With the beginning of my adventure only two weeks away, I’ve been reflecting on how I even got to this point in my life. Looking back, I can see how God was working in so many small ways to bring me to where I am, or rather to where I’m about to be. It’s enough to make me want to cry when I really examine how God has brought me to this place in my life, and it humbles me immensely to know how much He didn’t give up on me, even when I fought against doing His will. So here is just a small taste of what I’ve been looking back on these past several days. I hope that it will be encouraging to you as you look for God’s hand in your own life as well. (P.S. I know it’s rather long, but I promise this is the shortened version!)
I went on my first mission trip when I was 16 years old. I had been studying a little Spanish in high school, and attempting to practice it at work with my Spanish-speaking coworkers, so when the opportunity came to travel to Guatemala with my church, I was excited to gain even more experience using Spanish. I had never been out of the country, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but my dad and sister were going too, so I wasn’t too worried. Although we didn’t spend much time in the city, it was the first time that I was surrounded by people who all looked different than I did, and all spoke a different language. It was a really good experience for me, being able to see how people in other countries live and to see how there is so much of an opportunity to serve and share the love of God with others around the world.
The second time I traveled outside of the country I spent a week in Oaxaca, Mexico. On this trip I was able to experience several very different kinds of ministry: working with kids in villages, seeing the work being done through the Mexican seminary there, and getting connected in a village by doing water projects and agricultural work. While there I was able to share the gospel in Spanish for the first time, despite my lack of fluency in the language, and I saw up close the poverty and the need of the people there, both financial and spiritual need.
After that trip my life filled up with work, school, church activities, and everything else that takes up time and energy. I blinked and all of the sudden I was looking at graduating early, but with absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I wasn’t in school anymore. I began considering applying for an interpreting program, but when I looked into the details of it, I found out that they preferred to have people who had spent at least two years in a Spanish-speaking country. Because I had met several people who had done international missions and loved it, I began looking into missions programs, selfishly thinking that I could do that to get Spanish practice in another country, and not really focusing on the real purpose of going as a missionary to another country; namely, to share the gospel.
Well, God being God, and knowing my heart, led me down a different path. I began to fill out the application to be a Journeyman, but I never made it past the first page of the application. It looked like a lot of information that I wasn’t prepared to give, so I figured I would just go back and fill it out later. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God knew I wasn’t ready. While on the website for the Journeyman application, somehow I stumbled across a page that was listing opportunities for students to serve in the Hands On program. When I saw several jobs in Oaxaca, somewhere I had already spent a short amount of time, I jumped at the opportunity. I quickly applied, and then spent several long months waiting to hear back, until finally, during my last semester of college I heard back that I had been accepted.
So I was headed to Mexico. I was mentally prepared, ready to go back to a place that I had been before, that would have plenty of internet so I could stay connected to home and all of that, when I got an email asking me to pray about leaving a few weeks earlier to help with a missionary training in Suriname. I of course then googled Suriname since I had no idea what/where in the world it was, found out more information, and prayed about it. Long story short, I ended up living on an island in the jungle for over a month, with no phone, internet, and very little electricity or plumbing. God had decided to stretch me.
While I was in the jungle, I had the incredible opportunity to meet several different families of missionaries, who were serving in countries all over South America, and one of their favorite topics of conversation was about the need for more missionaries, more Journeyman to help with the work, to commit to serve for more time than just a few weeks or months. Only a few weeks after taking my first solo airplane ride, God was beginning to prepare me to do more of His work.
So, when I arrived in Mexico a few short weeks later, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the people and the culture, as well as just the experience of living in a foreign country. The comfort that God had given me in being there, added to the comments made by the missionaries in Suriname, and compounded by the fact that one of the main people I was working with in Oaxaca was a former Journey girl all led me back to that daunting Journeyman application. I nervously opened it up early one morning, just to see what it looked like, and…I filled the entire thing out in one sitting. God’s leading was undeniable at that point. So there I was, in Mexico, and applying for a position that would take me out of the United States once again. It wasn’t easy for me to tell my parents about that (they took the news really well.)
Fast-forward about nine months, until November 2013. I had been back in the country for several months, and I was invited to the job expo to officially interview, and to find out what the actual available positions were. Although the expo was only a few days long, God’s hand was again apparent in the way that He led me to the job that I will soon be leaving to begin doing. I’ve never felt the peace and excitement that I felt after talking to the missionaries that I will be working with, and hearing them speak about the people group and the different work that we will be doing to reach those people with the gospel.
I feel incredibly blessed that God has chosen to use me to serve Him in Veracruz, Mexico, that I will be used to be His hands and feet to these people. I don’t know what the next two years will look like, but God has made it clear to me that He is working out His plans for me one step at a time, so I know that I can trust Him to always be with me and lead me where I need to be.
Written by Ellen Burns