I vividly remember when I finally had to make the decision to abandon my career at the U.S. Department of Justice to become the first employee of a not-for-profit organization that didn’t yet actually exist called International Justice Mission. I had worked for three years with friends on the idea of IJM and was very excited, in theory, about this dream of following Jesus in the work of justice in the world. But then I had to actually act. I had to walk into the Department of Justice and turn in my badge. This was unsettling.
Accordingly, I tried to be both very brave and very safe. That is to say, I walked in and asked my bosses for a yearlong leave of absence. That way, if this whole not-for-profit thing didn’t work, I could get my job back. No harm done. Failing to see my unique value to the U.S. Department of Justice, however, my bosses politely declined.
Now, at the very threshold of all I had prayed and worked for, I was suddenly feeling very nervous. Indeed, the demand that I actually cut loose my career forced me to confront what I really believed about this adventure, and I had to confront my fears. What was I really afraid of? As I thought about it, I feared humiliation. If my little justice ministry idea didn’t work, no one was going to die. If IJM turned out to be a bad idea and collapsed, my kids weren’t going to starve. We’d probably just have to live with my parents for a while until I could find another job. The fact is, I would be terribly embarrassed. After having told everybody about my great idea, they would know that it was a bad idea or that I was a bad leader. Either way, it would be humiliating.
SO THERE IT was. My boundary of fear. I sensed God inviting me to an extraordinary adventure of service, but deep inside I was afraid of looking like a fool and a loser. This was actually very helpful to see, because it helped me get past it. When I am 50, do I really want to look back and say, “Yeah, I sensed that God was calling me to lead a movement to bring rescue to people who desperately need an advocate in the world, but I was afraid of getting embarrassed and so I never even tried”? Putting it so starkly was empowering. That wasn’t who I wanted to be, and it wasn’t who I had to be. If Jesus was extending the invitation, my job was to seize it; it was his job to make it succeed, or not. I could let Jesus be the deciding factor, not my fear.
This is the journey I have seen time and again in the struggle for justice. Fear is normal, even among the earnest and devout, and it can be overcome. But first we must see the opportunity it provides—a revelation that only comes as we step to the precipice of action.
Excerpted from Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, by Gary Haugen, with permission from InterVarsity Press. Copyright 2008.