Mission Musings: How I Got Here

Al Tizon, executive minister of Serve Globally

In my role as executive minister of Serve Globally, people often ask me how I got into missions. I answer this question differently depending on who’s asking, but my response usually includes the following elements in some form.

God saved me.

I had a dramatic Damascus Road moment a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday. With intense drug use, parties, vain philosophies (including a self-made religion), and chaos-induced depression, I knew where I was headed. But God in Christ saw fit to yank me out of the mire of my own doing and set me on a radically different life course. It has not been a perfect, conflict-free journey—not even close. But I’ve been grateful ever since that moment. I got into missions to say thank you. Plus, how can I not tell others the source of this incredible freedom—the gospel of the kingdom of God—which I knew wasn’t just for me?

God woke me up.

For the first few years of my Christian journey, I walked on clouds. I was enjoying a new set of friends, a new way to think and behave. The evangelism I did was inviting others to walk on clouds with me. But deep down, I knew something was amiss. Before I became a Christian, I was on a crusade to save the environment and eliminate poverty. But the ethos of my new community discouraged these things. Any energy I expended, the ethos dictated, should be to save lost souls. But attending only to souls made my own soul restless.

The truth of the mustard seed showed me that changing the world is possible. So I got off the couch!

At some point in college, I began to peer through the clouds, and what I saw broke my heart. As the Spirit led my descent into the world of the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the marginalized, I saw Jesus among them (Matthew 25). My senses began to become attuned to the desperately needy, and my middle-class, upwardly mobile, suburban pursuit of the American dream was dashed forever in favor of a life of holistic mission.

God woke me up, part 2.

I woke up to another truth a few years into engaging in holistic mission—namely, an unevenness of power and privilege (read: injustice). It came into sharp focus, ironically enough, in the 1990s while I was serving as a missionary in my homeland of the Philippines.

As a historically colonized people, many Filipinos, I began to discover, think very highly of foreigners, especially Americans, at their own expense. For example, when I was with white fellow missionaries, they were given seats of honor while I was often passed over (not that I wanted the seats of honor, but why them and not me?). My white wife could walk right past security guards at the entrance of a bank or a mall, whereas I was stopped and searched without fail. I would take white visitors to dinner, and the waiter would hand the dinner check afterward to one of them. Such incidents of brown-on-brown racism mark the beginning of justice consciousness in me. God woke me up to social inequities, and I saw that God has invited us to be part of righting the world in the service of the oppressed.

God energized me.

Lastly, I felt a surge of energy that came from God to do mission. God energized me to change the world—not by giving me superpowers but by igniting me in the Spirit to turn my faith into small, doable actions in the service of the lost and the poor. God energized me with mustard seed faith. The truth of the mustard seed showed me that changing the world is possible. So I got off the couch! I ran across a saying that should hang on the wall of every world-changer: “Everyone wants a revolution,” it says, “but no one wants to do the dishes.”

God saved me. God woke me up. Twice. And God energized me to do my part. How about you? How is God moving in your life?

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  1. Thank you for sharing your journey of faith and your interest in missions.
    It’s good to know you a little better and hope to meet you soon. Lois Carlson Bridges

  2. Thanks Al

    Although my journey into ministry was much different…there were many similarities.

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