Voddie Baucham has taught at both the Downline Institute and The Downline Summit. We are so thankful for the impact he has made at Downline! This post was written by Gavin Ortlund, and was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition.
When God calls you to leave your ministry and move across the world to a third world country with your wife and nine children, you probably have a story to tell. Voddie Baucham does. He is leaving his ministry at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, to pursue a new ministry at African Christian University (ACU) in Zambia.
I corresponded with Baucham about how God led him to his new calling, what he is learning through the process, and how we can pray for him and his family as he goes.
Tell us about the process by which God has called you to Zambia.
The call to Zambia took place over a period of seven years. I first visited Lusaka in August 2007 for the annual Zambian Reformed Conference. This visit was all it took for me to be convinced that I would make a significant investment in God’s work in Zambia. I knew then that, should the Lord tarry and give me strength, I would be back.
I did not, however, know what form my investment would take. I had many thoughts over the years, but nothing materialized. Also, my wife was not convinced. And I was not about to move forward with anything without her being on board . . . fully! I consider my wife to be an “heir with [me] of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). I wasn’t going to drag her to Africa; she needed to come willingly. And seven years later, we were standing in a hotel room in Kitwe, Zambia, when she walked up and said, “It’s time.” God had moved on her as he had me. She saw the need, and the unique ways in which I was suited to aid in the work, and was convinced that this was of the Lord.
The next step was to contact my fellow elders to see what they thought. We take Hebrews 13:17 seriously, so I didn’t just call and say, “Hey, we’re moving to Africa!” I called and told them what was happening and asked them to prayerfully consider it and advise us.
What will your ministry look like day to day at African Christian University?
ACU is a classical, liberal arts university with a student labor program. It’s kind of “early Ivy League meets Tuskegee.” The university is much closer to being off the ground than the seminary, so I will (1) handle the preliminary work of getting the seminary off the ground (my title is dean of the seminary) by recruiting and assembling a faculty, setting the direction of the school, and raising money; and (2) assist on the university side as needed (teaching, recruiting, etc.).
How do you anticipate your ministry in Zambia will look different from your current ministry?
The biggest difference will be the academic environment. I love and serve the local church, and I always will. In fact, one of the things that attracts me to ACU is the local church commitment, involvement, and oversight. However, I will miss preaching regularly and shepherding a flock. Of course, I look forward to getting back to that as soon as possible, whether in Zambia or back here when I’m done (however long that takes). But in the meantime, that will be quite a change.
Making the decision to move with your wife and nine kids across the world must’ve required a lot of faith. Have you struggled with fear or uncertainty about the future? What have you learned through this process of responding to God’s leading?
That is the most difficult aspect of this entire move. First, we are leaving our oldest two children here, so there’s separation, distance, and everything that entails. Second, there are myriad cultural issues to consider—everything from food and water to housing and driving on the other side of the road. Third, there are financial issues. Zambia is a Third World country, but our cost of living will actually be higher! I went on one of those corporate relocation websites expecting to learn that we could live on half of what we require currently, only to find out it would cost more. This, of course is due to the fact that (a) Houston is one of the most affordable cities in America; (b) Zambia is a land-locked country (which makes everythingexpensive); and (c) Lusaka is a capital city filled with expatriates from all over the world.
All of this is difficult. I’ve spent the last two decades in itinerant ministry. I’ve never taken a salary from my church, and I’ve never relied on fundraising or a support base to any degree. So this is new territory. There are definitely days when I ask myself, Are you sure about this? Nevertheless, we continue to move forward. God continues to teach us to trust him. He keeps coming through in the 11th hour. He also keeps reminding us that we don’t “need” nearly as much as we think we do.
Many U.S. Christians feel a burden for God’s work in other parts of the world but are unsure whether to be “senders” or “goers.” How would you encourage them to discern whether or not move abroad?
We’ve become far too individualistic and mystical in our approach to just about everything. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22). And, again, Hebrews 13:17 is critical: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
We are not Lone Rangers. We are part of a body; we are under authority. We must remember we don’t go unless we are sent (Rom. 10:15). It is both wrong and unwise to think the Holy Spirit only does his work in the secret life of the individual. It is not the individual but the church about which Jesus promises, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). If a person doesn’t have the approval of his or her local church, then the ability to raise money and convince those who barely know you to acknowledge your “secret leadings” is simply not enough. The work of God is being misrepresented all over the world by self-appointed apostates and charlatans who are convinced “the Lord told me to do this!” without anyone to whom they’re accountable.
Thus, I would argue that we need to be followers before we even consider being goers or senders. There is far too much on the line. It’s not enough to just go; we have to (1) go biblically and (2) take the right thing with us (the powerful, unadulterated, life-changing, culture-impacting gospel). This requires more than strong impressions and feelings. It even requires more than a “heart” or passion for a place or people. It requires belief in, and commitment to, the church as the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)—as God’s plan, not only for the lost world, but for me. I need the church!
How can we be praying for you and your family as you go?
Pray for my wife and children. I’ll be very busy, and in many ways the transition will be easier for me. They, on the other hand, will feel the brunt of the culture shock. Also, pray for the move itself. This is a massive undertaking. We still need to sell our house, and secure one on the other side (we had a house rented out from under us in Zambia after making a trip to secure housing). And pray that the Lord uses us for his glory—that we invest well, and bear much fruit.