The day I move to South America to do mission work is getting closer. Two days ago I ran my final errands in Nashville and my family arrived late afternoon to pick up the U-Haul trailer we were using to transport some things that we are planning on keeping in the family. We packed up and cleaned up and slept on an air mattress for a couple hours in between. Yesterday morning I turned in my keys at the apartment complex and we started our 13 hour road trip to Kansas. Normally the trip takes about 10 hours, but we had to drive slower due to the U-Haul and I led everyone on an excursion through St-Louis that we all later regretted in an attempt to find a restaurant. After deciding that people in St. Louis either don’t eat or all belong to a secret society in order to eat, we moved on and ate later on down the road. We arrived late last night in Kansas City and crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
My aunt and uncle and my mom left this morning to drive another 9-10 hours back to Nebraska and I stayed behind in Kansas City. For the first time in several weeks, I am taking a few hours to sit down and process things. I feel like I have been moving at the speed of light, and because of this everything has been very business-like and informational. It wasn’t until my mom and I had time to talk yesterday and I finally have some time alone that it is starting to hit me emotionally everything that I am doing. I will not be going back to Nashville, at least not for a long time. After August 15th, I will not be in Kansas City for a long time. After September 20th, I will not see my family or friends for a long time, and certain family members and friends I may never see again this side of heaven. I have weddings that I will miss and babies being born that I will not see. Some people might read this and say, “Well DUH.” However, until you’ve done something like this, you don’t understand that these are things that take time to process.
I moved to Nashville on August 20th of last year. Looking back at where I was at that point in my journey and all that has happened this past year, I am amazed at all the things that only God could have done. Last year in August I was burnt-out with ministry and church, very insecure, lonely, and needing a change in so many ways. I decided that moving to Nashville and starting a Masters program at Trevecca Nazarene University was the way to go, and I set out knowing that God was supporting this decision. Although I had several interviews lined up, I didn’t have a job yet. So much was unknown. It was a leap of faith, and I was trusting that God would come through.
I probably didn’t realize at the time how many miracles God worked for me. I found an apartment complex that allowed me to move in without employment, which is basically unheard of and for a rate that the people in the office were astounded at when I turned in my keys and broke my lease. God provided a job with a bank about a month and a half into living there (and believe me I was starting to panic, but God always shows up on time). He Divinely led me to meet a wonderful lady named Derri Smith who heads up End Slavery in Tennessee, and I had the opportunity to be a part of some things they have done over the past few months aiding victims of human trafficking. I learned so much from everyone there. I discovered a little group of young adults that have so much fun together. I found a wonderful church and a very supportive Sunday School class that showed Christ’s love to me in so many ways. These are just a few of the big things that happened in just the first couple months of being in Nashville.
In January, I found out that I was not doing well in the Master’s program I was in. School has always been a struggle for me, and working a full-time job while trying to do graduate school proved to be extremely difficult. I came to a crossroads where I had to decide if I would take two accelerated classes at once (one was a retake) or postpone graduate school and re-evaluate God’s direction. After praying a lot and seeking advice from friends and family, I made the decision to postpone graduate school. This was one of the most difficult things emotionally for me to work through, because I am not a “quitter”. Even though I knew that it was the right decision for many reasons, it was hard to see anything other than the fact that “I quit.” Satan of course used this against me, telling me that I could never accomplish anything or stick with anything. He almost convinced me that I was a failure. Although I didn’t really talk about this with people, it was a really hard time in my journey.
I continued to volunteer with End Slavery in Tennessee and work at the bank. I liked my job well enough, but it was not my dream position. Although I gave it everything I had, more and more I was reminded that my heart was in another place. In February, God began to stir a longing in me again to do missions. I was frustrated with Him for doing that, because I loved living in Nashville and I loved my new friends there. At this point, I had only lived there for six months and had only been at my job for four months. “Maybe,” I thought, “God is reminding me that someday He will call me to do that. Perhaps He is just aligning my heart again.”
