Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When God Says No

South Sudan
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

Let’s face it. Many of us don’t react any better than our children when we’re told no. Sure, we don’t openly throw tantrums or show defiance, but when life doesn’t unfold as we envision, resentment surges in our minds and hearts.

We tell our kids no because it’s in their best interest. God tells us no for the same reason. Because we can’t see the big picture or the future, we often grumble to ourselves that our prayer was worth answering in the affirmative. Or we’re just so disappointed that we can’t fathom why we were told no.

For the past dozen years, since I first became aware of South Sudan’s troubles from decades of war and genocide waged against it from the North. I’ve prayed God would provide a path for me to travel there as part of a mission team. As I learned more and followed the country’s path to independence in 2011, my hope grew that God would indeed finally open the door for me to go. I researched mission groups, and God placed people in my life who’d done mission work there or had plans to go. The one piece of advice every overseas mission worker gave me was, “Find a reputable group with a solid mission plan for going into South Sudan.”

South Sudan isn’t a country you go into on a whim or with poor planning. Little to no infrastructure exists in the country. Bridges and paved roads are almost non-existent outside the capital, and the terrain is rugged in places and laced with rivers, one of which is the Nile. Personal safety cannot be guaranteed on any level. Basic needs such as water are often scarce, and forget about plumbing or electricity. Their humanitarian needs are so great, but as important, their spiritual needs amidst abundant witchcraft.

In all my research, I kept returning to the website of a particular group: Make Way Partners

When MWP founder Kimberly Smith arrived in South Sudan more than ten years ago, she discovered orphans sleeping in trees or in the bush to escape wild animals and those who would kidnap them for military or trafficking purposes. She succeeded in building three orphanages with medical clinics within the country, which was difficult because supplies had to be trucked from neighboring countries over 2,000 miles of rough terrain with bandits attacking them regularly. In addition to her travels back and forth with a core group of mission workers, she takes an outside group each year. The next scheduled trip was February 2014. Three weeks in two locations within South Sudan, and everything I needed to exist I would carry in—a tent, sleeping bag, food, clothing, water filters, etc.

On the Nile River
Elated when I read the lengthy description about the trip, I e-mailed back and forth with Kimberly’s assistant to answer some questions and then printed the eight-page application. Through the summer, I prayed about going. The application deadline was September 1, 2013. Often, I awoke in the middle of the night thinking about the trip. My only doubts were self-doubts. Would I be able to handle what I saw and experienced? Would I hold up under such extreme physical conditions? Would my presence make a difference? I never feared for my safety. (Perhaps that would’ve come later.)

As a side note, anyone contemplating foreign missions should ask themselves similar questions. Although Satan will seize every opportunity to needle your mind, honest self-scrutiny is important. I turned my fears over to God, knowing through intense spiritual and physical preparation, if it were His will that I went, He would equip me.

As it neared the application deadline, I wrestled even more with the decision, often awakening during the night and praying for direction. Finally, the answer came.

 “No, not now.”

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Part of me felt like a failure. I’d prayed diligently, done my research, had begun physical conditioning, and for what? I knew God’s answer was final, and my faith told me it was for the best, but I didn’t have peace in my soul. I began to pray for that peace!

A few days before the application deadline, I actually slept through the night and awoke with peace. I wasn’t going to South Sudan, and it was okay. This was God’s will.

I climbed from bed, went to the kitchen, and poured myself a cup of coffee. After booting up my computer, I clicked on my email. Among the dozens of messages was one from Make Way Partners. For the first time in ten years, Kimberly had decided not to take a group to South Sudan. Her core group of workers and she would make the trip as they did several times a year, but they would not train or take newcomers. She said she didn’t understand God’s direction, but she had to follow it. It caused a small ruckus within MWP with some staff not agreeing or understanding how she could make such an abrupt decision with no reason. Hmmmm. No reason? God’s direction does not have to include reasons. (click to tweet) J

Yet…in less than three months, the reason became crystal clear.

Displaced South Sudanese
War now wages in South Sudan. More than a thousand South Sudanese have been killed. An estimated 180,000 have been injured or displaced. The cause of the war appears to be an attempt by the former Vice President to overthrow the government. He controls a faction of the military. As happens in many countries with multiple ethnic and tribal sects, the fighting has developed into sectarian violence. While other missionaries have been forced to abandon their projects, MWP’s indigenous staff ensures the orphans are cared for year round without the physical presence of Americans. Even so, the indigenous workers face ongoing threats.

UN Mission in Juba, South Sudan (capital)

Never second-guess a “no” answer to a prayer. God knows what’s best, despite how Christ-honoring you perceive the request to be. If you hear nothing else I say, hear this: Obedience is more important than anything else you can offer God. While He doesn’t need you specifically to accomplish His will in any given area, our obedience in seeking His will ensures a place inside that will. We must obey God in both the “no” and “yes” answers. Trust Him to get it right.

If it is God’s will that I ever go to South Sudan to participate in the Great Commission and to deliver humanitarian and medical aid to the most impoverished and human trafficked nation in the world, He will provide a way. Meanwhile, there’s much to do on other fronts to win souls to Christ, provide humanitarian assistance to the hurting, and encourage Christians in their daily walk.

I implore you to join me in prayer for the “least of these” in South Sudan, already displaced by decades of war. The missionaries in the trenches are pleading for prayer support. Though we’ll possibly never know why war wages in some countries more than others, as long as we live in this fallen world where evil abounds, we’ll have war. We must continue to pray for the protection of the innocent.

