Without further ado, I’d like to continue this series on missions and introduce you to a best friend, Stephanie. [Sometimes things take longer than you expect. Sometimes cars crash and freelance editing jobs get offered and you are just too tired to write when you get off work.] When I first planned out this blog series, the first person I spoke with was Stephanie. Why? You’ll soon find out. Steph and I met wandering around in a late night game of campus Sardines. We shared the same freshman hall, the same love of LOTR, The Lion King, Mario Kart, C.S. Lewis, and ice-cream, [am I making us sound nerdy enough?] and we’ve been wandering around together ever since. Stephanie is the kind of Jesus-lover that challenges you to love in ways you never thought you could. I’m excited for you to get a small glimpse of my dear friend’s heart.
“I asked God for a challenge. He gave me one: to go and love the ones the world has forgotten…”
I was sixteen when I wrote that down in my journal. It was after a long, night conversation with God. One where God clearly began asking me to fully give up my plans and dreams for the ones He had. I was scared. I had plans and dreams and goals. Things I wanted to do and expectations of whom I wanted to become. But there was an unspeakable peace and joy that followed His asking, so strong that I wanted nothing else than to say yes. So I did. For the record, I don’t think sixteen year-old me understood what she was getting into.
At this point in my life, I was already an expert in missions. I had been on two international trips and one domestic trip already and was planning to go on at least one more sometime in the next year. There was something that continually attracted me to these trips. Perhaps it was in the unity I experienced with the team as we lived in close community, or the increased dependence on God as my faith was challenged and stretched to resemble the servant heart of Christ’s, or possibly even just the exotic aspect of going somewhere new (even if it was only Alabama). I loved every aspect of missions and it seemed that every time I went, my spirit would come alive and dance, knowing that it was for these moments that I was created.
But that night, as I felt my life taking a completely different turn for the better, I knew that God was calling me to more than just week-long mission trips. He was calling me to a new lifestyle. Immediately, my mind started buzzing. What does one have to do to become a missionary? Is there such as thing as missionary school? Where does a missionary decide to go? Am I even qualified to be a missionary?
So, I reached out to someone who I knew could give me answers. As a missionary who had been living in South Korea for years, I knew that if anyone who could help me understand the call God had given me, it would be my uncle Tito. my uncle’s response was full of wisdom that spanned five pages. For the sake of this blog, I’ve summarized his letter here:
“Being a “missionary” somewhere far away is not the answer. God is looking for people who can hear His voice and are willing to just obey Him no matter what He says to do, no matter where the person is, what they are doing, or what their job title is. If you simply obey His voice and do exactly what He says for you to do, then you are His servant.”
Tio Tito encouraged me to not just have my heart set on a foreign country, but to simply begin learning to listen to the voice of God. “It starts out with the little things,” he encouraged. “Tiny prayers and actions that seem minuscule and unimportant, yet uncomfortable all the same. It’s in us continually learning to choose God’s will over ourselves that our faith explodes.”
This was what God had been trying to show me all along. We are not called to ‘missions’. We are called to listen to the voice of God and do His will. To love extravagantly and serve wholeheartedly. To glorify Him through showing those around me the hope that has so radically changed my life. Sometimes this involves serving overseas. Sometimes it involves serving in your own back yard.
So, I followed my uncle’s advice. No longer did I simply desire to travel to faraway countries but began seeking how to love my neighbor. I began asking the Lord what He wanted, and in reflection, I see how He took those precious next few years to radically transform my life. No longer did my heart only break for orphans in Nicaragua but also for the teenagers down the street. I ate dinners with people who I previously never noticed, learned to carve out time for those for whom a few years ago I never cared about, and discovered passions that I never knew I had, especially for the homeless and for those awesome, awkward middle schoolers.
Then one day, He told me to go.
It came as a surprise, really. I had been planning on teaching middle school in the States when suddenly, as clear as the day back when I was sixteen, I heard Him speak and say, “Go.” So, after college graduation, I left. I spent eleven months overseas in a program called The World Race, [you can read about my eleven month adventure here!] traveling to eleven different countries in order to support local missionaries in order to serve those society has ignored.
It was a once in a lifetime experience. One filled with sleeping in hammocks and hiking into mountain villages. My days were spent laughing with ex-child soldiers and eating dinner with prostitutes. Allthough I traveled the world, lived life with people of all different backgrounds and cultures, and gained a hearty number of captivating, incredible Facebook photos, those weren’t the things that changed my life.
Daily things changed me. The miles-long walks with teammates to simply grab groceries that always induced authentic discussions. The learning to have a joyful heart when the day didn’t go as planned (and they NEVER went as planned). And the constant, daily prayer and application of learning to love those around me continuously and without fail, even when I felt they didn’t deserve it.
It doesn’t matter where you live—life still happens. Bills still must be paid, laundry must be done, and the ever-present struggle of waking up early will always be around. But what makes us missionaries and true Christ followers is the daily offering to give to the Lord all we have.
I have a heart for missions, but to me, that just means having a heart for God and for people. It’s a daily process that isn’t easy. Following the voice of God isn’t a walk in the park, it’s a call to give up everything that we desire and live by risks, to not only be present but to dare greatly. And in those little things, that’s where lives, including ours, are transformed. And in that, there is remarkable joy.