The desire didn’t go away. In fact, it grew stronger. I was kind of on a kick where I wanted to do something outside the Church of the Nazarene because I realized how little experience I had with other ministries and denominations. I contacted a couple other organizations about possibilities, but the more I prayed about it, the less I felt led there. Finally, I gave up trying to find an opportunity to do missions and told God, “Look, if You want me to do this, then You’re going to have to make it happen. Just stop bugging me about it if You’re not going to DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.”
Well, it was late March by this time and I came to my Sunday School class basically in tears, sharing about how I had felt for some time that God was leading me toward missions, and I had no clue what He was up to. He wasn’t opening any doors that I felt led to walk through, but He wouldn’t let it go either. They prayed for me that day and continued to pray in the following weeks. One of my friends in the class approached me and asked if we could get together sometime to talk more about it. I agreed, and Jared and his wife Sarah Jo met me for coffee.
It was early April when Jared first pitched the idea of Extreme Nazarene Ministries to me. At the time, I was pretty resistant to it because it was a two and a half year commitment. Part of my hesitation came from knowing that I just stepped down from what I thought would be a two year commitment at Trevecca. I wasn’t sure if I could do that. Another part of the hesitation was knowing that we would do evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, and I never in a million years saw myself doing something like that. In fact, the idea of doing something like that totally freaked me out. Much of the hesitation, if I will be honest, came from a selfish desire I had to have a boyfriend and get married. After all, that’s what everyone else in my life had done years ago. Now they’re all having babies. I really thought that I was ready for that, but God showed me quickly that He had other things in mind for my immediate future. All of these things led me to tell Jared, “I will think about it and pray about it and let you know.”
Well, many people throw around the phrase “I’ll pray about it” and move on. I have tried to not be that type of person, although I knew that praying about something like this meant that my desires and reasons for hesitating might be wrong. They, in fact, were. As much as I tried to put Extreme on the back burner of my mind, it kept creeping its way into all the areas of my life. I then started trying to make it go away, throwing it here or there, and it kept coming back until I never thought about anything else. I finally decided to stop fighting God and began the rigorous application process required for the program.
As time grew closer to the interview, I noticed that my anticipation was starting to grow at the possibility. My family was struggling with the idea, and I was struggling with their struggling with the idea. I had a lot of doubts and questions myself, and this was clearly the biggest decision that I had ever considered making. I was unsure of God’s desire for me to be a part of Extreme until the morning after the interview. I was standing in church in a very normal service. Pastor’s sermon didn’t even have anything to do with me. I was searching for assurance of some sort; peace of some sort and it was nowhere to be found. Not even a line in a song broke through. Then, out of nowhere (and I mean nowhere), the assurance came. It did not come through anything someone said or anything I read. It simply came. In that moment, I had peace that God had called me to do this. The amazing thing to me is that no matter how difficult things have become since that moment, that peace has never left. Only God could have done something like that.
Once I accepted the position with Extreme, so many things in my life started to make sense. I looked back and saw how God had been preparing my heart for YEARS to work not just in missions, but also specifically with Extreme. I had been asked more than once in college and beyond to consider Extreme, but I was not ready for something like that. I tried my absolute best to not end up with a degree in Spanish (now that’s an interesting story) but God orchestrated things so that the only way that I could graduate from MNU was if I earned a degree in Spanish. I tried all through college to move to other places, specifically Romania, Thailand, and Egypt. God closed those doors and opened up the doors for me to move to Ecuador and to the Dominican Republic, both Hispanic cultures. He allowed me the opportunity to travel with a marimba ensemble for several years to Hispanic congregations. No matter where I tried to go, God brought me back to Hispanic culture and He put up with my bad attitude about that for years.
