Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Hug

We sat around a long table, 14 women from North Africa, the Netherlands, the US, Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, Armenia, Lebanon, with several of us representing more than one country as TCKs. We'd come to celebrate the moments and years spent with one of our dear friends who, after completing her studies, was returning to her home country. As we leaned in close and shared laughter and stories, a smile began to warm my heart. And I realized God was answering two of my prayers.

I keep a prayer/blessings journal and two nights ago I'd written a very specific prayer request. I'd asked God for a hug. I'd been feeling under the weather physically and emotionally for several days and I needed to feel that God was with me. I'd managed to avoid getting sick on my brief trip to the US but had picked up a bug when I returned. In addition, I was questioning my plans to stay long-term and whether I was making the right decision as I waited in uncertainty for paperwork to come through that would help me know which direction to go. I decided to leave it up to God to answer the prayer in a way that I knew He was answering me.

The next day was rather uneventful. I'd spent the evening with the twins, both of whom had fallen asleep in my arms while drinking their evening bottle. I'd sat in the midday sun and soaked up the little bit of warmth that seemed to evade me in the cold cement walls and tile floors of my room and office. I'd had a good conversation with someone about the meaning of loss in a TCK's life and we'd both identified with similar experiences. While these were pieces of my day that stood out, they didn't strike me as being particularly meaningful in representing a hug from God.

Even though I didn't know the woman who was leaving that well, I decided to join the group of ladies who were going to the restaurant for a farewell meal. It would be a nice outing and I would be able to spend time with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, I reasoned. It would also be a chance to get off campus and enjoy some food other than cafeteria fare.

As the meal drew to a close, I marveled at how beautifully God had orchestrated the evening. We listened as women shared their love stories and their testimonies of how God brought them to know Him. One woman who was in her 30s and still single was encouraged by a friend who told her God knows where you are. She headed overseas and met her husband-to-be at the airport. When we paused to pray for the food and later for the woman who was leaving, I imagined Jesus standing tall above us, arms outstretched, as He pulled us closer together as sisters, mothers, grandmothers and friends in the tight bond of friendship.

I may not have everything figured out yet but I'm confident that just as God has been working in each of these women's lives, from the stories they shared, He will clearly work in mine. I just need to learn to keep waiting and trust in His timing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Following Wherever He May Lead

Kelly, an Andrews graduate who came on two mission trips previously and really wanted to return, shared her story tonight about how God worked miracles to fulfill her heart's desire and bring her here to study this semester. I smiled as I listened to her exuberance, remembering how I felt a year ago as I was planning to head this way myself. The feelings haven't changed. As I packed nearly empty suitcases with gifts for family and friends in preparation for a 10-day jaunt to the US two weeks ago, I found myself reminding God of the same request I'd pleaded with Him to fulfill for 17 long years and then, once again, in the summer. Please bring me home again.

It was a plea I sent heavenward over and over as we bounced through clear air 39,000 feet over Greenland's icy mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, caught in a jet stream whose 100+mph headwind worried me, the veteran flier yet inveterate worrier. As I prayed and watched the headwind slowly subside to less than half its strength, I repeated my mantra. Please bring me home. I still have work to do. Granted, I haven't as yet figured out exactly what that work is long-term but for now I am content to do the things that lie closest which bring that abiding joy and satisfaction in serving.

I had another of those I'm not sure whether I'm being a good enough missionary conversations with my mother at the kitchen island during my short trip home. It stemmed from years of feeling that the best kind of missionary was a charismatic personality who handed out GLOW tracts to strangers, was able to do a chair massage with no more than a chair and a rolled-up jacket as a pillow, and easily led Bible studies on prophecy. I was none of those.

My mother smiled at me and asked me if I thought she should be doing front-line evangelism. When I argued that her service to God and support of the church through being the church treasurer was enough, that God would accept her ministry and recognize it was the most she could do in addition to her full-time job, she questioned why I could validate her service and not accept mine.

This is not a post about all the wonderful things I do as a missionary. I fail, many times, I know. I skip out on sitting with students in the cafeteria and take my food to go because I just need some quiet time in my room, away from people. I forget to say hello or ask how someone's sick mother is doing because I'm focused on a work task. I shy away from using my few words of Arabic to communicate with a refugee mother because I don't know how to carry the conversation further.

My ministry is simple. Sometimes at work I weave bits of sentences and words together into a word picture of an editorial to remind the readers of the value of educating young people in ministry. Other times I use my understanding of multiple cultural contexts to communicate clearly with people who have vastly different ways of understanding life. Most of the time I help my best friend and her husband babysit their twin 10-month old boys. These are not traditionally recognized forms of evangelism yet they are ways I can serve that bring me joy.

This is why I want to be here. It's more than physically living in a place I grew up in as a teenager. It's knowing that here my Father has a space for me to serve. I have clearly seen Him orchestrate events so that I am free to do the things He has planned for me to do. Each time I see His providence at hand, I am in awe. And each time, it is to do something that brings joy.

This is proof enough for me that being a good missionary is not about fulfilling an expected role that society delineates, though those roles are very much needed and are filled by those called to such. Being a good missionary is being willing to serve. It is being willing to do the mundane knowing that God is glorified in the simple things. It is being willing to set aside earthly expectations of wealth and career achievement to rock a baby to sleep, to write an accreditation report, to drive a friend to the bank, knowing that in doing so I will find fulfillment and joy.