Most people don’t want to be missionaries. Most people never feel a call to be in full time vocational ministry. I am not one of those people. I wanted to be a missionary before I was even baptized. I didn’t know much, but I knew that the love of Jesus was so powerful that it changed my life and I wanted to share that powerful love with others. I was pumped to just go.
The opportunity came for me to go on a mission trip to Haiti with my youth group. They went annually, and I was going to go after I finished my senior year of high school. Actually, now that I think back I can remember being hesitant on going to Haiti because I wanted to go to Africa instead. Regardless of the hesitations I started planning for our trip. My entire senior year was spent preparing for this trip. I even skipped my senior prom because it was too expensive and I needed to save money. (Which was really more of an excuse to get out of going to prom.)
Anyways on that trip my whole world was stirred up. When we landed it was dark, so I couldn’t see what the country was like until the next day. Because of the heat, we slept on the roof, and I woke up to the sun rising between two mountains that reflected off of a lake. It was absolutely breath taking. I felt like I was in paradise, then we left the mission compound and went into the community and it was a drastic difference from the beautiful scenery I saw that morning. Trash was everywhere, children were naked, and the dogs were boney and pathetic. It was difficult for me to take in the drastic differences from the sunrise, to the slums. I never knew the severity of poverty, and the brokenness that comes with it. I knew I wanted to be a missionary, but after seeing the desperation it felt urgent. I felt like the entire country was in living hell and that I myself could bring a ray of hope.
During this trip I was going through a rough patch in my life. I was overwhelmed with thinking of going to college. My plans were to go to Johnson University, but then I realized that there would be no way I could afford to go there. I didn’t even know how to take out a loan big enough to go there. Thoughts of future plans consumed my mind, even while in Haiti. Then I started thinking, I could just move to Haiti and be a missionary. I don’t need to go to college to be a missionary, the need is urgent and I need to be there now. I really had my mind set on going back as soon as possible, with a one way ticket.
To my disappointment, no one else seemed to be on board. I couldn’t understand why. I just wanted to work and serve, why would people discourage that? I can remember one night when the founder of the orphanage we were working with told me that I really should go to college or some kind of training, my heart was broken. Though she was telling me to wait and be trained, what I heard is that you are not good enough to serve God in this way. I was taught that God is able to use us however he wants, even when we are weak and unable. I thought that this was Gods chance to use me, and work in powerful ways, even though I was unable and young. But what I heard from her is that God isn’t big enough. After returning to the States I cried for two months straight. I cried everyday because I just wanted to be back in Haiti and it didn’t seem like it would ever happen. My heart broke because there was such a need and I was doing nothing about it.
The thing is, my paradigm was wrong in more ways than one. First of all, I thought that the country would not go on without me there. God has been at work in Haiti long before I was born, and he will continue to work there long after I am dead. I never was going to do any saving, because that is God’s job. He alone is the one able to rescue, restore, and reconcile. I was just lucky enough to witness the work of God for ten short days.
Secondly, I had tunnel vision. I thought that immediate relief and aid would solve the problems. I thought that in four years on the mission field a lot more would be accomplished than four years in Bible College. Not that everyone must go to Bible College to be a missionary, but with burn out leading to high attrition rates, perhaps the investment in ministry training is worth it. Ministry, especially in a foreign place, is not for the faint hearted. It is tough. The investment in training, for myself, I believe is God’s way of preparing me to go into lifelong foreign ministry.
In hindsight, I am so thankful for advice that hurts and for unanswered prayers. Being in Africa I have really learned the value of learning from others. Last week I was reading Simiply Christian by N.T. Wright, and somewhere in there he expands on the beauty and excellence of learning from experienced, wise, and mature Christians. Of course my mind immediately went to David and Sandy and the opportunity I have had to learn from them. I have been able to learn what it looks like to do ministry. I have learned the value of putting your family first. I have learned the value of long conversations and building relationships. I have learned that programs are not about doing, but about being. Most importantly I have learned and embraced that I can do nothing apart from Christ, and His people.
This past week I was able to go sand boarding, while we were putting on our gear, and getting a brief rundown of what the day would look like. The instructor told us that while walking up the dunes, we should step in other peoples footprints to make it easier. When you step in someone else’s footprint, they have already pushed down the sand for you so you don’t slide back as much. As soon as I heard her say that, I couldn’t help but think of all that I am learning here. I am able to step in others footprints to be able to go forward, without going backwards first. Let me testify, it is NOT easy hiking up the sand dunes. The boots are heavy, there’s sand rubbing your skin raw, the sun is hot, and the air is dry. Imagine hiking up a mountain while running in soft sand, that is what it is like going up. But having the footprints of others to walk in really does make it easier. I tried to walk off the beaten trail for about 5 steps, and ended up going further down than I went up.
The same is true for Christian life, and leadership. It is a difficult climb no matter what, but when we step in the footprint of others first, we have a boost. I can imagine myself in Haiti, metaphorically sliding down the sand dune, trying to figure it out alone. Praise the Lord that plans don’t always work out. I am thankful for all the people who have gone before me, and blazed the trail. Being in Namibia has been a journey of walking though others footprints, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, learning the challenges that come with leadership, how to respond in difficult situations, and how to honor God through it all. The past two years in Bible College have been a time of preparation and putting on gear, and I have been able to use the gear and training I have had to follow the lead of David and Sandy who are following Christ and joining in on God’s work here in Namibia.
One thing I know for sure, is that I don’t have it all figured out. Ministry is tough, and there’s lots to learn from those around me. I am especially thankful that I get to learn from the Echols.