Then, when I graduated from MNU and accepted a position at College Church of the Nazarene, I started working just for Compassionate Ministries and Bus Ministries. Shortly after I started working there, the executive pastor stepped into my office and informed me that because of my experience with the Spanish language and with the Hispanic culture, I would also be the new Hispanic ministries office assistant. I grew to enjoy with all my heart working with Pastor Eduardo, although my fear of speaking Spanish or doing much with it consumed me in irrational ways. It seemed that no matter where I went or tried to run to, God was always bringing me back to His calling for me to work in this area. I always knew that He had plans for me there, and no matter how much I wanted to do something else…anything else…God always brought me back.
Then I moved to Nashville. I decided that I would be obedient to God’s obvious desire for me to work in a Spanish context and try to help out with a Hispanic congregation. I interviewed with the pastor, and things went well. However, for some unknown reason, it didn’t work out. Looking back, I see how I was trying to make something happen that God didn’t ordain for the time. It was my plan, not His. He must make things happen, not me. Surely I would have learned that lesson by now, but I can be a difficult student. So, I settled into my little English-speaking job in my English-speaking city and enjoyed my English-speaking Sunday School class. I really do enjoy speaking English. However, God didn’t leave me there for long. Only God would Divinely place a guy named Jared in my Sunday School class (or maybe God Divinely placed me in HIS Sunday School class) and only God would cause our paths to cross in such a way that just a few quick months later, I would be giving in and saying, “Yes” to God’s call to serve with Extreme Nazarene Ministries in South America. Only God.
When I came to Nashville, I was struggling with a lot of internal emotions and insecurities. I prayed constantly that God would work in my heart and heal some wounds that I had been carrying for far too long. He completely honored the desire of my heart, although through much of the process I was unaware of what He was doing. It is only in looking back that I see how far I have come. My friends started noticing the changes that were taking place as I truly spent this past year drawing closer to my Savior and growing in His love. I learned so much about God’s truth and learning to see myself in that perspective. I grew in confidence and in my faith that God really is active and at work at all times. I think often about how much can happen in such a short time. Not only did so many circumstances in my life change in just a few months, but I have changed so much and continue to do so every day. However, none of this I could have thought up. I could never have made myself grow up. Only God could do something like that.
As I was meeting with my counselor a few weeks ago, she made the comment, “Only God would have led you to Nashville to prepare you for South America.” What a true and revolutionary statement! If I would have sat down several years ago and planned out my life on paper (actually I did, several times), I would not have put any of these things on the itinerary. Logically, how do these things even fit together? You couldn’t make these things up if you tried. Yet, it seems that every day another piece falls into place and I just shake my head at the things that God does and has been doing for so long.
Here’s a story. In my junior year of college, I had to make a decision: stay in college for a 5th year or drop my double major of Intercultural Studies and simply graduate with a degree in Spanish. Literally, to the credit hour everything lined up to graduate with only one major. As I researched things, I discovered that a Bachelor of Arts degree is simply a Bachelor of Arts degree, no matter how many emphases are put on it. There was almost no point in paying for another year of college. I was encouraged by advisors to drop the half of my degree that I absolutely loved (Intercultural Studies) and spend the last year in mostly Spanish classes. Begrudgingly, I did it. I would only discover why God did this later.
Here’s another story. For several years in college and after, I had been in the ordination process for the Church of the Nazarene. This required me to log hours of service and also to take classes in ministry as well as interview with church leaders. In doing this, I had many awesome opportunities for internships and I met several people that have become advisors and good friends of mine. Just after college ended and while I was working at the church, I sensed that God was leading me to take a break from the process. I didn’t understand this at the time. Being called into missions is an interesting thing related to ordination, because it is not a requirement to be ordained to do missions. I obeyed God and took a break.
Here is the conclusion of both of these stories. Literally an hour after the church service where God confirmed His desire for me to work with Extreme, I walked into a training session where I was told that while we were fulfilling our responsibilities for ministry on the field, we would be taking classes toward a degree in Intercultural Studies and also ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. At the end of our two year commitment, we will have finished half of these programs and possibly have the opportunity to redeploy for another two years to finish. I literally almost passed out. I started shouting (no joke) and everyone looked at me like I had lost my marbles. I didn’t care. That was my moment with God.
