Odessa is unlike any of the other cities I’ve lived in In Odessa, a remarkable number of people feel “out of place,” like they don’t really belong here. Some are born and raised in Odessa, and they can’t wait to “get out.” Others have been transplanted to Odessa, often for work, and they can’t wait to “go home.” I regularly find myself thinking about the fact that almost everyone in Odessa has an exit plan for how they intend to get out of Odessa.
I’ve lived in Odessa for seven years, and I think this widespread feeling of not belonging is very unfortunate, especially for those of us who claim to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, Christians are people who believe in the sovereignty of God, and Christians are people who believe God has called his people to live on mission wherever he sends them.
We talked about these truths recently at Immanuel, the church I pastor. We have been studying the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and a few weeks ago we came to Jeremiah 29:1-14. This passage is a letter written by Jeremiah the exiles who had been forcibly taken from Jerusalem and resettled in Babylon. These exiles desperately wanted to “get out” of Babylon and “go home” to Jerusalem. They were prone to listen to false prophets who tickled their ears with promises of a quick end to their exile.
Jeremiah knew better. He knew the exile would last 70 years, and he didn’t want God’s people to waste their time in Babylon. To that end, Jeremiah reminded the people that God was sovereign, that God was in control, and that God was the one who had sent them to Babylon. Yes, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and carried the exiles back to Babylon, but ultimately it was the LORD of hosts, the sovereign God who sent his people into exile (Jeremiah 29:4, 7, 14).
Additionally, speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD commanded his people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:7) This was a call for God’s people to live on mission even while they were exiled in Babylon. God told his people to build houses and plant gardens, to get married and have kids (Jeremiah 29:5). With some sanctified imagination, we might hear God telling his people to coach little-league, to serve on the PTO, the join to Rotary club, to volunteer at the local mission. Essentially, God told his people to stop mourning about their current city of residence and to live on mission for his glory.
I think Christians in Odessa need to hear this word from God to a group of people who truly felt like they were out of place. We need to remember that if the sovereignty of God ruled over the exile of his people to Babylon, then the sovereignty of God rules over our current residence in Odessa. We do belong here because God has placed us here. Furthermore, we need to stop mourning our location and planning our exit, and we need to start living on mission right here and right now.
Christian, I’m not asking you to get the warm-fuzzies about Odessa, and I don’t expect you to live in Odessa for the rest of your life. However, if you live in Odessa today it’s because God sovereignly determined that you would be here for a season (Acts 17:26). You can grumble and complain and mourn about all the things you don’t like about Odessa, or you can trust in the sovereignty of God and live as a missionary right here and right now. The decision is yours: mourner or missionary?