As a rough and tumble tomboy, I grew up chasing around my cousins, riding bikes through the neighborhood, and selling produce with my sisters. I had few friends, but family was close knit so I usually didn’t mind. My world was small.
My childhood was blanketed in a spiritual haze. Growing up we were isolated from other Christians. My parents loved God, though they didn’t always know the true version of Him. They loved us and at the time they thought it was the right thing. As a result, I grew selfish and lonely. I didn’t know what it was like to live a life of serving others. It was all about me and my painstaking climb to greater spirituality. I was always failing, never worthy of Jesus’ love, and I felt it deeply. I was bad; others around me seemed perfect. They at least heard from God. He never spoke to me, this made me turn inward even more.
When I was 14, I started to go to a youth group. I still remember specific ways the pastor made an impact on me. He often talked about missionaries and missions local and far away. Until that time I don’t think I ever heard those words, but I wasn’t interested. I had enough to worry about fixing my problems. I had my future planned out and it didn’t include crossing any borders. I’d marry and become a songwriter. My service to the world and to God would be something that was natural to me. Everyone thought so. I was content with my version of the American dream.
A Turning Point
Around that time I was hurt by a missionary kid, and it felt like a punishment from God. I became even more turned off to missions. Because I believed that my distaste for crossing the world had caused this person to cut off our friendship after a year of correspondence.
Some time later, I read the story of Jim Elliot and the other men murdered in Ecuador trying to reach an isolated tribe with the gospel. I remember my reaction, “What a waste.” I felt my selfishness rising to the surface and I reasoned it away. I can be a good enough Christian if I stay right here. I didn’t understand why Jim would risk his life for people who hated him. Why did he want to leave his comfortable home, not to mention the love of his life, behind? To die out in the jungle just to tell his future murderers about Christ, why did he care if they were saved or not? He didn’t even know them.
This whole thing bothered me, both what Jim did and my reaction to it. I was confused and felt as far from God as ever. I reread his biography The Shadow of The Almighty. Most of the way through I was shaking my head. Then I stumbled upon the answer to the questions I had been asking.
It was there, a simple sentence, “From the moment he saw them, Jim loved the Indians.” He loved them? How? I wept as I realized the weight of my selfish heart.
I had been running from the God I only knew in theory. But He, He was running after me. Just as Jim ran into this tribe, he knew would likely kill him. He risked all. Everything because of love. If God loved me like that, how could He be this cruel and distant God I thought He was? If He went to the cross for me and opened His arms to me, how could I fear to be close to Him?
From then on I slowly began to feel real conviction that I came to on my own rather than being told. I started to love the lost. I was drawn to broken people where I had always been turned off by them. I now felt out of place with those I saw as having it all together and comfortable with messed up kids at a local skatepark. I started praying for the homeless I’d see on the way to town. When someone looked lost, I would imagine how I would walk right up to them and share the gospel and how the conversation would play out. Though I didn’t yet understand how to really live out my faith, my eyes were opened. I was changing inside. This both scared me and made me excited.
Seeking Truth & Forming My Own Beliefs
As I became hungry for the truth, I wanted to know what I believed about everything. I needed to know why I believed, not just because it was taught to me. God had found me, and I was determined to find Him. I wasn’t going to settle for some distant relationship. I wanted my closeness with Christ to dictate all of my actions, all of my choices, and all of my beliefs.
There were multiple instances where I would open my Bible and gather every scripture I could find on a topic. I did this when a disagreement on homosexuality came up in small group. And again when someone said exclusive home worship was violating the command to gather with the church. Most notable I sought the truth about interracial marriage.
Growing up I would hear racist remarks against black people. It was as if I never knew to hear them, until it all changed. A black neighbor was non-existent in our area at the time. It was rare that I would see a black man or woman ever. That however did not shelter me from the lingering racist attitudes amongst some I was around.
I remember once meeting a black boy and feeling attracted to him. This, I kept secret. It was my hidden sin that I mourned over. I was starting to gain ground on some of my biggest sinful habits and I wanted nothing else to keep me from getting to that place of nearness that I desired. I knew it was sin that kept me from God. I begged the Lord to take away this feeling, thinking it was sin based on what I gathered from the general views around me.
One day I couldn’t take it anymore. We were watching a movie. Part way through a relationship started developing between a white man and black lady. Once it was evident that they were in love the film was quickly shut off with the remark, “What is that? This was supposed to be a Christian movie!” I went to my room.
In tears I began flipping through my Bible and writing every verse I could find about different races marrying. I didn’t conclude my findings that day because the Bible only addressed the topic in passing. I later discovered there were many principles, though not directly written on the topic, that applied beautifully. After what felt like a long time of searching I concluded that any objections of a black Christian marrying a white Christian or any other mix of ethnicities for that matter were completely extrabiblical. I was relieved. I treasured this finding in my heart.
Understanding Love & Growing Burdens
I had been living and planning my life for me. I only loved me. Here I discovered a man who gave up his life and was murdered at the hands of the ones he loved. He loved them, not because they could give anything to him, but because he chose to love them. Jim loved Christ and Christ loved those savages. And Jesus, I realized, was much like Jim Elliot.
All this time, I was a savage living in sin and hating the world. Because He loved me He was quietly pursuing me and drawing me close. I was broken. For once it was not because someone hurt me, but because I knew I had hurt the One who loved me most. I didn’t understand this love. But I wanted to.
I began to feel a burden for many things, I used to care nothing about. Looking back they all had to do with what I would be called to in the future. But back then they felt random. For the first time I wanted to see how ministry in another culture worked, with my own eyes. I felt the selfishness of America and urban, white culture deeply, and I wanted an escape from what I had just started inching my way out of. I wanted to go somewhere I could serve without being repaid.
