When I was 21 I lived in war-torn Bosnia. I spent three months there working with the UNHCR (United Nations Head Commissioner for Refugees) on behalf of my sending organization. (It was UFM International at the time, but now goes by the name CrossWorld.) Military teams escorted me through and around the valley of Gorazde as I distributed food, helped build playgrounds, dispersed clothing and other necessities to bullet-riddled neighborhoods.
I drank very thick Turkish coffee and tried to learn the language. I counted 17 giant spiders on my wall and ceiling one night before deciding the charm of open windows couldn’t compete with the glory of first-world screens.
My fiancee was in the States. We arranged one phone call a week and had to watch the time because 20 minutes of international long-distance was all we could afford.
My missionary journey didn’t end in Bosnia. I also spent time in Croatia and a weekend in Germany before moving to Switzerland. There I worked with an international church plant. I taught art in an American boarding school and English in a Chinese college. I totally butchered the French language each time I bought groceries and slipped into more than a few mishaps while hiking and biking the Alps.
During my time in Switzerland I was invited to dinner with a few other missionaries. Married couples, they were all older. Their kids were closer to my age than they were. I was the lone single kid in the group. I don’t remember their names or what we ate, but I do remember our conversation.
One of the gentlemen asked me what I studied in school.
He scoffed. “What are you going to do with THAT? You need to major in something else.”
It bothered me greatly. I had spent nearly four years studying Scripture, world religions, church history, intercultural relations, missionary methods, church planting tactics, community growth and development, leadership and governance. I did not appreciate him telling me I was wasting my time. Especially since he was a missionary! Shouldn’t he be thrilled that I was ready to join the fields filled with ready crops and all that?
It made me angry. I didn’t get it.
I get it now.
Seriously. Who thought it was a good idea to send some skinny, blonde kid to a war-torn country alone? While she simultaneously planned a wedding on the other side of the ocean.
Who looked at that 21-year-old and thought she could manage international relations, language barriers, culture shock, humanitarian leadership, team drama, and literally life-threatening situations all at the same time??
I did. I both thought it was perfect and I did all that. I survived and God is forever faithful, but … How was any of that a good idea?
That bright-eyed, 21-year-old world changer came home. She got married. She finished college. Then she spent the next few years (okay, maybe a decade) wondering what she did wrong for God to drop her in the East Coast suburbs. The New Jersey suburbs, of all places.
It took me a very, very long time — I’m just stubborn like that. — to realize that God doesn’t need me to go save the world. He doesn’t even want me to try. It’s not my job. All He asks of me is that I love Him and serve Him no matter where I am. Right here. In the dailies. (Hey, that sounds like a great book.) With what He has placed in my hands.
Jamie Wright (a.k.a. The Very Worst Missionary) wrote a post about this. Well, her post is about a documentary movie, but it branches into something far more relevant than a film. As always, she challenges the church to do things well.
“We don’t need any more missionaries. We need actual teachers, and social workers, and business wo/men, and midwives, and therapists, and pastors, and farmers, and caregivers, and on and on and on… Because we have the greatest impact when we, specifically, send the right people, to do the right job, in the right place.“
Don’t get me wrong. I am THRILLED and honored that I had those experiences! I encourage anyone who can go on a mission trip to do it as soon as reasonably possible. But let’s try to find the right people to do the right job in the right place and time.
What are our gifts?
What are the best uses for those gifts?
And how can we use them right where we are while equipping and encouraging others with their own gifts?
TALK TO ME.