I can reach way back into my childhood and find the first little prompts that I should become a missionary. Our church hosted missions conferences, and the missionaries who were home on furlough would tell stories and show videos of their exotic, exciting foreign lives. I latched onto the sorts of things that any kid would - images of crappy roads, rustic churches, big bugs and palm trees... being a missionary would be awesome.
Or I can look back at my family history and see that more than a few of my aunts and uncles were missionaries at some point, a point driven home by some of the missionaries I was with in Zambia. "It's in your blood" they told me. Maybe it is. Maybe this whole thing precedes my birth. It's exciting when I think that God had these plans for me long before I was born. Before my family was around. Before the world was around. Okay, I guess I need to reach back to the dawn of time.
Before God created the world, He knew what He'd have me do. It's like, part of His master plan. It's like, cosmic. It's like, whoa.
Okay, let's not get too excited here. But God did have this in store for me from the beginning. It just took me a long time to figure it out.
I considered Bible college when I was in High School. But there was this persistent voice from inside and outside that said: you're smart, get a job, make money. I honestly thought, I love missions but somebody's got to stay here and make money and give it to missionaries. So I went to a big school, and then another big school, and spent five years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to figure out what I was gonna do with my life for a career. I spent my summers at camp. Then I graduated and tried to find a job. And I still spent my summers at camp.
Five years ago, I went to Africa because a friend told me to talk to a missionary from there. Two years ago, I went back again because some missionaries from there invited me and it would have been rude to turn them down and besides, I wanted to go anyway and couldn't get it out of my mind. I think I went for the adventure, to be honest. When I was there, that was when missionaries told me that it was in my blood. When I was there, that was when I realized that the yearning to be a missionary had been in me for a long, long time. When I was there, that was when I decided it I would go and be a missionary for longer, someday.
Even then, even when I knew I'd go back, I still had reservations. I was going to go home for a while, keep the crazy missionary pursuits in the "Somedays." There were three things that held me back.
First, a career. If I was going to be a missionary, I would need a trade. I didn't have formal training in missions or evangelism or even ministry. I wanted a trade, a way to make sure I'd feel helpful. A way to justify my being there, a way to feel qualified. Like, I could be a teacher or a builder or a radio guy or a doctor, except not a doctor because that would take a long time and would involve cutting people open.
Second, money. Again, five years of college adds up, and I wanted to be unshackled from that debt. Taking time to pay off debt would allow me the opportunity to stay stateside, to stay safe, to be around my family and, just maybe, work on that third thing - find a wife.
Maybe it's just me, but when you are 24, 25, 26 and single, people start to worry for you and want to hook you up with their friends and start posting Greek Mail Order Bride links on your Facebook wall. You might not feel concerned at first, but the worrying that others do on your behalf is contagious, and you begin to do the math and envision scenarios where you're 40 and alone with cats. I can't have that. I'm allergic to cats.
All three of these things are legitimate concerns. A career, financial freedom, and a spouse are examples of the need to feel useful, to feel free, and to feel companionship. There's nothing wrong with any of these. But naturally, I placed the burden to meet those needs squarely on myself.
I'll go someday, I told myself, but I can't see how I'll ever get along once I come back unless I have a career to come back to.
I'll go someday, I told myself, but I want to pay these bills first, because I can't see how I'll be able to do that when I'm out there.
I'll go someday, I told myself, but I can't see how I'll be able to find a wife if I'm a million miles away.
"I'll go someday, but I can't see how...."
What a thing to tell yourself when you're thinking about working for the kingdom of God! You can't serve God while building up your own safety systems in case he doesn't come through. Either He is sufficient or He is not. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing. How can you trust Him to do big things in other people's lives if you don't trust Him to do small things in your own?
It dawned on me about a year ago that I was struggling with faith. I believed that God was there, sure, but I wasn't so confident that he'd take care of me. I wanted to take care of myself before I went. Of course, that hasn't worked out too well for me over the last couple years. I got a start to a career to pay down debt. I don't need to go into details, but it was a mismatch and I often felt miserable. And I'm still single. But I'm gonna go anyway.
This summer, I submitted to give up the search for a career and any worries over my debt and single-tude, and consented that I would indeed go forth and serve in ministry. The funny thing is that this specific opportunity centers around camping ministry, the thing I did to fill time in college. I've heard the saying for a loooong time that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. And that was my prayer when I submitted. I'll go. I'm not ready, but you are who you say you are and I trust you with all the other stuff.