What does God want me to do with my life? This is likely the most common question asked by Christians the world over, and rightly so. Life is a gift from the Lord and we must steward it for His glory. Yet discovering direction in life can prove difficult, even for the most dedicated follower of Jesus. The word most associated with life direction is the word calling. Most people probably think of “going into the ministry” when they hear the word calling. While Christian ministry certainly is a calling, there is much more to calling than simply being a pastor or missionary. How does a person discover their own calling, and does a calling last a lifetime? This is what author Bill Norton discusses in his new book Sojourn on the Veld: A Call to Ministry, Machines, and Brotherhood in South Africa’s Age of Apartheid (Insight Press, 2022).

As can be ascertained from the title, Bill’s book is a memoir focused on his work a missionary in South Africa during apartheid. In the book, Bill briefly shares about his early life growing up in the American South. The remainder of the book recounts the two years he spent in South Africa in the late 1970’s as a missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru Ministries). Sojourn on the Veld is a first person narrative that enraptures the reader from page one. 

The main thrust of the book chronicles Bill’s experience on the mission field, utilizing his skills as engineer to assist a fledgling country in South Africa with government infrastructure. Yet it is also the story of God’s grace to supply what is needed to accomplish the mission where He calls. The short chapters allow the story to flow well, but they also set the pace for the short term nature of Bill’s missionary experience. He recounts the difficulty of learning a new language and engaging a different culture, as well as very personal aspects of mission work such as battling homesickness.

Three important aspects of the Christian life are conveyed in the book. The first, and most important truth conveyed through the book is necessity to be gripped by the message of the gospel before one can become a messenger of the gospel. Bill conveyed this beautifully in a quote in the first chapter. After growing up in church, he came to faith in college after a period of searching for truth. Not long after his conversion, Bill was working in a new job as an engineer. Yet all he could think about was Jesus. He states, “Behind me, the world of engineering thrashed about, but in my corner, I was surprised by an unexpected by-product of a heart opened to Jesus: spontaneous, unbridled joy” (pg. 10). This experience conveys the evidence of a life radically changed by the gospel.

Secondly, Bill discusses the importance of calling. Christian subculture often times makes calling seem like something that can be difficult to discover. Bill’s experience conveys the importance of discovering one’s calling, without making it impossible. He makes two observations about calling that can prove helpful to others. (1) Calling is an ordinary aspect of the Christian life, and (2) it must calculated carefully. Regarding the ordinary nature of calling he says, “My calling came as I living out the ordinary life that God had laid before me” (pg. 13-14). Too often Christians are tempted to over spiritualize calling. Yet more often a calling is discovered in ordinary ways while exercising one’s God given gifts and abilities. 

He then shares that calling must be carefully calculated. While having a passion to serve God and do His will are important aspects of calling, one must not rush into something based on passion alone. A person must weigh many aspects to calling including: opportunity, the need, wise counsel, and one’s gifts and abilities. Regarding this aspect of calling Bill states, “for me, it was more a calculated evaluation of a need and my ability to assist with this need” (pg. 15). Later the same chapter he says, “my call to serve God in missions started with an intersection of need, ability, and desire and was confirmed by counsel and, later, by circumstances” (pg. 19). He is spot on in that assessment of calling. Too often, with good intentions, Christians (particularly young Christians) rush into a “calling” without fully calculating the cost. Bill’s wise counsel regarding calling alone makes the book worth the purchase price.

Another important aspect of calling discussed in the book is the nature of calling. Oftentimes we tend to think that when a person is called to do something, they do it for a lifetime. There are certainly people who experience this type of calling. Yet many times a calling has an expiration date. Bill shares about his wrestling with this aspect of calling towards the end of the book as he considered extending his time on the mission field. In the end, he decided that the Lord was calling him back to Alabama to utilize his gifts as an engineer in the workplace.

Thirdly, Bill discusses the importance of Christian community. The essential nature of Christian community drips from almost every page of the book. Even the book’s subtitle reveals that Christian community is crucial to Christian mission. It was important for Bill and his team to form a brotherhood, so that they could complete the mission for which they had been sent halfway around the world to complete. Yet Christian community is not only crucial for those in missions work, it is vital for all followers of Jesus. In order to live the Christian life, we must be connected to other like-minded brothers and sisters who can encourage us to keep our eyes on Jesus. For this reason, it is crucial for followers of Jesus to be members in a local church. In that context, we find the community needed to live on mission together. 

The keen reader will also notice that Bill’s calling experience was not received in a vacuum. He received his call to missions in the context of his Christian community. This is an important point that should not be missed. Community is not only vital to serving in a missions context, one’s calling to missions must be worked out in the context of community as well. Sometimes, with good intentions, young people take a good idea (the desire to work in missions) and run with it, but skip the step of community. They want to go and change the world for Jesus. Yet not long into the experience they burn out. This experience could have been prevented, if their Christian community would have had the opportunity to confirm their gifts and calling. Bill’s story serves as an example to be followed for those seeking to serve the Lord in missions. 

Sojourn on the Veld is a wonderful memoir saturated with the grace of God. It is a must read for anyone considering a call to pastoral ministry or the mission field. Not only is Bill’s discussion regarding the nature of calling encouraging, it is a valuable resource for those considering their own calling. Sojourn on the Veld is an excellent resource for Christians who are curious about how to use their opportunities in the workplace as a launching pad for missions. Reading a first hand account from the mission field is an excellent resource for helping others “count the cost” as well. 

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