“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10a (NIV)
I’ve felt led for a little while now to tell the story of how God made a way for me to go into missions in South Africa. Even before I go I want to make it known how my God has been at work so that others can see and praise Him as well.
But to be honest, I wasn’t always sure it was going to happen or even that I heard Him correctly when He said “Go.” Looking back I can see now how He made a way when there was no way. And I want to share it so that others may be encouraged, especially those who may find themselves in the “holding pattern” of waiting on God to make a way – regardless of the situation. He can and He will if it’s His will and what’s best for you in the long run! So here goes…
When I was 15 or so I went to a youth camp with my church called Centrifuge. It was at this camp experience that I felt a very strong calling on my life to be a missionary. However, at 15 I was too young to go into full time ministry. So I put this dream on hold “until after college”.
I went to a Baptist college where I continued to fall in love with helping others. I even spent a summer working as a missionary's helper on an Indian reservation one summer break with a dear friend of mine, only adding fuel to the fire in my heart. But my degree was in Elementary Education (limited options at a small college). So after graduation it just made sense to start teaching school, especially since in the state of KY, where my degree was, you had to complete at least 1 year of teaching as an intern before your teaching certificate was “official”. And they were offering to pay back your student loan bills in 3 years if you agreed to teach in the state of KY after graduation. So… missions found itself on hold again.
Unfortunately I learned the hard way that I’m not really designed to teach in our current education system. Not that I’m not a teacher. God made me a teacher and that’s a part of my DNA; the joy of watching others learn is built into my personality. However, teaching in our current system proved very difficult for me. And after struggling to do what I thought I was designed to do I found myself in a depression. Missions was now the furthest thing on my mind. All I could process was that I got a degree, passed all the tests with flying colors, LOVED working with kids and watching them learn, but there was no place for me as a teacher in the US education system (at least that’s how it felt). I was jobless, living back at home with my parents, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So, as a safety net, I decided to work at LifeWay Christian Resources where my mom had worked almost all of my life. I knew I would be working in a Christian environment and I felt safe there. Little did I know that this was exactly the place God had in mind for me to be.
God used LifeWay to create a sanctuary for me. During the day I did my job processing orders and talking to people through live chats and emails. But at night, I was given permission to come in and use my office as a mini church. I would go home after work and wait for the office to close. Then, at least 3 or 4 nights a week, I’d find myself driving back to the office to prayer walk, watch Bible study videos, read scripture, and simply hide in His presence. Being surrounded by His Word and feeling His Spirit run through every cubicle of the place created such a sweet time of healing and growth for me. It was during these times that I learned to let Him heal the hurts of my past (as a child and as an adult) and to recognize that I was a broken person who needed her Daddy to help her. It was during these times that I came to terms with my childhood trauma (I’m a child abuse survivor) and reclaimed my past for His glory. It was during these times that I learned how to go from being broken and wounded to being covered by His love and seeing the broken and wounded people around me. It was during this time that He taught me that there is so much more to me than just my job or my position. I am His and I was created to be just as multi-faceted as He is. I am a teacher by design, but I am also a servant, an encourager, a protector of the weak, a leader of sorts, and a true lover of my God. He laid a foundation over the course of about 5 years that I don’t think I could have ever dreamed existed.
Once I found myself in a place where I felt strong in His truths I began to ask Him what He wanted me to do with my life - rather than what I thought I wanted to do with my life. Since I still had a passion for kids and I loved to watch them grow and learn I felt Him leading me to start helping in the children's department at my amazing home church, Long Hollow Baptist Church. Because I was already serving in the media team on Sunday mornings I chose to give my Saturday nights to the children's department, giving me a smaller group of kids to work with and more time to invest in them. While I was serving there the children's director at the time approached me and asked what I felt led to do with my life. We talked about how I'd been thinking about foster care lately and helping kids in need around me. She bluntly asked me, "What are you waiting for?" Without much of an answer to that question I started asking God for His direction and guidance in this way. I soon felt led to pursue helping kids in need all around me.
I signed up to be a foster parent, went through all the training classes, got my condo ready for children, and waited. And waited. And prayed for direction, and waited.
After almost of year of waiting and not getting any placement calls I started to doubt if He had led me to do this. But very quickly God directed a friend to lead me out of the government's version of foster care and into a private organization called Camelot Care. Through Camelot I not only got to have 3 different placements in my home, but I also was blessed to be a part of getting to know all of the kids in their care every month as we all got together for training classes. These kids changed my world! They all were hurting and needed someone to care for them, that was obvious. But what changed me was the fact that they were all so joyful, so confident, and so.... normal! They were just like the kids I saw every week at church and the kids I saw all the time through my friends and family members. They just took a little more patience and energy to break through the initial wall of security around them. But once you broke through, they were just kids! Having one-on-one time with these kids helped me to realize what I was missing as a school teacher. I love to watch kids learn and grown, but I want a relationship with them too. And having 50 kids in and out of my classroom every day, plus the after-school kids, made it so hard to have the one-on-one time with them that I desperately wanted. I have been blessed to be able to hear from some of my former students as they grow up and to learn that I did still have an impact on them (only because of God). But realizing this desire to change kids for His glory and having broken children in my home that truly understood God's love and grace brought me back to the idea that God may want more from me than I was allowing Him access to. I felt Him still calling me into missions.
