At one of our church visits recently, someone asked a question that was something like: "how did the two of you, a pastor and a farmer, end up together on the mission field?" I am not exactly going to answer that question in this post, but I want to share a little bit about what it looked like for me, in my life, to feel called to be a missionary and how some of the events in my life have brought me to where I am today.
When I was younger, I believed that I wanted to do anything God asked me to do, but for some unknown reason, I hoped that "anything" did not include being a missionary. Quite honestly, I really can't figure out why that was. I read and loved so many missionary biographies as a child. My parents were adventurous eaters and fed me and my sister interesting foods growing up. My dad worked for a company that brought him around the world for business and my parents had his co-workers from other countries over to our house for dinner when they were in town. Oh, and my favorite movie for a long time has been "Chariots of Fire" (about Eric Liddell who was an athlete and also missionary to China). I can say now that God shaped me through those experiences even though I didn't realize it and denied their influence at the time.
The turning point came when my parents signed our family up for a short-term trip to Mexico over spring break when I was in 10th grade. I felt like I was forced to go (to do work instead of something fun over a school vacation...) and went grudgingly, probably with a bad attitude. But after only a few days into the trip, I knew that God was calling me to be a missionary. I can't explain how I knew - there was no voice from God, no overwhelming emotion - I just knew. It was as if a light bulb went on in my head and everything leading up to that point suddenly made sense. We probably did plenty of things on that mission trip where our "helping hurt", but God used it to change my life anyway.
Well, that was cool to feel called to be a missionary. But I didn't even know what it meant to be a missionary. I just went on with life, knowing that that was what I was preparing to do, but unsure of what I would actually do as a missionary. I had great Sunday School teachers who helped me develop more knowledge of the Bible and who gave me opportunities to learn leadership and teaching skills. And I read a lot of books on different practical topics and went on with life.
Certainly I didn't expect to be doing agriculture overseas, or anywhere for that matter. Actually, funny side story: I took an aptitude test in high school which told me I should either become a farmer or a mechanic. This made me very upset, but it turns out that the test knew more about me than I knew about myself at the time...
Anyway, I loved the outdoors, animals, and science, so I went forward into college and studied Environmental Science (I had no idea how I could use that as a missionary, but I loved science, so that is what I did). When I finally took a Plant Taxonomy class, I discovered that I loved plants as well as animals and I started thinking about agriculture. I went to the Urbana Missions Conference and visited all the booths of different organizations and found out that CRWRC (which is now World Renew) was the only organization that said they did anything about caring for the environment as part of their work. I took opportunities to work on farms and eventually worked for a local organization that led vegetable gardening programs at schools.
Anthony and I met each other in college and one of the biggest things that brought us together was our shared calling to missions. Neither of us would have married someone who didn't feel that calling. And we felt like we were ready to go overseas full-time right away after college and seminary. Actually, I would have gone right after college, except that Anthony was planning to go to seminary. That allowed me the opportunity to think about seminary too, though, and I am very grateful that I got a good theological education there as well. But our idea of going overseas right after that did not happen. We did get to go to Uganda for a year as a seminary internship, which was very formative, but when we finished the internship, we weren't able to go back overseas right away. We moved to Minnesota and Anthony was a pastor while I taught high school science at a local Christian school. After that, I got an internship at World Hunger Relief in Waco, TX and I learned all about raising animals. And then, finally, in 2014, we got to go back to Uganda with World Renew...but that was a two-year position.
Now, here we are about to start work with World Renew in Kenya, hopefully for a longer period of time than two years. It has been 16 years since I first felt God calling me to be a missionary. That's rather a long time. Each step of the way has brought surprises. But looking back now, I can see how every one of those things formed me into the person I am now and how each one was an opportunity for me to do ministry wherever I was, not just overseas. And right now, Kenya is where God wants us to go next and I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us there.
I still wonder about how I can best follow God's calling in my life as a missionary. It isn't easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. And as I listen to the Holy Spirit and let him shape my life, hopefully I can learn to love and serve both God and others better every day.