Dropping Nets– A Vital Testimony of Women and Ministry

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Dr. Sue Liubinskas, who recently successfully defended her doctoral thesis on Paul and ethnography here at Asbury has graciously agreed to share her testimony as to how she came to this point in life, prepared now to assume a significant teaching ministry wherever the Lord opens the door. I am so very proud of her, having seen her persevere through many trials to get to the doctoral finish lines. I’m also pleased to give you advance notice that we are writing a book with one other person on Women in the NT for InterVarsity Press. Stay tuned for the next chapter….
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Dropping Nets
Mark states in an infuriatingly matter of fact way that, Simon and Andrew drop their nets and
follow Jesus (Mark 1:18). Likewise, James and John leave their father sitting in the boat, get up,
and go after him (Mark 1:20). No elaboration, no fanfare—they simply get up, leave everything
behind, and go. Really? Just turn your back on your livelihood, your sense of identity and
belonging and go? What about family? What will people think? Surely, Jesus doesn’t expect this
of us? Of me? Right?

A little over a decade ago, I sensed God calling me to seminary. At that time, I was heavily
involved in evangelistic outreach at both the local and regional levels. This ministry was bearing
fruit and I was experiencing a deep sense of joy and satisfaction in the work I was doing. This
was remarkable for a woman who had spent a good portion of her adult life alternating between
cycles of binge drinking and bouts of frantic activity aimed at gratifying an insatiable need to
succeed. Spent from these addictions to work and alcohol, I had spiraled into depression. Unable
to think of one reason to go on living, I cried out in despair to the God I had turned my back to,
many years ago. He met me in that dark pit, freed me from my addictions, lifted me up out of
there, set my feet on a firm rock, and put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to the Lord.
From that moment on, I had a new lease on life and, for the first time, I had peace. I had a reason
to live. My newly found purpose was to love him with all that was in me and to serve him in
whatever way he should choose. And it was enough.

I knew that going to seminary meant that I would have to drop this net, this ministry, the very
thing that gave me such joy. It meant becoming a student again, this time, as an adult. What
would that be like? But that wasn’t all. Going to seminary meant leaving behind the big house in
the suburbs and most of the “stuff” that my husband and I had accumulated during the course of
our marriage. It meant taking our two young children to an unknown place very different from
the affluent, urbane neighborhood where we had originally planned to raise them. Going to
seminary meant that my husband would have to tell his boss that he was leaving his job to move
to Kentucky, so his wife could go to school. In sum, going to seminary meant that we would look
like fools, if not something worse, to many, if not most, people.

Up until that point, my family and friends had had no real issues with what they perceived as my
return to church/religion. My conversion had resulted in startling changes in both my attitude and
behavior, all for the positive. This transformation was so remarkable and thoroughgoing that it
led my cynical husband to accept Christ. As a consequence, our marriage, which had been slowly
caving in under the pressures of the self-centered, worldly lifestyle that each of us had embraced,
was redeemed, renewed, and transformed. Everyone noticed. And although the explanations
given for these changes varied (despite our consistent testimony to the power of the gospel),
everyone welcomed them.

As for the ministry I was involved in, as long as I didn’t talk about it, kept the house and kids in
order, and made sure that it didn’t interfere with my husband’s career goals and aspirations, it
was tolerated. True, my parents and in-laws found it strange and disturbing that I was spending
so much time doing “church work.” To be sure, my sister-in-law and close friend fretted over my
and my husband’s spiritual well-being for the simple fact that it was I, and not my husband, who
was leading several ministry teams and doing things, they thought, were best reserved for men.
And, to be certain, my non-Christian friends and family members thought that what I was doing
was a complete waste of time and talent. But as long as I kept it to myself, they were, by and
large, content with the “new” Sue. My ministry was the elephant in the room, but it was an
elephant they all managed to tiptoe around.

The real trouble started in chapter two of my story. The announcement that we were selling the
house and moving to Kentucky to attend seminary violated an unwritten and unspoken code that
defined what was “normal” for a suburban wife and mother of two. My in-laws accused me of
sabotaging my husband’s career for a selfish whim. My father actually pulled my husband aside
and suggested that he get psychiatric help for me. My mother could not understand how I could
do such a self-serving, stupid thing. My agnostic brother stopped speaking to me. My sister-inlaw
and closest, Christian friend told me that I was disobeying God by going to seminary and by
asking my husband to give up his job and home. Seminary training was for men and my job was
to stay at home and care for my husband and children. The last words my closest, non-Christian
friend ever spoke to me were, “I don’t know what to do with this.” Wounded, and gasping in
pain, I wondered whether this news would have caused such a visceral reaction if my husband
was the one going to seminary, or if we were moving because either he or I had received a job
transfer. I thought not.

Dropping my net was costing me a lot more than a fruitful ministry. It was costing me
everything. Yet, I took the hand of the God I loved and, entrusting him with the life he had given
back to me, I went forward. I wish I could say that everything turned out as I would have liked.
The truth of the matter is that my in-laws are still hoping that we’ll get off of this religion kick
and move back home. My brother has yet to speak to me. My sister-in-law continues to believe
that I’m living in sin and that my husband isn’t “saved,” because he refuses to exercise proper
authority over his family. Just recently, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation and my
parents refused to acknowledge the accomplishment.

Yet, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although chapter three of my story, “The Seminary Years,” has
had its share of trouble and rough patches, God’s grace has been more than sufficient to see us
through them all. During these past twelve years, as I moved through my master level studies and
on to complete my doctorate in Biblical Studies, the Lord has provided us with everything we’ve
needed to complete the task he called us to. Point in case, when my husband resigned from his
position, back in Chicago, with no job prospects in sight in Kentucky, his boss asked him to stay
on with the company as a remote employee. Twelve years later, he’s still working for that same
company from our home near the seminary campus. Similarly, the extraordinary people God has
placed in our lives—friends, colleagues, and professors—have more than made-up for the lack of
support and encouragement from our families.
 
Most importantly, I have come to know Christ in a way that is only possible in the midst of pain
and loss, which, I have come to realize, is the cost of true discipleship. Stripped of all self-sufficiency and all dependency on anything (including, a satisfying ministry or career/job) or
anyone (including, family) other than God, we encounter the wildly beautiful, untamable Jesus
whose compelling persona was, and continues to be, enough to cause sensible, sober-minded,
down-to-earth fishermen (and this wife/mother/Ph.D.) to leave everything behind and follow
him.

This Jesus is no respecter of the artificial categories of discipleship that we construct and that we
often envision as existing in shades of pink and blue. He calls whomever he pleases to whatever
task he chooses. The God we serve cannot be stuffed into a box, no matter how hard we try and
no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we have succeeded. I believe, that
chapters two and three of my story have had such a disturbing effect on my family and friends
for the simple reason that they challenge every conception of God, and what he demands of those
who call themselves his, that is represented there. As for my non-Christian friend and family
members, the fact that a sensible, well-educated woman, with a law degree to boot, would leave
everything behind to do something that, in their eyes, is so impractical and so irrational raises the
alarming possibility that there is more to this Jesus than they are willing to admit. In both cases,
the Jesus that confronts them demands a response.

As for myself, I know what my response will be. As I stand at the start of chapter four of my
story, uncertain of both where I will be or exactly what I will be doing after graduation this May,
not knowing what nets I’ll be asked to drop, I’m going forward, following my Jesus, and not
looking back.
 

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