Not My Own

not my own

“I am not my own. I am bought with a price.” The woman recited the words quietly, without power of voice or presence. A petite, white-haired woman in a simple polyester dress, she spoke simply and matter-of-factly as she told the small youth group her story. 

Although I had read many stories of cross-cultural workers, she was one of the first I had heard give her story in person. Her name was Orlena Boyle, and she spent almost 50 years serving overseas, first in China and then Japan. In my teen years, she lived in our denomination’s retirement home, and thus became a part of my congregation. The youth group leaders had invited her to give her testimony to us, the youth group. Of all that she said that evening, I simply remember her paraphrasing of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “I am not my own. I am bought with a price.” 

More than any other words of Scripture, those statements of Paul’s, recited by Orlena, has reverberated through my life. As a teenager, hearing them for the first time, they felt like the fitting stamp on my already formed cross-cultural ministry desires. 

The first time it echoed in my mind and heart, I was sixteen and dating my first boyfriend. I was, I knew, pursuing my own desires — not directly rebelling or disobeying, but nonetheless, I made my decisions selfishly. In the midst of that relationship, Paul’s words cut through my self-satisfaction. If I was not my own, how could I live as if I were? 

When the words echoed again, I was about to begin my freshman year of college. At our denomination’s international conference, one of the speakers took a few moments of his sermon to speak directly to the young people. Think of the church, he said, when you graduate. Don’t think only of where the best jobs are, of your own career goals. Instead, make Christ’s body your priority: where can you go to best serve the church? I am not my own. I am bought with a price. 

That evening, the speaker invited the young people to gather with him. I went with many others, including one who would become my husband a few years later. We talked more about what he was asking of us, and eventually many of us — most? I don’t remember now — committed to pursuing the good of the church before our own good. I am not my own. I am bought with a price. 

Over ten years passed. Paul’s words remained muted, becoming audible only on the rare occasions I was asked to give my testimony, and reflection brought them to mind. 

And then, one Sunday after church, I sat in the passenger seat of my mother-in-law’s van, next to my husband. After we entered the highway, heading back to his mom’s house where we were spending our Christmas holidays, he looked over at me. I knew without any words that he was thinking about the ministry update we had heard that morning: of the description of the work his childhood friends were doing in Melbourne, Australia, and their call to others to come join them. 

“No no no no no!” I exclaimed immediately. “I know what you’re thinking!” 

“Well,” he said, grinning. “We should at least pray about it.” 

In a few short months, all my solid expectations and hopes about my life’s direction shifted to a place of uncertainty. I am not my own. I am bought with a price. The claims of that reality forced me to take my expectations and hopes to the altar, and offer them up to the Lord. In the discernment process of moving here, I was forced to reckon with that verse in a way I had not before. I could not claim to belong to God while refusing to obey him. I couldn’t claim to be redeemed by him only to continue living as a slave to my own desires for happiness, security and predictability. 

Since then, Paul’s words have come to my mind frequently. Without them, our decision to move here seems arbitrary and not fully understandable. Why on earth could we leave a good, happy life in a town and church we loved for a strange place with no family? For me, the answer becomes clearer when I remember that, like Paul, I am not my own. Despite the current obsession with identity creation, the identity of a Christian is given, not curated. Receiving the gift of an identity as a child of God, redeemed and beloved, means that everything else we seek to become must be first grounded in that identity. If not, we are only mimicking the builders of Babel, arrogantly seeking to make a name for ourselves. I am bought with a price. My redemption was bought with the precious blood of the Son of God. How can I give anything less than my whole self?

What verse(s) have given a foundation for your own cross-cultural ministry?

4 Comments

  1. Michele January 13, 2020

    I love this- the story and the reminder. I think “I am not my own” could be my theme for this year. It just fits where I’m at right now in kind of re-learning to lay down everything again.

    The Scripture that has been my theme since I arrived in Asia in `1997 is John 15- the whole chapter, but mostly the idea the command to abide in Jesus. I remember how it struck me one day that bearing fruit (which is what we all long for and dream about when we come, I think) is not a command, but a promise for those who obey the command to abide in the Vine. He has brought me back to that over and over and over again and taken it deeper over the years. It’s good for me to remember that again today as I spend time in my first (of three) Asian fields with friends I have loved dearly, shared the Gospel with in different ways at different times, who still resist it- Where is the ‘fruit’ of those ten years (plus the visits and prayers in the 12 years since I left)? I have to remember to evaluate whether or not I’m abiding, and trust that there is and will be fruit if I have been, whether I see it or not, whether it’s the fruit I have longed to see or not.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2020

      Michele, thank you for sharing this! I’ve wrestled with that passage in different seasons, and put a lot of pressure on myself to bear fruit. I love what you said about a promise for those who obey the command to abide, and identify with your thoughts about trusting the Father for fruit. Asking for that along with you for these precious friends!

  2. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2020

    Laura, thank you for sharing this story! I love the long-lasting impact the words of this veteran worker had on your life, and the ways the Father has used that Scripture in so many different seasons. I feel like I need to keep reflecting on all you shared. 🙂

    One of the passages that impacted my cross-cultural work was Isaiah 62- really the whole chapter, but particularly verses 1-4. It was the burden of my heart before going to Cambodia- for the nations surrounding this little country to see God’s righteousness in her, like a river overflowing its banks. For the people of Cambodia to know that the Lord delights in them, and that He wants them as His bride. These verses became my desperate prayer through some of the hardest seasons there, and it is still the foundation for what I pray for that country.

    1. Laura Cerbus January 14, 2020

      Sarah, I love the image from that Isaiah 62 passage, and that you used God’s own words to ground your prayers for Cambodia! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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