A Letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington, serving in Zambia
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I (Sherri) am still not sure what I want to be when I grow up.
In some ways, this can feel like an embarrassing confession for my middle-aged self to be making, that I still am not clear about the specifics of my own professional path, even as I work with young adults discerning their callings and have two young adult sons pursuing and preparing for their own futures. But the truth is, I don’t know. So far, I’m still basically a generalist. Like Dustin, I sense a calling to Christian mission, but unlike Dustin and much of the adult world, I haven’t (yet) sensed a long-term call to a particular type of work.
Often, I feel I would have liked to find a career ladder set before me, labeled “Sherri,” set out for me to climb. I know I would have climbed it steadily, diligently, at a good pace— probably at times too competitively. I can even imagine several possibilities of what that ladder might have been. But for some reason, despite seasons of focused prayer on the topic of my calling and career, I’ve always come up with generalities, not specifics, or with specifics for a next step to take, but without a clear overarching call to accompany it.
In some ways, though, having only a general career calling has made me flexible, open, and available to a wider range of involvements. Even the job title, Team Ministry, that I’ve had for most of the 16 years we’ve been in mission service is something I’ve come to cherish. Particularly when our children were young, it looked like language and cultural learning and helping the family adjust to life in a foreign country. It has looked like bookkeeping, helping keep up an old mission building and providing for its workers out of a more than 100-year-old steel safe in the thick of Cairo. It has looked like a year teaching teenagers history in a Christian school overseas when the expected teacher was unable to show up. It has looked like offering English grammar refresher courses to first-year seminary students in Zambia. It has looked like hospitality. It has looked like relationships. It has looked like Bible studies and small groups. It has looked like editing and proofreading scholarly papers and journals. It has looked like prayer. In two different countries, it has looked like being available to step in and help with a Young Adult Volunteer program site that needed an extra hand. It eventually looked like taking on coordinating one of those YAV sites in a more permanent way.
Maybe the reason I haven’t found a ladder set before me is that I’m not meant to be climbing one – at least not until God tells me which one, and it is possible that God might never do so.
I might be called primarily to seek God, be close to God, be alert to God’s nudges and obey them, whether that means baking a pie or cookies, turning my prayers a particular direction, teaching a seminar on personal finance, reading, and learning and praying about racial pain in our world, supporting someone in a note or conversation, or taking on a more official area of ministry for a time.
On my birthday this year, I came across some words that underscore the potential impact of small acts done with a heart inclined toward God:
Saint John of the Cross believed that a small act of pure love is more useful to the Church than all the other works combined. What is born of prayer and not from the presumption of our ego, what is purified by humility, even if it is a hidden and silent act of love, is the greatest miracle that a Christian can perform.
Pope Francis, weekly address May 5, 2021
These words encourage me in my continued unknowing of what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe it’s less important to discover one specific vocation than to lean my heart into God’s own heart and discover what God wants me to do in this moment or in the course of this day.
I do fully believe God calls some people to particular occupations as their vocations. I’m thankful for every doctor, pastor, therapist, teacher, author, gardener and businessperson, who has heard God’s call to their profession, developed their skills diligently over many years and risen to a level of divinely inspired excellence. I would love to be one of these people someday.
But meanwhile, I hope that I will not discount – nor will any of us – the opportunity to journey daily with God, listening for his voice in the moment, whispering in our ear saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)
Thank you for your prayers and support of us over so many years, enabling Dustin to serve in his work as a New Testament seminary professor, training Christian leaders with our overseas partners and me to do … many things! To give to our sending and support account through Presbyterian World Mission, click here.
Your partners in Christ,
Sherri (and Dustin) Ellington
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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Tags: Matthew 25, religious calling, spiritual direction, team ministry, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs)
Tags: Dustin and Sherri Ellington
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