I began to pray, timidly, for God to send me. I had lots of restrictions surrounding this request. Nowhere in Africa, I never wanted to go there. Though I now had peace with interracial relationships I still did not favor the African race or culture. I was glad to know they were my equals, but that did not mean I wanted to give my life to serving them or that I felt comfortable being surrounded by dark skin. “No Africa, but after that I’ll go anywhere for a short time, just send me” this was my prayer.
Leaving American Soil
Though misguided and selfish God heard my prayer. It wasn’t long until the door opened. He had honored my request and given me the opportunity to go to Asia instead. I was invited to go to the Philippines with friends. They were traveling with a bunch of minors and needed extra hands. It was July 2015 when I bought my ticket and started preparing… if there is really a way to prepare to leave the country for the first time. I went in the spring of 2016 with my sister and a group of about 12 others.
Leading up to that trip, the enemy did everything to convince me I was making a bad decision. He used the confusing, fear-breeding spiritual background I had grown up in to his advantage.
I was terrified, but I reminded myself of my prayers that resulted in the open door. I was determined to go. I trusted if I wasn’t meant to go I would be stopped on the way. I wasn’t backing out this late in the game. I tuned out the “warnings.”
After an incredibly long day of traveling, we arrived on the other side of the world. I had never imagined what life was like outside of the US. It was strange and new and yet felt more like home than home. It was an amazing month. I loved the Philippines. I loved Manilla. I loved the people and how they welcomed me as a stranger with open arms. I saw a culture so different from my home culture and it was less… lonely.
I didn’t want to leave. When I was traveling around with the group, helping out in the small ways I could, I felt I was living for the first time. Again, I was on an airplane praying it would turn around, but this time it was the one carrying me home. For so long God had been calling me out of my shell and I had been fighting right back. I had stuck my heels in the ground and despised the thought of “wasting” my life in a foreign country. Yet, here I was, on the other side of obedience and it was beautiful. I saw all I had been missing.
Reverse Culture Shock
Life back in the states felt meaningless. I loved my family, but I was starting to feel uncomfortable in the atmosphere I had always known. Spiritual things in our home church felt strange and dead. I was tired of feeling I could never arrive. How could I return to the normal of living for me? The spiritual high I felt abroad came crashing down into the deepest low I’d ever known. I didn’t want anything to do with the mundane. I felt disgusted with all the choices in America. I couldn’t understand how so many people seemed content to sit and learn about Jesus but not go out and do something about it. I was miserable.
I wrote in my journal:
Grocery shopping, walked up an aisle, 7 Chinese men walked past me chattering in their sharp language. I was overwhelmed with sorrow, wanting to break down and cry. They reminded me of sweet Asia.
But had I gotten my wish and gone straight back into ministry right then, how much more I would have suffered. Undoubtedly, I would have given up once the fun wore off. At the time I thought my one-month experience was a small taste of what full time missions would be. Come to find out it was much different. I had to learn many lessons and undergo much more maturing if I was to go into full time mission work.
Coming To Grips With The Mundane
I wanted to serve, but my services were limited to orphans, street kids, and addicts. Thus, when I wasn’t around any of those people, my service stopped. At home I was detached and excluded. Once the grief wore off and I got off the floor, I found myself back in the mundane in
the kitchen every morning and night. The Lord started convicting me of leaving my passion and servitude outside the walls of my home. I began to be fully present again.
No longer just cooking, God began to teach me through those many hours that He chooses to use those who are willing to first become the servant.
Anyone who knows me can attest that my happy place is in the kitchen. I guess it’s because it was there that God trained me and opened my eyes to many things. It is, well, my sanctuary.
Meal prep became my time to pray for another open door to ministry while also praying for a true heart change and the consistency of a servant attitude. The reality was not that I did not want to be home, but home was spiritually heavy and I had to fight to be joyful there. There were small doors opening but I wanted something bigger. More permanent.
A Mission Field Closer To Home
I started meeting with girls at a local skatepark, doing crafts and Bible study with them on occasion, mostly just listening. Through my time with them, I realized how little I knew of scripture and how hard it was to explain what I believed. I now knew Christ and genuinely loved him, but I was nervous. Afraid they would see through my skin to my heart that was still unsteady, still unsure of it all, still wavering between what I had always believed and what I was now learning.
It was easy to see how the gospel helped them, who were born into drug ridden homes. The gospel could bring them out of the cycle into freedom. But what did it mean for me? My childhood was fine. I grew up “Christian.” There was nothing much to be saved from, in a physical sense.
The kids motivated me to study more and pray more as I kept a record of each of their names, and stories I gathered of the depravity of their home lives. It didn’t become something great as I had hoped, but I learned a lot and was pushed outside of my comfort zone for the sake of ministry. I loved them. More and more I started to discover how much alike we were. Our physical situations were a world apart, but our spiritual conditions were the same. We needed daily grace. We needed light to shine into the dark parts of our lives.
7 months after we had left the Philippines I wrote this in one of my journals:
When realizing she was gone, I started to feel sad, my kitten is gone. Then I realized how selfish of me to miss that little cat. How much more does my Father miss His children when they are lost in their sins, with no one to bring them to the light. How much more should I weep at the human lives being destroyed every day, at the hands of an abortionist. How much more should I weep over the generations perishing for lack of food while we throw away an abundance. How much more should I desire to lead the lost back to Christ than for this kitten to be led back home.
Much of my serving until this point had been about what was good for me. How happy it made me. How fun it was for me. I was coming to realize it was all about Him and them. My heart was being burdened for the lost, the poor, and the vulnerable.