April 29, 2016

Reflecting in the Midst of Change

For the last four years, God has been growing me and moving in my life in tremendous ways.  Doubtless He has been doing so my whole life, but I've learned to take notice of His movement in the large and small ways.  I am in the midst of another big change and as life living in Pennsylvania is put on pause for a while, I have done a great deal of reflecting on what has happened over the last chapter of my life.  I have been encouraged numerous times to write a book but the thought though appealing, is daunting and not a project I will take on at present.  However, there are things I would hate to forget so I'm going to start story telling and see how far I get.  I'm really good at beginning exciting ideas and then, well, they may get finished someday...

This isn't really from the beginning, but rather from somewhere in the middle of my life story but it is the beginning of a chapter for certain.  I have had a passion for doing missionary work in Africa since sometime in middle school, maybe high school.  I remember trying to decide what I wanted to have as a career after high school; and then, when my mother convinced me I needed to go to college, trying to decide what I would major in.  I remember graduating and wanting to go on the mission field but didn't have any real way of achieving that goal that I was aware of.  So off I went to EMU, a school that emphasizes service, travel, cross cultural learning, and spiritual growth.  My freshman year, I attended a documentary and awareness Q&A event about the Invisible Children of northern Uganda.  My eyes were opened to a whole world I knew nothing about.  See I wanted to be a missionary because a friend had included me in his newsletters during his time of serving in Zambia; I was inspired by his stories and wanted to do something like that.  I really had no idea what was involved in serving in another country nor did I know much about people's life circumstances.

The destruction, child soldiers, and slavery that happened at the hands of the Lord's Rebel Army (LRA) struck my heart and gave me a new and improved desire to go to Uganda specifically and help those children.  Throughout my time at EMU, my desire to go to Uganda grew into passion for missions and a desire to go to East Africa somewhere, anywhere!  I had the opportunity to spend four months in the Middle East (see early posts) where I got to spend time in many other countries, interacting with locals, learning and growing, meeting missionaries or people who worked for sending organizations.  It was there that I felt that not only did I have desire to serve overseas but I seemed to thrive on living in a cross cultural environment.  I had traveled before but not for that length of time, nor to a place that was economically different than the US.  I realized that for the first time, living the life of an international missionary was some people's reality and it could be mine one day in the near future.

Immediately upon graduating that spring, I set to work applying for a mission internship where I would be able to spend at least a year on the field getting a taste of what it was like.  Nothing happened.  Literally.  Nothing.  I attempted to spend a few months in South Africa.  Nothing happened.  Literally.  Nothing.

Fast forward a year and a half...

I tried working.  I contemplated grad school and seminary but I kept coming back to the same thing: long term international missions.  The goal kept coming back to me.  And then a friend emailed me about a prayer trip that her brother was leading to Southeast Asia in December/January!  I couldn't go on the trip but he was my in!  He worked for a sending organization and encouraged me to apply for an assignment.  So I applied in January for another mission internship--a year minimum in Guinea-Bissau, a tiny country in west Africa that I had never even heard of.

Fast forward six months...

I attended the organizations training for long term missionaries and it was spiritually the most rigorous, most impacting month I'd ever had.  I was raring and ready to go in a matter of months!  My approval for service was denied.  Nothing happened.  Well.... not nothing.  Just not the something I wanted.  I realized after listening to one of the sessions during my training that I wanted to serve overseas, anywhere a lot more than I wanted to live God's will for me no matter what He had.  This fact that I had gotten to the point of completely idolizing something that's supposed to be good took a long time to be dethroned.  In fact, though no one else was really aware of it that I know of, it was this idol that was most likely the main reason why I never went to Guinea-Bissau or South Africa.  I left the training after a few days and spent a month in Vermont working at Bethany Birches Camp.  And this is where I begin...

It was the middle of July 2012 and I was lost and angry and confused and hurt.  Thankfully I was in a place that allowed me to spend hours in prayer and solitude with God, seeking and listening and crying out to Him for direction.  Upon leaving my training, I sensed God leading me to PA and I continued to pray into that and anything else that could be a possibility.   The familiar passage Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." was my theme verse for that month.  It must have played through my mind a hundred times a day or more.

There was one day during the second to last week of camp that I was praying and journaling and reading through the whole chapter of Jeremiah 29 when the Lord spoke to my heart that He wanted me to go to live in Pennsylvania and that I needed to be prepared to stay for a long time and put down roots, become a part of a community.  I was glad to have a direction but I cried a mixture of relief and anger at this turn of events.  I had no idea how to move to PA, I had no family there and only slightly knew some people who were family of college friends.

The following week some acquaintances and financial supporters for Guinea-Bissau came to volunteer for a week.  I remind you, I had one week left of camp before I would once again be out in the world again.  They of course knew that I wasn't going and wanted to know if I knew what I was going to do.  I shared that I felt like God was leading me to PA but that was all I knew at the time.  Towards the end of the week, the dear woman in this couple came to me and said that she and her husband felt like God was asking them to have me come and stay with them in Pennsylvania and gave me a contact to check into a job possibility.  I had been advised to just keeping walking through the open doors, and this was one for sure.

Ten days later, I arrived at their house in southeastern PA and if I had known all of what was in store for me here, I would probably have stuck to my stubborn will and not moved.  But God had everything perfectly orchestrated right down to the finite detail.

Stay tuned to hear the next part of the story...