When I lived in Ecuador several years ago, I came face to face with my struggle to follow the call of God on my life. It was the story of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint that first awakened my heart to the call, and walking the same streets as they walked in Shell and seeing the inside of the Saint’s house stirred the feeling that I had nothing to offer God. I actually gave up my calling for a day, and God pursued me in a miraculous way and brought me back. That encounter with Him forever changed my life, because I discovered that God in fact did not need me. He is Almighty God of the Universe, and I could not offer Him anything that He could not do Himself or call someone far more qualified than me to do. He showed me that He wanted me…He desired me. I am His delight. His love finds the lost cause and creates a masterpiece. He wants the world to know that it was Him and only Him that created the miracle. I was His lost cause. I was a mess. He found me, is changing me, and is creating a masterpiece through my life that will cause people to say, “Only God could have done that!” I’m good with that.
I have learned a HUGE lesson in all of this (well, many, but we’ll stick with this one for now): “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). The Message version always puts things in an interesting way. This is what it says: “He [God] knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” I am so glad that through all of these times of decision and many more that I will discover later that I have been obedient to God, even when I didn’t understand why or when it was painful to put on hold something that I truly loved and wanted. It was so hard for me to leave Nashville, but looking back on all the ways that God has worked everything out, I know that He always knows what He is doing and we can be confident that He is up to something good. Though His plans may be more challenging, they are always bigger and better than our own…even when it seems like ours are so enormous and impossible.
I look back on this whole journey and the only phrase I’m left with is, “Only God.” Only God could have orchestrated everything to turn out the way it is. This past Monday, I went to a young adult service and the pastor was preaching his last message to us. He talked about how God had worked things out in His life, and he spent some time talking about certain moments that we often brush away. It may be a conversation we have with someone, or an event that occurs. To us, it may seem like a random encounter or a chance happening, and we move on with our lives. At some point in the future, sometimes years down the line, God brings us back to those key moments and suddenly we are aware of His activity through it all. I absolutely have found this to be true in my life. Those isolated incidents when I had to choose to drop a major or a simple leading to take a break from ministerial training seemed so confusing to me for many years. Now those things have come together to be so much better than I ever imagined. The thing that blows my mind even more is knowing that several “random” people along the way, even those who did not work with Extreme Nazarene Ministries directly, had passing conversations with me about going to South America with the organization. This happened over several years. Every time I said no, God planted another seed. Now, He has opened the door for me to go, and this is the fulfillment of a plan that was so much bigger than any of us involved.
Obey God. Obey Him in spite of your desire to understand. We get so focused on our lives and putting everything in its place that we forget that this is not OUR story; it’s GOD’S story. My little dinky plan for my life four years ago would have been alright, but it wouldn’t have been AMAZING like God could only make it. Even now, He is writing a chapter and painting a picture. Someday we’ll be able to see the book and read what’s on the pages. Someday we’ll see how each color fit together. I am so thankful for those times when God allows us to see just a little bit of what He’s doing. Who knows what He has planned for the future. The truth remains that in everything we can trust Him and know that He is good.
For those of you who were wanting to know a little bit more about why I am moving to South America, this is just the part of God’s story that I can comprehend at this moment. I can’t imagine how much more wonderful it will be as time moves on. What a rich thing it is to serve Christ for many years. Knowing Him has been the greatest thing, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want anything else. What an honor it is and a humbling thing it is to be chosen by the Creator of the Universe. He doesn’t need me, but He wants me. I can say with all my heart that I WANT HIM. More than anything else. More than anyone else. There is no one else for me; only Jesus. In a world that constantly wants more and more of everything, I only want more of God. With a story like this, why would I want anything else?