When I felt strongly that God was calling me back to the missions field I approached it with the same passion I had at 15. I wanted to jump right in and find where God wanted me to go! And I wanted to go now! But just like when I was 15, He asked me to say yes to His plan and then wait. Since I've never been good at the waiting period I started trying to find missions opportunities on my own. I applied for 4 different missions organizations and contacted several others. After several rejections, for honest reason I couldn't correct right away (teaching certificate expired, overweight, unmarried, female, etc), I found myself back at God's feet asking questions. But the answer I kept getting was "wait".
If you've been there, you know! That's the worst answer to get! Ugh! The waiting period has never been my favorite time. However, I know looking back that I learn so much more through those times than I even think possible. And while I waited I learned that I didn't care about the rejections. I didn't care what others saw in me or the limits they put on me because I was stronger now. I had been through so many hard times and each time God was with me. He carried me through and made me stronger on the other side. I didn't care if they thought I couldn't do it. I was in a place in my life where I knew I could, if God wanted me to. And in this case, I just knew He did! So the waiting period this time around was one of power! I grew stronger in my "calling" and stronger in my desire to serve Him anywhere, anytime, anyhow! I just wanted it to be HIM!! I asked Him to take me out of the equation all together and make it all about Him. I knew that if it had anything to do with me, it would fail. But in Him, it would succeed! And people would be blessed and would know Him! This time, it was too important. I had to step out of His way and let Him lead! And that's just what He did.
While I was waiting, one of my best friends (Cindy Carter) moved to Virginia to work at a Christian university. While working there she met a couple named Steve and Julie James. Cindy started telling me about how Steve and Julie used to be missionaries through one of the organization that had rejected me. And she asked me to pray for them because they were feeling led to go back into the missions field. I asked her if I could contact Steve and talk with him about his missions experience. And she connected me to him via email.
Fast forward a few months as Steve and Julie were making the decision to go to South Africa to start, of all things, a children's village/orphanage! They asked me to pray with them about this decision and asked me to pray about what God might have in store for me as well. Cindy, also feeling led by God, and I decided we needed to visit them in South Africa and see what God was up to. We went in the fall of 2014 for a visit, the week of my birthday actually. And I was immediately struck by God at work! These people needed to know God! They needed to understand what all Jesus did for them! And they needed to know their worth in His eyes! Everywhere we went I felt like God was working to open the eyes and hearts of people! Random people would somehow fall into conversations with the team about God and how He loved them and the work of the children's village. I felt like the Holy Spirit was running rampant in this city! And, as my dad used to tell us kids, "To be satisfied in this life you have to find where God is at work and join Him." I knew before the week was over that I wanted to join Him at work in this city and the surrounding communities. But I wanted to make sure, once again, that it was Him and not me.
We returned from South Africa and I made the very unusual (for me) decision to spend almost a month in prayer and fasting. I've never been healthy enough to fast but God lead me to a fast that even my doctor approved of. So for 21 days I fasted (using the Daniel fast), I prayed, I read scripture, I ignored social media, I avoided tv, I craved caffeine, and I focused on Him like I'd NEVER focused before! I LOVED that time! That will ALWAYS be a special memory for me. Was it hard? Heck yeah!!! But was it worth it? More than I could ever explain! By the end of the 21 days I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has laid all the pieces in place for me. He went ahead of me every step of the way to prepare a place for me to serve Him in South Africa. What that looks like is still up in the air until I get there. But I know, like I've never known, that He has called me there. He has made a way where I couldn't find a way. He has provided every thing and knocked down every obstacle as only He could do! This is my God at work! And He's the reason I've since made the decision to go to South Africa, find Him at work, and join Him in any way that I can! And I am so excited to see where He takes me next!
It's like this... When you look back and see all that He has brought you through and how He has laid every piece of the puzzle into place for you, then you can easily see that He still has you now and He's still at work ahead of you! He led me out of darkness and He's going to lead me into the light of His promises tomorrow! He's been doing it since Adam and Eve. So why do I constantly question His directions and try to control this life?! When it's His way, just get out of the way and let Him lead! He is amazing!!!
So now, as I prepare to leave for South Africa (in His timing), I can't help but look back and thank Him for all that He's done. He alone brought me to this place in my life. He alone made me who I am today. And if I keep this in mind every step of the way the fears of "what if" lose all power in my world! "What if" leads to "So What!" God's still in control! He still goes before me and He will make a way to use all that I am for His glory!! Thank You Lord for using even me!! And thank you reader for coming along on this crazy ride with me! I hope this encourages you to keep pushing towards the goals God has laid on your heart and to let Him make a way. His ways are so much better anyhow!
Love Always, Kristin