I clearly remember my first time visiting Japan. It was my first time flying across an ocean. It was my first time surrounded and immersed in a new culture and language. It was my first time witnessing architecture and traditions that were thousands of years old as opposed to a couple hundred at most. Most importantly, however, it was my first time sensing God’s call on my life to mission. During this first brief excursion to Japan with my high school, we spent one day visiting Hiroshima with the primary purpose of visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, or as it is more commonly known, the Atom Bomb Museum. It was an extremely difficult and emotional day. In the midst of the distress and sorrow that I was feeling from witnessing the exhibits, I heard God’s unmistakable call: “Go and serve My people in Japan.”
At the time, I didn’t fully understand how greatly those words would impact the direction of my life. Over the course of the next few years, I came to discern that I sensed God calling me to long-term missions in Japan specifically. This new revelation about my calling came after I finished Multiply’s TREK program, after serving in Japan for seven months. Roughly three years and one global pandemic later, I’m now one of the many participants in Multiply’s FOCUS Internship program. This has left me and others with a question, however: why FOCUS Internship?
The FOCUS Internship program is an opportunity for those sensing a call to mission to discern that calling through eight weeks of discipleship training, followed by six months of assignment locally or abroad. The program is also unique in that for those who discern that long-term mission in their given location is indeed the next step, they can launch straight into preparation for long-term ministry without too many additional steps. But why choose this program? There are plenty of other reputable mission agencies that operate in Canada and around the world that I or any of the other FOCUS participants could have applied for. So why did we choose FOCUS?
The first and foremost reason, for myself and others, is that God called us, opened the doors, and every participant answered that call and walked through that proverbial door. Rick Sawatzky, a participant from Winkler, Man., put it like this: “‘These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David… See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.’ (Revelation 3:7b-3:8a). We prayed for guidance for the future, and he opened doors to [FOCUS].” In hindsight, another critical reason we chose FOCUS would be the training environment, and more specifically, the wide and diverse range of perspectives that would be teaching us as participants. Lloyd Letkeman, Mission Mobilizer for Multiply’s Central Canada office, had this to say about why he was involved with FOCUS: “[FOCUS is] an opportunity to be discipled by the Nations and develop a heart for those who are not experiencing Jesus’ shalom.”
This “being discipled by the nations” is more than just a nice-sounding, mission-minded phrase designed to capture what FOCUS training is on a postcard. I recall in 2019, when I was enlisting in the TREK program that Carol Letkeman, Short-Term Mission Mobilizer for North America, said that TREK training was two months of, “intense discipleship training, like a spiritual incubator.” Those words were true about TREK training and even more so about FOCUS. For FOCUS training, we as participants received teaching from every member of Multiply’s global leadership team, each representing a different region around the world where Multiply operates. This included gifted and passionate teachers/leaders representing Canada & the United States, Latin America, Europe & Central Asia, North Africa & the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa (ex. Uganda, Burundi), South Asia, Southeast Asia (ex. Thailand), and East Asia (ex. Japan, Philippines). This diverse range of perspectives and teaching was highly welcome and life-giving for all of us as participants. It was also extremely stretching. Bea Kehler, a participant from Asunción, Paraguay, had this to say regarding the training months: “FOCUS for me is an experience in which I learn[ed] how to serve and love God as a community. It [has] stretched my concept of loving others the way Jesus loves them.”
This isn’t the only way that we were stretched and encouraged. One of the most life-giving, encouraging, and exciting teachings that had a unanimous impact on us was when Nasser al’Qahtani, lead team member for North Africa and the Middle East, came to speak with us. He taught us about what it looks like to read through Scripture with a Middle Eastern lens. This was exceptionally powerful, not only because it shone a light on how the Middle Eastern people who originally received scripture would have read it, but it also revealed to us how the people we would be partnering with for our assignments would likely read/interpret scripture. We were stunned by the time our week with Nasser was over, and I likened the experience to Luke 24:45, where “[Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Another powerful and challenging experience came from Doug Penner, Multiply’s Director of Global Mission.
Doug taught us about the Kingdom of God through the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-9. He taught very poignantly that in order to avoid falling outside of the Kingdom, we need to surrender control of whatever task or ministry in the ,Kingdom we’ve been given and admit that those ministries are in fact God’s, not ours. He’s the one who does the work; they’re His ministries, and we’re just partnering alongside Him. We were also reminded of how there are four primary ways that people enter into the Kingdom, and he connected each one with a different type of soil as described in the parable. He reminded us of our empowerment in Jesus and the Holy Spirit to heal the sick, cast out demons, and to love one another in the Spirit, and left space and opportunity for us to practice these things.
Surrender also played a huge role in the stretching and encouraging process for us as FOCUS participants. For myself, this was perhaps the most painful, impactful, and freeing process of the entire training period. One of the tensions I brought into training was my calling to Japan. It was well known to both myself and to Lloyd and Carol that I was called to Japan for the long term. In fact, returning to Japan was an assignment option for me when Carol initially sent the invitation to consider the FOCUS Internship program. However, through careful discernment, I elected to remain in Winnipeg, serving locally for the assignment phase of the program. This was well and good; however, within the first week of training, the tension between my longterm calling to Japan as my spiritual ‘endgame’ and the immediate calling for me to stay and serve in Winnipeg became palpable. This tension was accentuated some, perhaps due to the fact that the vast majority of the participants were traveling overseas, and I was inevitably going to be ‘left behind’ to serve on the homefront.
The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in me, however. Over the course of training, I kept hearing similar if not the same story of calling from multiple Multiply personnel across Canada and serving worldwide. The first version of this narrative that I heard was told by Doug Heidebrecht about how he and his wife Sherry were called to South Asia. Initially, Sherry had gone on a short-term trip with a group of students and returned to Doug, stating boldly, “We’re going to [South Asia]!” Doug then explained that it would be another ten years before they actually landed in South Asia. He was quick to point out however that the waiting period was so critical in preparing them for ministry that they wouldn’t have been ready to go to South Asia if they had left immediately. I heard a similar version of the story from others serving with Multiply, and it was a really hard pill that I was stubbornly refusing to swallow. The idea of surrendering a calling that I knew was from God was extremely hard for me to grapple with. However, over the course of training, I was led to give that calling back to Jesus until the time was right, when he would call me to go back to Japan. That was not easy to relinquish control of, and it was spiritually painful to do so. Japan holds a very special place in my heart now and always. However, the surrender of that calling until the proper time was extremely freeing and released me to become excited and focus on the mission right before me, which is here in Winnipeg.
My story about surrender and being stretched is just one of eighteen. If you were to talk to any of the other members of our FOCUS family (for that is what we have become), they would all have equally powerful stories about how the training period was so formative. Not only was it encouraging and sound discipleship for the practicalities of living on mission, but it also played (and is still playing as we are all now in the assignment phase) such a vital role in all of our discernment journeys with God and long-term mission. FOCUS’s role in our spiritual journeys and understanding our identities has been invaluable. As stated by Lindsay Wieler, another participant, “FOCUS has given me the chance to dive deeper in faith while being surrounded by a community that encouraged me to grow. It allowed me to learn more about who God is, who I am in Him, and the ways He’s at work in the world.” For these reasons and a plethora of others, the FOCUS program comes with strong recommendation for anyone sensing and discerning the call to long-term mission.