My name is Janine and I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I have been living and working in inner-city Memphis for the past year and I love it.
Growing up in a middle-class suburb of Philly and being raised by believing parents, I experienced the blessings of having a good education and of being challenged to follow Jesus’ leading. As a teenager, the Lord began directing me to people who had never heard the Gospel. He led me toward medical training so I could meet physical needs of the people I would be living among.
The disciples in the New Testament were ordinary people who were obedient to the call of Jesus and left their families and jobs to follow someone they knew little about. As time progressed, they realized following Him meant they would need to surrender everything. Eventually, most of the disciples gave their lives so that God would be glorified.
In the same way, I’m nobody special - just a girl who heard the call of Jesus. At first, following Him seemed fun and cool because I didn’t really know Him. I didn’t want to live an “ordinary” life, and it seemed that Jesus offered something more. I remember being excited about someday moving and living among people who were poor and had never heard the Gospel. I wanted to be “used by God.”
In reality, I wanted to be their savior and I wanted to do something great with my life. It was all about me.
The Gospel is not about me - it’s about God. His glory, His greatness, His mercy, His love. God doesn’t need me to share the Gospel with anybody. Yet, because of His grace, He allows us to be part of His redeeming work.
Two years before moving to Memphis, God brought me to the point of beginning to surrender many of my desires - desires to do great things, get married, practice medicine, and be in control of my life. At that point, I wrote, “I feel scared about my future...I don’t ever remember feeling this way before, kinda overwhelmed, scared, and unsure all at the same time.” I was afraid to give up the control I thought I had in my life.
Following Jesus is not easy and, like the disciples, the initial intrigue eventually wears off. At different points in Jesus’ ministry He said things that caused many followers to turn away. Yet, the disciples continued, understanding that it included leaving family members, carrying a cross to death, and giving up everything. It meant following Jesus into difficult places like Samaria and hanging out with those who society looked down on, like prostitutes and thieves.
Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Since Jesus spent much of his time with those who were neglected and looked down on, it makes sense for His followers to do the same thing - not to make ourselves look good or because God needs us, but because He mercifully redeemed us.
When I’ve built relationships with people society looks down on, I’ve learned there’s really no difference between us. Both of us look to things other than God for satisfaction because we don’t desire God as we should. Because my friend was born to a single mom, raised by her deaf grandparents, abused as a child, and barely finished high school, our lives appear very different. She might look to drugs and sex to satisfy her desires for fulfillment, I try to change the world and find the perfect husband to meet my needs. Below the surface issues, both of us are sinners, desperately in need of God’s mercy.
As a follower of Jesus, I don’t think I have the option to choose an easy life for myself. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul challenges believers to “have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to describe how Jesus willingly left His glory to live as a servant in our world. He was also willing to suffer and die to reconcile us to God. In light of these great truths, the Lord directed me to Memphis to serve and become friends with people who have been neglected.
There are some single women who hear of moving into difficult neighborhoods and use the fact that “I’m a single girl” as an excuse. Could God really want me to live somewhere that’s “dangerous”? Shouldn’t I just wait until I’m married? Would it really be wise to move into the rough part of Detroit or Beijing, or Mogadishu? I’ve heard and made these excuses. But girls, Jesus never promised us an easy life, He never promised safety, and He never promised that we won’t be lonely. We have maybe sixty or eighty years before we’ll be in Heaven, enjoying perfect fellowship with Jesus and worshipping Him forever. Shouldn’t we use the few years we have to advance His Kingdom by living out the Gospel among the poor and unreached? Even if I get raped, shot, and paralyzed tomorrow, I’ll have an eternity with Jesus. Since God is Sovereign over absolutely everything, He uses even the seemingly “bad” things to bring Himself even greater glory. That’s why I moved here. That’s why I stay.
Even as I’ve written about what I’ve had to give up, I can’t think of a single thing that was really a sacrifice. I’ve lately been struggling to surrender my desire to have a guy pursue me and to get married. Even in this, God has given me much joy and peace knowing that He is my true Bridegroom, that He will fulfill all my needs, and that He has redeemed me from death. When I really believe that Jesus is my ultimate fulfillment, emotions of loneliness and inadequacy fade. Being part of bringing God glory among the people in Memphis and throughout the world is humbling and amazing and worth everything I’ve had to “give up.”
Looking ahead, the Lord has been leading me to move to North Africa. Jesus has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). I want Jesus to return, and I want God to be glorified among all the nations; therefore, I want to go and share with those who’ve never heard the Gospel. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve had to wrestle with the same questions: Am I willing to give up my personal comforts? Am I willing to leave my friends and family? Am I willing to give up my physical safety? My desire to be married and have a family? Am I willing to be lonely? Am I willing to suffer and die?
Ultimately the question is “Do I believe God is Sovereign and deserves glory among all peoples?” If I truly believed this, I’d be willing to move anywhere, do anything, and suffer everything if it would bring my Father glory.