If you would like to share your own mission story or “no” answer, please do so. I’m sure my other readers would be blessed. Share your prayer requests, as well, or if have a confidential request, please e-mail me. I’d love to pray for you.

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

For those of you seeking a tangible, hands-on way to help the displaced in South Sudan, most of whom are widows and children, MWP offers a chance to provide a "can of life" for those coming to their orphanages seeking help. Click here to learn more. 


  1. It is always hard to hear "no", but it never fails to amaze me how God has got it covered, how He has always got the answer that is best for us.
    I've been to Kenya twice, and my daughter has recently started a nonprofit organization to help the impoverished in Kenya. We hope to eventually expand to other parts of Africa.
    I have been praying for all of Africa for years. I will up my prayers to South Sudan. When I was in Kenya in 2006, I met fulltime missionaries from Sudan. The sad, sad stories they shared even back then.
    May God bless you too and may He send you on a mission trip when the time is right.

    1. Thank you, Chris, for stopping by and sharing your experience. So much need on the continent of Africa! I'll be praying for your daughter's organization. God bless you.

  2. I agree, hearing God's gentle whisper "no" can be hard when we want something so bad or we have spent a lot of time researching and preparing. One thing I have come to understand is that there are no unanswered prayers. God will either say "yes", "no", or "not now". Given what God spoke to you, I would say He hasn't said "no" to this mission, but rather He has only said "not right now". Only God knows the plan He has for you:) What will the coming months or even year bring...that is where I always get excited about. Because we know God works for the good and his ways are always the best ways. I love that I personally, can rest in these truths.

    1. So true. God has our best interest at heart, and saying no can be for our good and His greater glory and master plan for the world. After all, it's not all about us, right? We can only trust His timing and plan for our lives. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. God bless you.

  3. Great post Laura, and I agree God's purpose for the no was very clear in your story through time.
    I have also had a no that I struggled with, yet God has really given me peace about it now.
    In 2009 I began writing a novel. It was really, in my belief, a story God has placed on my heart. I had no experience writing anything, much less a novel. I wasn't even a fiction reader at the time. My reading was very technical medical journals regarding cancer, politics of disease, heath-care, medicine, lobbying tactics, and environmental sources of carcinogens.
    But I began my writing journey and followed Gods nudges, which were very obvious and amazing. I read and studied all I could on writing, and then later, the publishing industry.
    After 3 years my novel was almost complete and through a divine appointment I made friends with a very published Christian author. She was so kind to me and encouraged me. When we finally met in person, after several months, she read my synopsis and first 10k. I was so nervous about what she would think. But to my surprise she was extremely impressed and even made the comment that someday I would ,"blow her out of the water" with my writing because she could see God has given me a gift. She suggested I tighten up my submission and send it to her agent. I was obviously floored. And terrified.
    It took me over 6 months to get it perfect (in my mind) and then I sent it to the agent and the agency who represented her. I had an answer in less than 48 hours, which you know is almost unheard of. This is a very busy agent and I was shocked that she had even had any time to read what I sent. But the reply was from her assistant, not her, and I now wonder if the agent ever even saw it. The no was because she said it wasn't in the genre the agent was taking at that time.
    I have since then come to realize that I wasn't emotionally ready for that book to happen then anyway. I was struggling with several things and my belief in how that situation would happen was one of them. God had to take it away from me so I could see how attached I was to the success of my writing. He had to ask me if He was enough. At the time, I don't know if He was.
    I'm still not sure if I'm really ready for what being published entails. But I do know my heart is right with God. Whether or not that book is ever published, I know He loves me and everything will be OK. I find my value in who He says I am, apart from my writing or anything else. Oh sure, I struggle at times. But ultimately, I am solid. It taught me a lesson in perseverance as well. And my writing has continued to flourish and I have rewritten the book until now I see how I wouldn't have been happy with it being published the way it was.
    Its also taught me to accept His no as a protection, and an act of love, not as if He is with holding something good from me. He withholds no good thing~

    1. What a great testimony, Pam, to God's grace in saying no. He truly does have our best interest in mind and part of that is living inside His will. We have to trust Him to do enough and be enough apart from everything we possess, including our talents. I hope you have success in publishing your book. It's a tough market out there, but also one that is broadening in so many ways beyond the traditional marketplace. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. God bless you and your writing.

  4. God will say No, but I know he doesn't mean it. Maybe he is just trying us if we can do things alone, without the help of other people. Thank God for everything, what He's doing is always for us. spiritual thoughts

    1. Sometimes God says no because He wants our obedience in more than the yes answers. He knows what's best for all situations. Maybe the day will come when things will settle down in South Sudan, and He'll open a door for me to go there. If not, I have to trust He'll use me in other ways to reach other people. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. God bless you.

  5. Awesome testimony despite the sadness that you experienced by not being able to go. Keep praying. In His time the Lord will open a door.

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Michael. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. God bless you.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. It's exactly what I needed. It can be hard to accept "no" answers when what we want to do is founded in God's word (like mission work, adoption, etc). But God's timing is perfect. It took 3 months for people to see why God had said "no" to more missionaries going to a place that desperately needs them. We must WAIT.
    Isaiah 30:15

    1. I'm glad you were encouraged by the post, TC. I always appreciate the inspiration you bring to my blog through your comments. Thanks for stopping by. God bless you.