If I start at the beginning I should say: Mostly, I just don’t understand.
But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and I fear you more every day, don’t I, Lord? More and more as I know You.
I feel the irony of it all. The simmering, low-burning, aching-heart irony.
You see, I want to be a missionary.
And I am. Yes, I know, “this little light of mine” can shine in Kansas City and in my home and everywhere else.
But it’s going on 4 years since I’ve been overseas. (Southeast Asia, January 2009)
As a sophomore in high school I went to Costa Rica for two weeks with my church. We worked with a wonderful missionary family and I felt the thrill of escaping my comfort zone (it is an escape, you know!). I dreaded the street witnessing we had planned. The dread brought me to tears! Then we went and did it, together as a team, and the Lord moved and the gospel went out and people responded to Him calling and I was hooked – I knew I must share. This, I thought, this is what life in Christ is all about.
Leaving the country with people you know and experiencing new sights and sounds and ewwww…the smells!…a bond is formed and the unlikely unity is a comfort and pristine joy. We witnessed more extreme poverty than I’d ever seen before, saw new believers baptized in homes, and I swallowed my enemy self-conscious fear and played my guitar and sang songs of worship to God.
My feet were wet and I loved missions. Two years passed and my senior class took a trip to England to share the gospel. Joy and opposition and struggle and fruit. I graduated from high school and moved to Jacksonville. Inspired by the missionary zeal of YWAM, the hours of prayer and passionate worship, “my calling” (oh heavens, what is a calling?!) still eluded me, but I saw great need for the gospel to be spread, and I felt my deep joy being part of something eternally bigger.
I broke up with my then-boyfriend. He was a youth pastor in Missouri, and how did that fit with my heart being called to listen freely to God, and freely responding in obedience if He was calling me to be a missionary in Africa or Asia?
Now I am married to a youth pastor in Kansas. And a states-bound military man for at least a few more years. No mistakes and no regrets, for God led me thus far and I am so happy. Yet the irony is not lost on me. I shrug my shoulders as I just don’t understand, and remember that “the heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes His steps.”
YWAM took me to Thailand for a few months, and then a little peek into beautiful, dark Laos. It was a time of spiritual growth for me. I re-read journals from that time and remember it all so clearly. We worked in an orphanage for a week, talked with bar-girls and invited prostitutes to English classes and Bible study. We did some service projects, some painting, and we shared the story of Jesus’ great love in a Pataya slum. Amazed, I saw that the harvest fields were indeed ripe, while workers were few.
I came home so confused. It’s strange to have culture shock in your own country.
When I visited Midwestern, I knew it was for me. The missions/evangelism emphasis was obvious, and the cost was such that I wouldn’t rack up loads of debt that would hinder future ministry opportunities. I came excited to learn.
In addition to missions, I loved writing, music, the arts, photography, etc. I thought, maybe I will be a bridge between missionaries and the church in America – communicating with powerful stories and images, helping to ignite the sleeping American church and encourage missionaries, leading short-term trips and staying overseas longer as needed.
Midwestern has brought about amazing opportunities. I’m honored to be friends with inspiring students and professors and missionaries on the field who are all doing their part to make disciples of all the nations. I have learned so much about God and His word and missions. In January 2009 I had the privilege of helping to organize a trip to Southeast Asia with the help of our wonderful missions professor. I’ll never forget the moment when I gave my worn Bible to a Buddhist monk in his nation’s symbolic, enormous, golden, Satanic pagoda of worship. He was practicing his English and wanting to learn more about Jesus, who he called “a great teacher.” I pray one day he will be my brother in Christ.
And here I am, in my little apartment in Kansas City. God has placed me here. I know he has. I do not want to be blind to those who need Christ who are in this city. But sometimes my heart is still so white-hot for overseas ministry. Sometimes I feel like I was meant to be on a team in a cross-cultural setting. Sometimes I have to beat down ugly jealousy when friends head overseas (how insane am I, having even a twinge of envy, when they are leaving behind family and friends and comforts like air conditioning!). Sometimes I envy the adventure. But mostly I celebrate with them, because I know the work they are doing is crucial, and their experiences and relationships will be world-changing.
Part of me wishes that God would just let my heart for missions die, because it is agonizing to have it just keep burning with no outlet.
But maybe we will be overseas one day. Maybe he has more things to teach me before I can be useful in that way. Maybe he wants me to encourage my fellow American believers to support missions more than they do, to love missionaries and our brother sin other countries more, etc. I really pray that God will allow me to take my children overseas from a very young age, so they will grow up with an understanding of different religions, of God’s power to change lives, of what poverty really looks like, of what really matters in life, of how the body of Christ is universal and how a shared faith can bridge unbelievable cultural borders.
The only thing I can relate these thoughts and feelings to is the way that is feels to be engaged: like life is completely on hold until you can enter in to the covenant that you were created to be a part of with the one you love.
I just don’t understand…
But I trust the Lord will determine my steps and ultimately will not leave my desires (if they be truly from Him, as I trust they are) unfulfilled.