During my sophomore year of college, I knew God wanted me to tell my sorority sisters about Jesus, but I wanted to lead a small group of freshmen. To lead a bible study with my sorority sisters felt risky, but the freshmen study felt Godly. The freshmen ministry was established. Women signed up for that. It was safe. Yet, Jesus said, “Go to your sisters.”
The summer after my junior year, I was arguing with God about being called into full-time ministry. I asked, "Do I have to do ministry with fraternity and sorority students?" During the time, I was in the Middle East, volunteering with a student ministry. I loved the Middle Eastern people. When I told people about Jesus, my Arab friends heard it like it was good news that they had never heard before. I begged God to call me into ministry in the Arab world. But God said, “No go home, go to your people.”
Throughout my journey with Jesus, I’ve continually asked Jesus, let’s go somewhere else. Even now, I pray that Jesus will take my little family overseas. And time after time, Jesus says, “Follow me, to your people.”
When Jesus told Levi to follow him, he led Levi back to his house. They ate with Levi’s friends – the other tax collectors and sinners. I wonder if Levi argued with Jesus? I imagine that Levi said, I’m a new man Jesus, let’s go hang out with your friends. Let’s spend time with the disciples and the other religious people.
And yet, Jesus led him back home. Back to his people. The very people who would see through any façade of perfection that Levi wanted to wear. They are the people that not only knew who he used to be. Going home is risky because our family knows us. Our friends know how far we’ve strayed from God. They know when we are faking. It’s so easy to fall back into old patterns because at home those same triggers haunt us. Despite that, Jesus asks us to follow him home. Back to our own house. He invites us to grab our friends, our family, the ones who know and love us and to share Jesus' love with them.
He leads us home because he genuinely loves us. If we can follow Jesus home, we can see his kingdom come to the people that look like us, so that we can fully see ourselves as part of God’s kingdom.
When Levi saw other tax collectors and sinners follow Jesus, he got to see that God’s kingdom is for people like him. He wasn’t an exception that lucked into the kingdom of God. Levi was a child of God, whom Jesus' pursued. My first couple years on staff with InterVarsity, I was learning about racial reconciliation. I was frustrated with "my people" because they didn’t get it. Living in the South, I see systematic racism all around me. I know how the chains of that racism impact both people of color and white people in our region. I see the ways that I have contributed to that racism.
And it frustrated me that people that looked like me, talked like me and shared my story, didn’t see that the gospel was a gospel of reconciliation. Several times, I begged God to let me go somewhere else. If I had to live in Athens, maybe I could at least teach about reconciliation somewhere else. And his response was no. Go home, your friends, family, and your people - white southerners - need to know that the gospel is a gospel of reconciliation. They need to have the chains of racism lifted. Fearfully, I began to teach my students that Jesus loved all people and engaged in hard conversations about racism and bigotry. As Jesus transformed my students’ hearts – the students who like me, had accents like me and stories like mine – I began to see that my redemption was not a fluke, because Jesus wants his kingdom to come fully to my home too. Jesus’ death on the cross was big enough to wash away the stain of racism that stained the collective history of my people. That realization allowed me to see my whole self as redeemed.
Jesus also wants us to go back home because he wants our friends and family to know him. Because our stories mirror our friends and family’s stories, when we go home, we can introduce our friends to the gospel in a new way. Many of the people who accepted Levi’s invitation to dinner, accepted because they trusted Levi. Like Levi, when I told my sorority sisters about God, they could hear me because they trusted me. Many of my sisters would come to conferences, bible studies, and other Christian events because they loved me. Jesus asks us to follow him home because he desperately wants our friends and family to follow him. Our friends and family's love for us opens the door for them to meet Jesus.
We are all called to go to the ends of the Earth, to share the good news. But we are also invited to go home and introduce our friends and family to Jesus. When we go home, our friends and family can hear the gospel, because they know us. And as scary as it is to go home, seeing God’s kingdom at home draws us closer to Jesus.