospel at that point, but I did understand that God loved me and that it was important for other people to know he loved them too. I sat there in silence, thoughtfully considering it. Then I responded, “You know what I think would be really cool? A scuba diver.”

What a Jonah moment! Was it flippancy, or stubborn disregard? I can see now that I didn’t really even want to be a scuba diver, and I’m pretty sure I forgot all about that within days. Whatever caused me to ignore the clear direction of God in that moment, it would take many gracious divine interventions over several years to redirect the course of my life and bring me to acceptance of my true calling.

Does that sound far-fetched? I kind of hope so. I don’t believe that conversation was especially important. Not, at least, in the sense that in that moment, God was revealing his singular calling on my life, or that if I were now pursuing some vocation other than mission work, aquatic or not, I would be failing to live up to that calling. What can be said is that, even if I wasn’t aware of it, a seed was planted in that moment. It would later be watered and eventually take root. On the grand scale of God’s will for my life, it may have been a significant moment. But I wouldn’t even remember that conversation today had my dad not told the whole church about it when it was his turn to offer Scripture reading and prayer in the worship service.

There are other moments that I look back on and know have been significant milestones along the path of my calling to the mission field, and to Chad. The simple words of my uncle, who helped lead a mission trip to Guatemala when I was 13: “You know, you could go.” The willingness of my parents to bring me on that trip, and to trust in the days and years that followed that it was more than youthful excitement that was compelling me to go back.

The incredibly simple and profound question of my pastor when I was terrified of making the wrong decision about going to college or joining a mission organization in Central America: “What do you want to do?”

A prayer time in Costa Rica where I first felt an incredible burden for the unreached. A closed door to the people I was sure the Lord was calling me to in Asia, after I had spent several years preparing, going to nursing school and learning about their culture and religion. An opportunity to visit Chad. The sense of having found a home, and the affirmation, through much prayer—my own and others’—that my particular set of gifts and interests, especially in the areas of nursing and languages, would fit well with the ministry of Lutheran Brethren International Mission in Chad.

That’s basically the path that has led me to where I am right now, in this season of preparation at LBS. Here, I have had the opportunity to study God’s Word in depth under professors who not only know it, but love it. I’ve learned about the doctrine and history of the Church and gained practical skills and experience in giving spiritual care. I’ve also received training in remote village medicine and linguistics from some excellent organizations outside of the Seminary. These are some of the ways I am being equipped for the specific ministries I hope to be a part of in Chad.

But I’d like to take a step back now, away from the specifics and out to the big picture. Before and between and beneath the specifics of my calling and equipping—which I cherish and give thanks for—there’s another steady storyline. It’s the story of the Body of Christ. It’s the story of faithful people who, from the time of my birth and baptism, have walked with me, calling me continually back to the grace I was given at first.

They’ve opened God’s Word to me, helped me to hear it and read it. They’ve shown me how to pray, and prayed for me. They’ve taught me to love God and my neighbor, and taught me why. They’ve modeled hard work and humble service and invited me to participate in it with them, even though I’ve often been more of a nuisance than a help. They’ve patiently listened to my dreams, knowing most of them were fleeting. They’ve gently encouraged me to use my gifts, absorbing the mistakes and the awkwardness as I learn how. As I’ve grown and matured, they’ve helped me discern how those gifts can be used for the Kingdom, and they’ve been willing to trust me, invest in me, and send me out. When I’ve stumbled, the grace of God through their hands has helped me get back up. When I’ve strayed, the wisdom of God on their lips has redirected me. When despair has silenced my song of praise, the strength of God in their voices has lifted my eyes and my heart again to heaven.

The way this Body works is mysterious, but mysteriously simple; it’s so mystical, yet also so concrete. And it’s a continual, ongoing process, in different places with different people, but in one and the same Body. That Body might not always work just as it should. It isn’t perfect. But its Head is perfect. He is the One “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16, ESV).

I can’t think of anything better than being a part in this growing Body. Yes, there’s so much joy in feeling like I have a place here, an identity and a purpose. But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s here, in and through this Body, that Jesus reveals his identity and works out his purpose of reconciling this whole broken world to God. Whatever our specific callings and gifts, we are called to exercise them in this Body—where we encourage and strengthen one another, and where together we rejoice. We get to be a part of that great ministry of reconciliation. We get to be the Body of Jesus Christ, in all the earth.

Ellie Bourque graduated from Lutheran Brethren Seminary in 2022 with a Certificate in Theological Studies and continues to take courses at LBS in preparation for ministry in Chad.
Ellie Bourque is working with Lutheran Brethren International Mission in preparation to serve among the unreached peoples of Chad. Lord willing, she will receive a call from the CLB’s Council of Directors, and deploy to France in the fall of 2023 for a year of preparatory language study.

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