Monday, October 13, 2014

Begun in Faith

I have taken the phrase "begun in faith" from a favorite quote:

We still cannot imagine that today God doesn't want anything new for us, but simply to prove us in the old way. That is too petty, too monotonous, too undemanding for us. And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God's cause is not always the successful one, that we really could be "unsuccessful": and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm. 

The quote itself makes me want to argue with it. If something isn't working, it is our responsibility to change it. When we are unsuccessful in accomplishing God's will, we must evaluate what we did wrong, how we can be better next time.

But then I remember the power of this quote is in its context. This is the end of a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1938 to leaders of the Confessing Church in Germany. The Confessing Church had broken away from the German Christian Church after it adopted the Aryan Paragraph. Instead of banning the Confessing Church, so named because it confessed the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Nazi government attacked by creating endless regulations for pastors and lay leaders to follow. For two years, these congregations had been intimidated and many pastors had been imprisoned.

At the beginning of his letter, Bonhoeffer accuses the leaders of "a way of thinking which is positively dangerous. We think that we are acting particularly responsibly if every other week we take another look at the question whether the way on which we have set out is the right one." This is my temptation. If what I do doesn't work, I feel the responsibility to change it. With the advantage of history, it is obvious that standing firm against the Nazi government was absolutely God's course for these Christians. And it was absolutely unsuccessful. And it was absolutely the right road. I chose "begun in faith" as a reminder over the next three years that I can really be unsuccessful and be on the right road. That in the middle of frustration it may be that God does not want anything new from me. That He simply desires me to be patient and faithful, as He is so often patient and faithful with me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why I'm Doing This

Those of you who were around Lewiston First Church in 1997 may remember an assortment of photographs that were scattered through the upstairs classrooms. Photographs taped to colored printer paper taped to the wall. They didn't need titles because everyone knew they were pictures of Malagasy street children. Looking at those pictures is my earliest memory of considering mission work.

At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I was considering schedules, course options, career options, my future, when I got a picture in my mind of myself teaching Malagasy children in a classroom. My heart felt on fire. That was exactly what I wanted to do. That was what God wanted me to do.

I spent the rest of high school scaring my parents with aspirations of living in Africa. God used this time to make me His own. The biggest struggle was coming to terms with eventually living far away from my family. I counted the costs, and God equipped me with the faith to know His will is worth anything. My theme song was "I Surrender All."

The greatest surrender came my junior year of college. I was majoring in Elementary Education and minoring in Christian Missions. My final missions course before student teaching took over my life was Cross-Cultural Communication of the Gospel. One week we had a panel of speakers who work with various cultures in the Treasure Valley. While some guys who worked with at-risk teens in Nampa were speaking, God clearly spoke to me. He said, "I want you to stay here." In an instant my dreams of mission work ended. My desperate prayer was, "Please, I know I can do this." (Yes, this was all pride, but it was also all responsibility. I had to see this through) His ever-loving response was, "It's not about what you can't do. It's about what you're called to do." I cried all the way to my dorm room and called my parents to tell them I wasn't going to be a missionary.

For four years I taught fourth grade at schools whose students grew into those same at-risk teens who the speakers were trying to keep out of gangs. I loved my job. It was a constant challenge, but God faithfully provided the strength and courage I needed to do it well. I was no longer drawn to hear missionary speakers or follow mission news. God had called me to teach, and it was my sole passion.

Which is why I almost skipped small group in May when a man from Extreme Nazarene was scheduled to speak. I didn't skip (again with the responsibility). He wasn't there to recruit, just to explain what Extreme Nazarene does. During his explanation he said the phrase "singles in their twenties" at least ten times. Each time, my heart caught fire again, and God whispered, "That's you." "This is for you." "I want you to do this." My disbelief melted into elation. I cried all the way to my house and told my roommates I am going to be a missionary.

This has nothing to do with what I can and can't do. This has everything to do with what God has called me to do. That being said, ever since I saw those photographs, I have believed that the most important thing I can do with my life is tell people about who Jesus is and what He offers us in countries where the gospel is not understood. I love Idaho, I love teaching, and I love my family, but I am overjoyed that God is allowing me to do mission work.