4 months into marriage a series of events brought us out of Ukraine where we were serving as ESL teachers back to where we had met and served when we were engaged, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas.
When I tell people that Chris and I served as missionaries in Bahamas, I see what they are thinking. Suffering for Jesus in the Caribbean. My memories of Bahamas are definitely of beauty. The people are beautiful, the ocean is beautiful, the experiences- also beautiful. Along with beauty I saw a lot of poverty on the Island as well as segregation. The ships came to the tourist port where you would find the large hotels, beautiful restaurants and fun shopping. We lived in a run down motel turned apartment complex a short walk from the beach. If we turned left from our apartment building we were tourists. It was when we turned right and left the gates of Port Lucaya that we became “the white people”.
Another thing I know some people are thinking when I say Chris and I were missionaries for the first 5 years of our marriage, is that we were white, privileged, North Americans going into communities and doing things that we thought they needed, without asking, in the name of Jesus. Where as this is something has and does happen, it hasn’t been my experience in long term or short term missions. During my time as a missionary, I learned many things about God and others. One of the things that shaped me the most was the opportunity to come alongside people in ministry in other countries to learn from them and support the work they were doing. In Bahamas, it was a great honor to work with a variety of Pastors on the Island who were committed to being a positive presence in their communities. Now, as a nonprofit leader, I sometimes wish I had full time missionaries who wanted to give me their time and expertise to move this thing God has asked me to do forward.
The Spring/Summer of 2005 found Chris and I in Bahamas again and this time we were in charge. 16 missions teams were coming starting the end of May and going until the beginning of August along with a full staff of Summer missionaries. Back in 2005 I had just turned 20 and my role that summer was to communicate with the team leaders, to help set up and confirm their outreach and service projects, to oversee the shopping and execute 3 meals a day for anywhere from 30-75 people. Along with all of that I was one 1/2 of a leadership team that oversaw a staff of people who were mostly older than me.
I was terrified. I woke up every morning that summer filled with dread. The only thing that got me out of bed was the knowledge that I would get to go back to bed when the day was over.
As I read my Bible, the stories that always stay with me are the ones where God uses the unlikely for his glory. The teenage shepherd boy and his stones. A young girl who birthed and mothered the Son of God and the carpenter, his earthly father. The servants at the first miracle being the ones to witness water turning to wine. His chosen 12 are described as “uneducated, ordinary men” and this uneducated ordinary woman takes great comfort that the same God that used stones to defeat a giant, called fishermen to spread His good news and honored the faith of a two man army who entered battle on the phrase “…perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf…” is today asking me to be a part of what He is doing in the world around me.
I survived that summer and more than that I thrived, we all did. At the end of summer when we were starting to send staff home, after the last team had left, we stood in a circle and prayed. When we were done one of our staff started singing “Our God is an Awesome God”.
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power and love
Our God is an awesome God.
We sang it over and over, our voices loud and with tears streaming down my face I knew the truth. God had done it. He had used my hands, feet and voice but he had done the real work. He had given us strength, he had brought the people we needed, he had helped us overcome conflict, he had showed up and moved at outreaches and among teams.
I was such an unlikely leader back then and in so many ways I still am today. I know what many people in positions of power see when they look at me. A very young woman without the right experience or education to get the right kind of results to be successful. Thankfully, that isn’t what God sees. He sees a willing heart. My own journey is filled with many mistakes and wrong choices yet God still pursues me. He still asks me to follow him. It is like I am one of the servants at the site of the first miracle and Jesus is asking me to take water and fill stone jars to see it become wine.
I am in another season where many days getting out of bed is hard. The faith journey can be lonely. Filled with rejection, misinterpretation and judgement. The world we live in is hierarchical, specifically the religious one. Humans have created a pecking order to success, hoops that need to be jumped through in order to be considered valid or taken seriously. Getting the right education, landing the right jobs, knowing the right people, being the right kind of confidant, having the right charisma, being the right color and gender. We don’t look at people with eyes of faith, we don’t see as Jesus saw. We run people through our bias, qualifications and objections.
I want to see the unlikely bring God glory. I ask for it. That the foolish would shame the wise. That God would show up big for those whose only defense is “God asked me to.”
Coming off that summer in Bahamas I remember believing two things. First, God could be trusted; he would show up for those he had called. Second, he could use me as a leader and it wouldn’t be because I was qualified it would be because I was unlikely.
There are many people who are unlikely leaders. They have stepped into something way too big for them simply because God asked them to. They are leading at your church, stepping into places in the community that are hard, starting nonprofits, doing the unconventional thing as they raise their kids or love their neighbors.
They feel scared and they know they are in over their heads. You don’t have to tell them they don’t have what it takes, their inner critic is already doing a fine job of that. Instead, I challenge you to ask God to give you his eyes. I challenge you to step out in faith with them and ask how you can support them and then do what they ask of you. Because God could have chosen a million ways to reveal himself to this world, but he chose to put his very Spirit inside those of us who believe. So you are the answer, the unlikely answer, to someone else’s need.
It is easy to get behind the things that already are successful by our human standards. Where it takes faith, where it takes trust, is investing in the unlikely. And the beautiful thing is that, where faith is needed, God will be seen and glorified. Isn’t this where we find the abundant life promised? By following Jesus by faith?
I am learning more every day about trusting Jesus with the results, and I think he likes to use the unlikely because then it really is obvious who did the work. And I am OK with that. He can have all the credit for the good that happens in my life. By allowing this truth to be my reality, the terrified feeling that comes from being ordinary and uneducated doesn’t last as long because the only qualification I really need is friend of God, and that one is a done deal.