When I was just seven years old, I accepted Christ with the guidance of my Christian parents. I continued to grow and learn about God and the plan that He had for my life. When I was in eighth grade, my family traveled to Brazil to visit our missionary relatives whom we’d never met before. We went to San Paulo, Brasilia, Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and other cities where friends, relatives, and other missionaries awaited. We were able to hang out with other missionary kids during their annual meeting and work alongside my aunt in her ministry to street children and those who were in jail. She became my hero. The trip changed my life and taught me that the Lord can use and do great things through anyone who is willing. I wanted with all my heart for that “anyone” to be me.
In 1996, after having just completed my junior year of high school, I went on another trip to South America with my church and my father. The trip was amazing. I was stretched beyond my limits, pushed to boldness, and forced to face my fears. I was able to go with my dad door-to-door and share the gospel. I entered many homes of families who lived in rampant poverty and sickness, and I was shown first hand how the Lord moves in the hearts of those who are willing. I came home vibrant and ecstatic, happily sharing my experiences with anyone that would listen.
I knew that I had enjoyed being in South America, but I never considered that being there could be my life, my job, or my dream. It was an experience that I cherished and held dear, but counted it one among many such life-changing experiences. It wasn’t until I heard the testimony of a missionary that came to our church that God showed me that He wanted me to become a missionary. I felt an urgency to follow Him and made Him a secret promise to be a missionary, only letting my parents in on my exciting secret.
I attended Oklahoma Baptist University and struggled to know how to prepare for my surrendered but unrevealed future. At the beginning of my senior year, I found myself with three minors (English, History, and Journalism) but no major. I had heard of the Journeyman program, a program that allows people to enter the mission field for a couple of years as young adults. I’d never actually considered becoming a part of it, but decided to send in the paper work anyway. While I was waiting for a response, God confirmed in me the call that He had laid on my heart years earlier. I began to feel an urgency once again to serve oversees. Finally, I received my response. Not only was I accepted, but I had been assigned to the country that was my very first choice.
I arrived in a tiny Muslim country in the heart of South Asia on September 7, 2002. My original plan to mingle with the women by teaching tennis failed, and I began to take language lessons for hours a day. I met people in the streets and in the market. My room mate, who had already lived there for a year, had some friends that I began to spend time with. They were such a lovely people, but the fact that they couldn’t speak any English greatly hindered things for a bit. Oh, but they were so precious and loving that I’m sure they would have given their right arm for me if it had been necessary. Every Saturday I would travel with some national believers by bus to smaller remote mud hut villages where we would story to the women, test water for arsenic, and just visit with the families who lived there. I do believe that was my favorite time of the week. I must say that living in that village was almost the hardest thing I have ever done. I was practically alone without anyone who spoke English, I had no phone, and the internet was ridiculously slow. But amidst the struggles and hardship, the Lord faithfully showed Himself to me on a daily basis, even when He didn’t need to. I was stretched, torn apart, and, after being scrubbed clean, was lovingly put back together.
I was moved to India, where I tried to put my journalism skills to use. I began recording prayer requests to be sent back to the International Mission Board, but, because of language and custom barriers, I was also unable to perform this task. I tried to start a student ministry in my city. But, I was unable to completely carry out my assignment.
Just as I began to get really discouraged, two new Journeymen arrived and needed to know about the city, so I became their personal guide. We traveled all over the place, taking in the sites. Since one was a photographer and the other filmed, they also took lots of video and photos for numerous projects. We worked well together. I was a writer; so we were assigned to the regional media team for the continuation of my term. We went to numerous religious ceremonies and festivals, interviewed men and women of all different faiths about their beliefs, and even traveled to other countries to do ethnographic studies on each culture and society.
During my last month in India, we had a volunteer team come from Missouri to help reach a city where we had no personnel. Every day for that entire month, we divided up into groups. Some stayed at the hotel to pray, and the rest would hit the streets to talk to people and establish relationships. We lived on Indian food, and although it was a hard month, it was the most rewarding season of my time overseas. Daily, I was able to go out and be amongst the people. We were able to build friendships and share the Lord.
Also, while in India, I discovered my passion. One morning, I woke up with several other members of my team at about 4:30 in the morning. We were to walk around and try to get good pictures of Muslim women in the ‘best light’. I was merely along for the experience and to show the photographers where the best areas might be to take pictures. But, as I watched families wake up and prepare for school and work and then quickly scurry to the places they needed to be, I discovered that I loved watching people. I liked being able to observe and understand their lives and to photograph people in such a way that others would and could feel that they were there as well. I would do it in such a way that Christ would be glorified and that people wouldn’t be able to escape His presence in their lives or in mine.
When I left on July 3, 2004, to come back to the United States, I was heartbroken, yet comforted. I was so sad to go, but knew that I had done God’s will everyday that I had lived amongst those lost people. My purpose for that time had been fulfilled. Coming home was a shock for me. I didn’t know what was next. For now, God has me serving as support personnel in a local church. I am resting and spending time with my family. Being where God wants you to be doesn’t always have to be glamorous. For the time being and always, I pray that God will use me right where I am.
I would advise those just beginning to explore God’s call on their lives to be sensitive and receptive to the voice and Word of the Lord. That is the beginning of a profound and life changing relationship. As you continue to pursue the Lord and the call He has for you, I advise you to take heart and to be patient. The Lord works in His timing and no one else’s! Be careful not to get caught up in needing to know the answers. Allow yourself to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness, daily confessing your unbelief, so that you can minister to those around you on a regular basis.
Seek out other opportunities that you think might help you decide what type of service or ministry you would like to take part in. For me, it was working in national parks every summer, but maybe you can take some short term trips, help with camps, or intern at your local church. It would also be good to have an accountability partner/mentor who can encourage you and help you stay focused during the difficult times and who can rejoice with you in the good. Most of all, stay in the Word and in the presence of the Lord. Develop and grow that relationship so that He is the first one you consult in moments of question.
“Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” — Psalm 73:23-28 NASB