The Choice A Missionary Makes
When Dawit Bokre was thirteen, he was living in Eritrea, East Africa. The boy had lost both his parents. Even though he spoke no English, his older brothers and sisters decided it would be best for him to go to America. He would live with a brother who had already emigrated to Boston. What if that were you? Imagine what it would have been like, a teenager, suddenly planted in a world you knew little about, whose language was a puzzle. Dawit was giving up everything. Why? For what?
Dawit and his family had been integral parts of the Lutheran Church in Eritrea, a church with more members than any US Lutheran denomination, on a continent that has more Lutherans than North America. Dawit would have to be led, like Jesus in the wilderness, by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). And what a journey it would turn out to be.
Intelligent, resourceful, Dawit learned English, and graduated from high school. It was then that the Lord presented an important choice to the now seventeen year old immigrant. Not only had the Spirit led Dawit across an ocean, now he was called as an evangelist, half a continent away in Texas. It was a daunting choice to make for anyone, let alone a seventeen year old.
An older friend from Eritrea, now in Houston, Texas, had summoned Dawit to a ministry as an evangelist to help begin new mission. Dawit chose to forgo college and enter a life of sharing Jesus in Houston. To support himself he worked odd jobs. After two years, the Spirit said “Enough. You are ready.” A group of Eritreans in the Oakland Bay area of California needed a worship leader: “Dawitt, will you come be our pastor?” This required another half continent move, and another sacrifice of friends, of home, of work. It is a choice missionaries often have to make – to leave behind everything familiar to them and put themselves in the hands of God. What did the Lord have in mind. Was it worth it?
“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)
Guided by the Spirit, nineteen year old Dawit Bokre arrived in Oakland to find a passionate but small group of Eritreans, eager to form a church to worship and to serve Jesus. Of course, the group was too small to pay much. No matter. Dawit again found work where he could, finally ending up working in a warehouse. The budding mission was provided a venue for worship at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Hayward. The senior pastor was eager to have these African Lutherans be a part of the Anglo church’s ministry. One cultural difference between African and American Christians is their passion for sharing their love for God. The Africans do not know how to be silent about their faith in Jesus.
Dawit decided to enter a distance education program sponsored by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It was not an easy choice. Working as an intern under the pastor of Good Shepherd, and with increased responsibilities at the warehouse, trying to pastor an energetic and growing church, it took Dawit five years to complete the program.
As the Anglo population declined in the Hayward community, immigrants were taking their place. Not just Eritreans, but other Africans, and Asians and Hispanics. Many of these were young, 1.5 and second generation immigrants, just the group to relate to a now twenty-something immigrant missionary: a pool of potential disciples right at Dawit’s doorstep. It was apparent why the Lord had chosen to bring Dawit to America. You could say it was a match made in heaven.
Dawit became part of the management team at his “other” job; he was making a lot more money at the warehouse, and had responsibility for eight hundred employees. He now had the income he needed to support himself and his new wife, another immigrant from Eritrea. They had a good life. That’s when another choice had to be made. You see, as the Anglo church was declining, the Eritrean church was growing. Plus, there was an opportunity to begin an English ministry with the 1.5 and second generation young immigrants taking the places of the Anglos in Hayward. Dawit could not work at the growing church and at the warehouse.
The lay leaders of the Eritrean church, concerned for his well being and the health of the congregation, told him he had to decide: work at the warehouse or minister at the church. Dawit Bokre chose to leave his position at the warehouse to devote himself full time to reaching a kaleidoscope of immigrants, young and old, rich and poor. He made that choice with a passion that reflected the love of his Lord.
Dawit made many choices, but the most important choice wasn’t his. God chose Dawit to be a missionary in America. Dawit then followed the Spirit of Jesus from Africa, to Boston, to Houston and now Hayward. Maybe another door will open, another opportunity to bring God’s love to hurting people. If that happens, Dawit Bokre will have another choice to make. He will make that choice, as all missionaries do, with the confidence that God had chosen him, and that God’s Holy Spirit would guide him to accomplish His will. That is the missionary’s choice.
“And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)