Today is a "step back and get the big picture" kind of day, as I take advantage of the re-entry theme to reflect on the past and its impact on my present reality. The following is the story of how God called me to serve Him overseas. I have some comments to share, but I'll reserve those for a few posts on calling over the next few days. For now, here's the story as I tell it to those who ask,
"How were you called into missions?"
A tall, slim Caucasian man wrapped in brightly colored African clothing leaned over the podium while photos of his son holding spears with warriors in Uganda played across the screens on either sides of the church. He shared the verse, "Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed, for God is going to do something in your day that you would believe even if you were told," from Habakkuk 1:5. He spoke of the lives they had changed while living in Africa and shared exotic tales of hardship and reward.
A 16 year old Leslie soaked in every word and joined just a few people of the hundreds in the service as the preacher asked anyone who felt "called to missions" to come forward.
I had been "called."
The summer before this I had been on one two week mission trip to Costa Rica with my youth group, traveling around the country performing a mime while a recording narrated in Spanish. On the tour bus I stared out the window thinking, I could do this. God, is this what you want for my life?
Africa had my heart from that time on and I practically attacked any Africans or missionaries to Africa I met for the next several years. But after spending six months in Uganda my senior year of college, I came back humbled and less sure of God's driving will for my life. Africa? I didn't think so anymore. Missions? Possibly.
So I lived life. I taught middle school in the city of Chicago and volunteered with the church inner city youth group. After several years, that feeling began to niggle at my heart again--the urge to go that I couldn't ignore.
So since I was a teacher and had summers off, I told someone at church that I would volunteer to help a missionary from our church for the summer. The first one I heard from was in Tajikistan. Tajiki--what? I ran to the map to find where it even was and told the man from church that I'd just wait to hear back from more. Surely there'd be more. After all, our church supported about 20 missionaries. I heard from one in Canada, but other than that, nope. Tajikistan. I actually emailed the family back to tell them I couldn't come, but quickly felt that I should go. To Tajikistan. Next to Afghanistan.
I lived with a missionary family in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for five weeks, helping them with a few projects at the English school they worked for and manning the tiny English library a few days a week. Since they didn't have a ton for me to do, I basically had all morning free to spend sleeping, reading and listening. And in that time and space, the Lord seemed to indicate that that would be my last year in Chicago and that I should pursue going overseas again to a "closed" country (to missionaries).
When I returned from Tajikistan, China was everywhere I turned. On the radio, in conversations I overheard, in books and mentioned "randomly" by friends. China seemed to be the obvious choice for where I would go.
When I applied and was accepted by an organization to go to China, but was still waiting for placement, I got a call (on the phone, not from God). This wasn't the way things were usually done, but would I be willing to serve in a very remote placement? A placement with only one teammate? Eight hours from the nearest airport (at that time)? Oh, and it's not the warm place that you had requested (my ONLY request).
Because of my previous experience with Muslims in Tajikistan, I was now on my organization's radar as someone with experience in a Muslim area.
I told them I would call them back. I went home and prayed. Within 12 hours, I had two "signs."
The first was when I Googled the name of the city (a place many Chinese people don't even know) and the first page I was directed to was about a group from Intervarsity traveling to that very city that summer. The leader listed at the bottom was the sister of one of my best friends in Chicago who lived down the street. Out of all the tiny remote villages in China, "coincidentally," here was one I had a personal connection with right out of the gate.
The second "sign" was my reading that day in My Utmost for His Highest. I nearly dropped the book as I read:
"We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do. God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might...' (Eccl. 9:10)."
These, along with a general peace that this what God was leading me to do, was what led to me spending three years in a remote city in China and two years in the capital city of that province for full-time language school.
I will say that answering my "call" to China was a bit like an arranged marriage. I never had the fascination with China that I had with Africa and it certainly wasn't love at first sight when I arrived on Chinese soil (I literally cried when I saw Africa for the first time from the air--not so much with China). My first few days in China I felt like we were just living in a Chinatown that never ended, with more smells assaulting me than I had ever experienced before.
But I distinctly remember a moment at the end of my first year there where I felt myself beginning to fall in love. It was as if God was urging me to go ahead and take the plunge and really be all there. So I did--I allowed myself to fall in love with China and her people and committed myself to being there however long the Lord wanted me there.
I'll unpack a few of my thoughts regarding calling over the next few days, so be sure to check back in!
Was your call at all similar to mine? If you haven't gone overseas, do you ever feel that God might be calling you to serve Him in another country?
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This post is day 16 of the series "Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock," a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected...
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You're Not the Only One Who's Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My "Call"
Day 17: Is Missions a "Higher Calling"?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)--a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)
Photo: World Map, Wiki Commons
Labels: 31 days (2015), calling, China, Missions, my story, Spiritual Lessons