Four years ago, the Bullock family left the familiarity and security of life in the UK to serve God cross-culturally in Zambia. OM writer Ivy Chiu spoke to Dan and Ruth about why they took such a bold step, and what life is now like for their young family.
Moving overseas with four young children is a huge undertaking! Why did you do it?
Dan: In a worldly sense, we were settled. We had good jobs and the kids were happy. But I had a spiritual restlessness that I could not deny. Despite things going well in the UK, God was growing in us a passion to serve Him overseas.
Ruth: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” These words from Matthew 9 came up so frequently and in so many different contexts; I could not deny that it was the Lord speaking.
Initially, we wondered whether this calling was for the future when the kids were older – our four boys were very young at that point! But God laid on our hearts the urgency of mission and the reality that people are dying every day without knowing Him.
Dan: We felt real confirmation from God when He placed this calling on both our hearts, not just mine. If God was calling us to serve Him overseas, we knew it would be a calling for our whole family.
Were there things you were frightened of moving to Zambia?
Dan: Of course, we were naturally afraid about some things – we worried about whether the kids’ socialising and education would suffer, and whether we’d be able to raise the amount of financial support we needed. But we wanted to be led by the Lord, not by fear. We stepped out in faith, trusting in His promises.
The reality is that if God calls your family, then He will meet your needs. We couldn’t have imagined how things would unfold, but He has provided for us and silenced so many fears.
How did you prepare your children to go?
Ruth: A common prayer in our household is: “God, lead us where You would want us to go, and help us to be obedient.” We have always prayed this with the kids as well as each other. They were used to this prayer, and ready to be obedient. In that sense, talking to them about following God to a new place was not a surprise!
We also prepared them practically; making scrapbooks of what their surroundings would look like and talking to them about what would be different, like wearing shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day!
What are some of the challenges you face serving in Zambia?
Ruth: There are always needs here. It’s so hard to say no! The challenge is to learn how much I can do physically and when I need to say no. God has given us a heart for the Zambian people, but the reality is that there is only one of me and I can’t be spread in too many places!
We are determined to make sure that family life is always a priority.
Dan: It’s so important to rely fully on God. But remaining reliant on the Lord is a struggle when we have pride and we’re so tempted to try and fix our problems ourselves. I feel constantly challenged that as I lead the team in Zambia, I must allow the Lord to change my heart first.
What are some of the joys of serving God as a family?
Ruth: The joy and privilege of living by faith! The kids are growing up seeing how we trust in God for everything, and they witness Him providing in unexpected ways. They also see this faith in the Zambian people around us – a dependence on God and a commitment to prayer for every basic need.
Dan: In the UK there is a pattern to life that we tend to follow – school, university, then getting a job and so on. It is a joy to step out of that as a family and to think differently about how God wants to use our lives. The kids see this lived out, and it will go well with them in the future. We pray they’ll make decisions because they are led by the Lord, rather than feeling it’s the next step they should take.
What advice would you give to a family considering serving God overseas?
Dan: Pray as a family; journey together and journey with others from your church and community before making a decision. Also, consider whether you could serve cross-culturally on a short-term outreach first, or go on a vision trip to help confirm God’s calling and answer some of your questions.
Don’t think that you’re just starting the preparation now! God will already have been at work, preparing you for a long time. It’s not that you suddenly have to ‘become a missionary’. He will have put everything in line in your life to bring you to that point. As soon as I stepped into my role, I could see how God had trained me for ministry in the workplace.
Ruth: Yes, God has equipped everyone with what they need for where He wants them to be. Trust that He has gone ahead of you, that He has prepared good works for you to do for the sake of His Kingdom, that He will quiet your fears and gently lead you forward.