Mission Fields

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I have always loved reading. And daydreaming. I don’t do either as much as I used to, or should, now that I’m all grown up . Over the years, reading has taken me places – places that I most likely will never see with my eyes, but because of the author’s words I could imagine.

Autobiographies penned by foreign missionaries have always intrigued me. I can easily imagine myself tending to the needs of people in some exotic, remote place. Just like in the countless books I’ve read , I have fantasized about selling everything to go where no one else wanted to go.

Living a simple life, growing my own food, caring for a village and sharing the love of the Gospel are all ideas that appeal to the mother in me.  Yet, in all my years, the closest I’ve come to that level of sacrificial living is a one-week mission trip. It seems pathetic, these longings of mine that rush in and out like the tide but  haven’t materialized into anything more than daydreaming.

I believe it started during my elementary school years, this wanderlust.  There was a group of girls my age, whom I attended church with, that began monthly meetings to explore the lives of missionaries in countries where our denomination sent them to. We perused literature and watched slide shows highlighting the cultures in those far away places.

Our group was called Girls in Action and was led by a gentle spirited woman whom I recall as Margaret. In her dimly lit living room, we giggled at the odd fare as we sampled a different foreign meal at each meeting, depending on the country that we were focused on that night. I’m certain this is where I learned to use chopsticks and I am taken back to those moments in Margaret’s home whenever I smell peanut oil and soy sauce.

My wanderlust blossomed while traveling overseas as an adult. My husband and I with four of our children experienced life in Europe during  2 years of residing in Germany. Though I missed family and friends and all things familiar, I attempted to embrace the culture.  We took day trips exploring the quaint villages that dotted the landscape. The places we visited were rich in history, food and people brimming over with merriment. There were difficult days of living abroad but the broadening of my horizon was invaluable. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but God used that prepare me for something else.

About a year and a half after returning to the US, I would finally embark on my first foreign mission trip. Choosing from a list of upcoming trips was not easy, but something struck a note in my heart when I read about the visit to a maternity home in Bucharest Romania.  I spent the next few months preparing with a team, most of whom I didn’t know yet.  It began a spiritual revival in me as we practiced sharing our testimonies of faith. I learned much about the Romanian history and culture, but more about God, myself and His providence in the lives of these faithful servants.

Along with the awakening, came doubt. My life did not reflect a picture of someone you would consider “mission ready.” Just like the young women we were going to minister to, I had once been a young, naive unwed mother with no clue how to navigate the path of parenting. As a casualty of divorced parents, my lack of self-confidence and destructive relationship skills were a lethal combination.

Though I had professed faith in Christ as a nine-year old, I turned from that faith during my teenage years. For much of that difficult road, through my own divorce with two young children, I struggled alone, behind a fog of shame. It was a fog that lingered well into my adult life. And in spite of growth and healing in recent years, I was reminded of that shame as I prepared go where I felt God was sending me.

Doubt can undermine our efforts and render us ineffective for the kingdom of God. As I tentatively began raising the funds I needed to go on the trip, a small part of me thought ‘God must think I’m silly for trying to do this! What do I have to offer anyone?’ We weren’t in the best shape financially. In fact, there were days when we honestly didn’t know how we’d feed our family. Our basic needs of shelter and food and transportation were all at risk. How could I justify spending money to go do this?

Little by little, God worked in the most beautiful ways to ensure that I could go on this trip. He blessed me through the generous hearts of others on the team who wanted me to be a part of this journey. We laughed, cried and forged a closeness that served to kill whatever doubt I had about going.

Not to diminish from how God weaved miracles and beauty into that time in Romania, those are tales for another time – the point of me sharing this is to say this: God prepared me while I was seeing the world instead of Him. He prepared the way before I knew I was going anywhere. And He filled me with confidence in Him rather than my circumstances. All of that preparing, not just for a one-time mission trip abroad but for a lifetime of needing Him, right here.

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Looking Both Ways

1904055_10203662958629097_6554011641272205258_nDorothy skipped along the yellow brick road on the television, dressed in gingham with braids.  She and her dog Toto gathered friends and foes for the journey to the Land of Oz.  Even in black and white, it drew my attention as the only animation in the cold, dark small living space of Grandma’s trailer. Maybe it was in color, I’m not really sure. It’s a somewhat foggy memory for me.

I was watching The Wizard of Oz through some sort of netted material – a play pen perhaps. I was only in diapers. The still-vivid memory is like a blip on the radar, followed by static. Years of static, a blank screen, as if someone came along and erased the memories. It reminds me of something that would happen in the Twilight Zone –  zap! Reprogramming. All gone.

Memories. I’ve always marveled at people who can remember, with accuracy and completeness, their childhood- as if every, single, moment was recorded with modern-day technology . I say marveled, but not jealous. Curious maybe, sometimes wondering about the missing memories. But I trust that God has allowed me to experience what more than makes up for a missing recollection of diaper changes, naps at afternoon kindergarten and all the drama that happens on school bus stops.

I know for a fact that certain events took place. I know where I went to school, who my teachers were, what my family dynamics were, and other demographics that you could get from photos and stories told. Mom always had photo albums nearby –  always too easily found for sessions of  embarrassment when we brought home a new boyfriend. I know things from these images, but those aren’t what you would call “memories.” I don’t feel these things. It’s not the same as what I once heard someone say, “you just know it in your knower.” I don’t have a strong connection to the smells, the colors, what I would have been feeling at the time, good, bad or otherwise…..to any of those early years.

I think I’m ok with that. But then again, why do I revisit this state of not knowing and ponder it at all? Looking into my children’s eyes I worry that they too will not remember. A few of those moments, snippets of their childhood days,  I hope they don’t. I hope, knowing it is unlikely, that they will forget those brief lapses in my ever-so-scant wisdom – despicable scenarios that have left indelible marks on my own memory. Surely, in God’s goodness, He will let them forget. Forget the time that I lost control and left red streaks on my son’s buttocks with a plastic spatula after I supposed that he pushed me beyond my limits. Forget the two so-called “adults” pushing and shoving like junior high enemies. Forget the words that I let pierce my older son’s heart.

Maybe what is really at the heart of my wishes for my children is this:  I hope they can remember but do it with grace and mercy. Perhaps, that is how God has taught me to remember. In spite of all  the years, all the moments, all the stepping stones to here that I cannot recall….I can now view all the events of my past with grace and mercy. Grace and mercy for my parents, my siblings, friends, teachers, and even my enemies. I can’t remember it all, but God has given me the gift of having memories without bitterness and sorrow. And this gives me hope, for all the things in the present that will also one day be….memories.