Even When the Pathway Veers, He Knows What is Best :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Even When the Pathway Veers, He Knows What is Best

Joel Arnold
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Ten years later, I still remember every detail of the phone call. I can tell you where I was sitting in the room and what the carpet looked like. I vividly remember setting the phone down and turning to my wife, trying to process what this meant.

That’s because until then, everything had fit together in a rather straightforward, linear narrative. My wife was born in Africa. We both had made multiple trips there. Dating and courtship were filled with conversations about future life and ministry in Africa. After marriage, we returned to Zambia a second time and then fulfilled the typical responsibilities of new missionaries: the standard prayer cards, website, table decorations, and presentation. All lines pointed to Zambia.

At least they did—before the phone call. That was when I found out that a chain of events outside of my control had shifted the entire calculus. A minute or two into the conversation and even before hearing the explanation, I already knew everything had just changed. We weren’t going back.

Today I speak Tagalog, not Bemba. My tastes have shifted to rice and Asian cuisine rather than Nshima. My children view an urban setting as home in place of the slower pace of Southern Africa. My heart, my thoughts, my interests continually go back to Southeast Asia. All of that is directly traceable to the phone call a decade ago. 

It’s tempting to speculate how my life would look today had our plans not changed so drastically. Tempting, but pointless. What actually matters is not so much the place as to how we got there. Several thoughts about guidance and decisions come to mind.


Don’t stress about what you cannot know; just do what you ought to do.

I suspect that one out of many reasons people never make it into missions is the problem of knowing where to go and what to do. That’s tragic. It’s like the man who starves while sitting at a buffet because he’s paralyzed by the abundance of choices and can’t decide where to start. It’s a big world out there. The needs are far too many to address even a fraction of a percentage of them sufficiently. Where should you go? I don’t know. Start with any of them. Start with the needs you know about and move out from there.

God’s pathways don’t need to be linear.

Because God is King of the universe, and we are not, His methods can be quite unexpected. Situations such as leading us to the Philippines by way of Zambia can be surprising or even shocking. But the bigger question is not why He does this, but why we ever think that He can’t. After all, He isn't trying to squeeze out inefficiencies. He doesn’t need to maximize His limited means to accomplish as much as possible within the narrow confines of the resources He has available.

In short, He interacts differently with reality than we do. He is less concerned about how to get the job done than He is with helping me learn what I need in the process. Therefore, I ought to be grateful for the plans He sets out for me, even when they look different from how I would have done it.


Just keep going.

You invested time and emotional energy to follow God’s leading. Then He redirects and your efforts seem like a waste. You could just give up. Why invest more in pathways that lead nowhere? However, this perspective assesses God’s plans on the basis of mere human analysis. Your service to Him does not correlate with a typical investment/return axis. If you follow Him obediently, your efforts are never wasted. If you had sufficient reason to assiduously follow Him before the detour, why would you change now?

There is also a more fundamental reason not to give up; that is, the greatness of the cause. It’s in the DNA of the Great Commission that we embrace staggering sacrifices and assault daunting barriers because the Gospel is worth it. Does an unexpected change of plans reconfigure any of that? Would Great Commission thinking not simply turn and look for another alternative in the unending vistas of the harvest fields?


At the time, the phone call seemed disastrous, like everything good and exciting had just crumbled around us. With the perspective of 10 years, I’m grateful for God’s good plans. He has given us a delightful place to live and work, and we love the people we have the privilege of serving.

Of course, we all love it when the story ends so well. However, it doesn’t have to. God can lead to hard places as well. The path might go somewhere that isn’t transparently “better.” Following God wherever He leads might be just plain hard.

But the certainty of faith is that there are no dead ends—not when God is leading. That’s because He is the author of our stories, and every story terminates in Him, His glory, and the richness we experience in serving and knowing Him. Even if our story were to swerve again—this time down a pathway no one would choose or even wish on their enemies—I must still confess that He can plan my life better than I can. I am not in control of my life, and I wouldn’t want to be because I have confidence that even when the pathway veers, He still knows what is best.