I’ve always enjoyed the country. I grew up in a fairly small town in South Carolina that had three stoplights within the city limits. It was nothing of a big city. My grandparents owned 100 acres of farmland in middle Tennessee with a few cattle. We used to visit there every summer. I loved riding the tractor, walking up and down the hills. Open spaces give my mind room to think and my soul room to breathe.
I remember a time when I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 when I was playing in the front room of my childhood home. We had a couple of formal sitting chairs that were raised just high enough off the floor for a young boy to crawl under. Up until that age, I could fit under them easily, but this one time, I got stuck. I was wedged between the floor and the chair with my head and upper body directly beneath the chair and my legs sticking out. I remember feeling trapped, and I got very nervous. I began to panic and wriggled and squirmed until my head was finally free and I squeezed my way out. I never crawled under any furniture after that. Since then, I’ve been just slightly claustrophobic.
This week, I will complete my thirteenth month in the country of Iraq. I’ve been back to the States only twice since June of 2011. In my current situation, I live in the same building where I work. I am confined to the area close to my house/office most days. If I want to leave, I have to schedule it with my local colleagues and they have to approve of the location. I live in what some have called a “golden prison”. It’s golden because all of my meals are prepared for me. If I need something from the market, I put it on a list and my Iraqi colleagues get it for me. It’s a prison because I don’t leave the house unless it is necessary, or very safe for me to do so. These occasions are rare. All of my physical needs are met. And I am totally stuck. Even if I have the chance to go out, I can’t speak English while I’m out. I stick out like a sore thumb and if the wrong people see me, I might never come back. Some days I feel like I’m under house arrest. And while this is true physically, it seems even more true spiritually. I love meeting new people and I get to do this quite a bit, but I also love deep conversation, and I don’t get enough of this. I like to engage people’s minds and steer them towards truth. As a matter of fact this is my life’s calling. In Iraq however, I don’t get to do this enough to sustain my spiritual need.
I think there’s a correlation between my physical claustrophobia and my spiritual well being. Most days, my house arrest is more than just physical. I feel like I’m trapped in a spiritual prison, with nowhere to go. I don’t get the chance to do ministry like I did in the States a year ago. I don’t have the chance to go to my church and fellowship with others on a regular basis. If I’m going to have an influence on people, I have to do it between 9 and 5 among the people who come to me.
The Apostle Paul was in a situation not unlike mine, and I’ve noticed something spectacular about his life while under house arrest: he never stopped doing God’s work. I know Paul had sleepless nights, because I’ve had them. I know he also had days where he didn’t want to do anything but sleep, because I’ve had them. I know the Apostle Paul cried out to God and asked him to deliver him from his situation, because I’ve done it. I am hardly the man that Paul was, and if I am struggling in my prison, I’m sure Paul was struggling in his. Yet, Paul remained faithful to his calling, and he continued the work that he was called to.
It’s been sixteen years since I committed to following Jesus wherever he called me, even if that means staying in one place and having to get creative as to how I carry out his work. This was the case for Paul. He knew he was going to be confined to his home, and he may not have known how long it would last. Yet, his commitment to Christ didn’t stop. He had to find new ways of fulfilling his calling, and doing God’s work. I’ve learned to accept the fact that, sometimes this is exactly where God has me. I’ve had to it the hard way this past year, but I’ve learned it nonetheless. While at IMPACT 360, God opened my eyes to the world He created. I never dreamt that He would put me under house arrest. If I can learn anything from the life of the Apostle Paul, it’s to remember my commitment to Jesus, and find ways of keeping it.