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So send I you

February 21, 2008


Doug and Liz Searles - China

"You don't know the first thing about tomorrow. You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. . . . make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that."   James 4:14-15 (MSG)

Summer 2007, in Chengdu, China, we Searles boxed up our belongings, tried to say our goodbyes well, locked behind us the door of our home of six years, and boarded the plane for the U.S.  Since then, we have been on home assignment doing what's known in mission circles as "itineration"-sharing the good news of the work of Common Global Ministries in China and the world.

We call this time "home assignment," yet we often wonder: "Which place really is our home-China or the U.S.?"  Since summer, "home" has been where our car is and where people gather to hear us speak in Iowa, the Dakotas and Washington State.  Since July, "Toto Toyota" has carried us over 24,000 miles, and to scores of churches.  We have been a traveling family, home schooling Mick (15) in the back seat, and staying with a new host in a new town almost every night.  We've made many new friends, reconnected with American culture, and piled up our plates at myriad church potlucks.

The "assignment" part of "home assignment" is to share the fruits of our labor-to "put a face on missions."  Yet from a missionary's perspective, itineration helps "put a face on sending."  You-the people whose giving makes outreach possible-are the first to respond when God says: "So send I you."  Without your discernment and sacrifice, sending and serving can't happen.  To us, home assignment itineration is a way to celebrate the "first responders"-the people in the U.S. who make international Christian outreach possible-and to help bridge world divides to forge a circle of hope.

For a people who seek to be God's hands in the world, sending is a decision no less profound and spiritual than the decision to leave home and family and step out beyond comfortable borders.  Sending requires no less prayerful discernment than any other spiritual call.  Commonly, we accept that missionaries dedicate their lives to service, step out in faith and trust and obey.  Less commonly do we celebrate the radical faith and obedience of those who dedicate their lives to the sending.  Both the sender and the sent step out in faith to answer God's call.  Both dedicate to God the fruits of their labor.

Our labor in the U.S. is itineration, and we hope it bears fruit.  Mile by mile, the rootlessness of itinerating and the homelessness of home assignment remind us that we really are the "wisps of fog" in James 4:14.  We visit your churches to shine in a "brief bit of sun before disappearing" and knowing little about tomorrow.  We travel in the trust that God and our faithful itineration planners already have prepared the way for us.  We lean and depend upon the hospitality of strangers.  Echoing James, as we make our way this snowy winter, we try to say: "If it's God's will and we're still alive, we'll do this or that."  Our future is uncertain.

Our prayer for these months is that we may connect the senders (you) with the sent (us) with the served in China, completing a circle of prayer and hope that has God and the needs of God's world at its center.  Completing this circle of hope gives us the opportunity to celebrate those of you who have answered God's call by sending and nurturing missionaries.   We feel the work of itineration is important in measures equal to the work we do in China.

What will happen next for our family as we seek a new call is certainly in God's hands.  Yet the future of ongoing service in China, the U.S. and the world is just as certainly in the giving hands that forge the circle of hope that is Common Global Ministries.

At this critical moment in U.S. and Christian history, God calls each one of us to the spiritual discipline of discernment-senders and sent.  Never has the need been greater to re-assemble and resemble the body of Christ in a broken world, to forge the circle of hope.  At the end of the day, believers recognize that we "wisps of fog" really only and ultimately find our sparkling moments in the shining sun when we turn over all that we have and are to God's healing work in the world, stepping up with open hands to complete the circle of hope.

During our itineration, we can't visit everyone who has made our work possible, so we'd like to give thanks for you now.  In China, we have been known as the "Xie" family--"Xie Lisa" (Elizabeth), "Xie De" (Douglas), "Xie Mahn" (Mackenzie), and "Xie Ming" (McCleary).  Saying our family name twice--:"Xie Xie"--communicates: "thank you."  So we are the "Thank you" family, itinerant missionaries on home assignment, traveling to share what you who called and sent us have made possible, and traveling to "put a face on missions" and to greet the "face of sending."

"So send I you."  It's been your call and your response as much it has been ours.  And now, as we seek a new assignment and a new home, we hope you can hear the itinerant family Searles giving each of you a rousing "Xie Xie !!"--Thank you !!-as Toto Toyota heads out for the next town.

Ever in God's grip,
The Searles, now in the U.S.:  Doug, Liz, Mackenzie & Mick

Doug and Elizabeth Searles work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China.  They both serve as English teachers.

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