I feel the call of God on my life. For those who know me best, I’m sure they are, in the backs of their minds, wondering what God is thinking, trying to use me. I’m right there with them. To quote Moses, “Who am I?” I’m not young and athletic--I’m middle-aged and somewhat clumsy. I’m not a great speaker who can stir the hearts of a crowd--I’m more often than not, at a loss for words, having contented myself all my life to sit back and listen, rather than take part in conversations. I’m not a person who can organize events, plan activities, or lead others to accomplish a task--instead, I’m the one who needs to be led. So why would God call me to reach anyone with the Gospel? Why waste His time trying to prepare me--when there are so many others who would need less work, less preparation, less prodding. Nevertheless, He is calling me. There is no doubt in my mind as to that, although the word “call” scares me. God “calls” pastors--He “calls” missionaries--He “calls” those who have something to offer. I am not worthy to be “called”. I have nothing to offer. But apparently, God thinks differently. He has been preparing me for this all of my life--although until this very moment, I hadn’t realized it.
As a child, I was much more content to go off by myself than to seek the companionship of others. I was never happier than when I was out in the woods, alone--letting God speak to me through His creation. I learned at an early age that God definitely does want to talk to us. Moreover, I learned that He could do it in many ways--especially through nature. While walking through the woods and along creeks, the sights and sounds of nature put in my heart the undeniable knowledge that all of this did not come about without a creator--a divine designer. As birds sang high in the trees, I imagined their songs to actually be praises to God. I could see Him--sitting on His throne with a smile on His face as He listened to them. And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that He delighted much more in the praises of His people. As leaves swirled around me, I imagined them to be God’s love and blessings, falling on me--giving me a visible assurance that He would never forget me.
As I got older though, I rebelled--not so much against my Mom and Dad, as against God. I stopped going to church--just absolutely refused. No amount of begging, pleading, or threats could get me there. Why didn’t I want to go? I think it was because that even then I could feel the call of God. Every time I would go to church, my heart burned. I knew that something was wrong. At times, I doubted my very salvation, but I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit too much to long to deny that I was His child. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was during this time that a dear sweet lady started taking hold of my hand and telling me, “God is going to use you in a big way some day. I’m praying for you.” I didn’t know exactly what to make of her. No one else who knew me, ever thought that I would do anything. I was a shy child, who wouldn’t even make eye contact when I was talking to someone. However, this lady, for some reason, could look beyond what I was--and see what God could do with me.
In time, I gave in to the urgings that I felt. However, they were the urgings of the devil. I let him put in my mind, that the way to deal with what was going on in my life, was to just stop going to church--and not to subject myself to the sermons that seemed to light a fire in me. So I stopped. I was a very stubborn fourteen year old at that time--and I was not inclined to give in on anything. Going to church was no exception. So every Sunday morning, as my family left for church, I would sit there in defiance. I was getting what I wanted, so I should have been happy, right? Well, I wasn’t. I felt the pull to go to church every Sunday. I felt bad the whole time my family was gone--and even after they came back. I knew that I was hurting God, but I wouldn’t give in. I refused to go sit in church and feel like I needed to do something, especially since I couldn’t figure out what it was that I needed to do.
As time went on, it got easier for me to ignore the pull to go to church, but it never left me entirely. Neither did the feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing. My years of letting God speak to me as a child had opened my heart to Him in a way that could not be closed--so He continued to speak to me. I couldn’t get away from the “life lessons” that God gave me. At that time in my life--my latter teens--it was an annoyance, more than that, it was an unwanted intrusion. But God in His infinite love would not leave me alone. Today, I am so thankful that He didn’t ever stop talking to me. I’ve come to call these blessed communings with God, my “Heavenly Hugs”--and I never feel more loved than when He speaks to me in this way.
Well into my early thirties, I stayed out of church more than I went. There were times that I would make a half-hearted attempt to do the right thing, but before long, I fell back into the old habit of staying away to keep that old familiar burning away, as the Lord spoke to me through His Word. The thing that finally got me back into church was a question that my then four, or five year old nephew, Andy, asked his mother one Sunday evening, as they were getting ready to go back to church.
Never having had children of my own, Andy was, and still is, as dear to me as if he were my own. I moved back home from North Carolina when he was three years old, and he was my constant shadow. He thought of me as a companion--a playmate, someone who loved him so much that I would do whatever he wanted--whether it was playing in the dirt with his cars, or telling him stories, where he was always the hero. I didn’t realize it, but that little boy was also looking at the way I lived my life. That Sunday we had spent the afternoon together--as we did most Sundays. We were outside on one of our adventures when his mom called him to come in and get ready to go back to church. Little boy like, he wanted to keep playing, but his “buddy” (me) did what I had done so many times before and convinced him to go do what he was told without a fight. His mom bathed, and dressed him in his little suit.. She was brushing his hair, and I took that opportunity to snap a picture, which brought his attention to the fact that I was not dressed to go to church with them. Then came the question that broke my heart--and changed my life. . .
“Mommy, why do I have to go to church when Marti never does?”
That question cut like a knife, and I have never forgotten it. In fact, I still keep the picture I took at that moment with me, to remind me of the lesson the Lord brought to my heart through that innocent question. The lesson? As you live your life--especially as a Christian--the things you do not only affect you, but others around you. There is always someone watching your life. It could be a child--or it could be the person you sit next to at work. It could be the person who cut you off in traffic--or the stranger you pass by and never give a second thought to. Someone is watching you, and will be affected by your decisions. Think about it. How far can a kind word or just a smile go to change someone’s whole outlook for the day? How much more can your Christian walk inspire others to do more themselves, for the Lord? Or, at the other end of the spectrum, how much can you--claiming to be a Christian, but not living it--do to someone who is living out in the world, without the hope of Christ in his or her life?
After that incident, I determined in myself that my nephew would look at my life and see something different. I started going to church--Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I was faithful to the command found in the Bible, “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”. As I once again settled into church, the old feeling came back. God was again wanting something more from me, and I once again fought the burning within me. That went on for quite a while, until one night during a revival, I could no longer ignore it. The Scripture for the evening was Romans 12:1. “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The more I sat there in that pew, the more I felt the Holy Spirit leading me into service for my Savior. During the altar call, I could no more have sat there without going forward, than I could have stopped breathing. It was as if my body had a mind of it’s own, because even as I was still arguing with myself about giving in, I was moving out of the pew and making my way to the altar. I can remember kneeling there and thinking, “Well Lord, I’m here--what do you want?” He whispered in my ear, “I want you to work for Me.” It was then that I finally began to understand. God had a plan for me. There was a purpose for my life.
That night, as I knelt in the very same spot where I had been saved over 25 years earlier, I told God that whatever He asked, I would do. I was His to use, my life was His. I got up from that altar with a new feeling in my heart. No longer was I just a Christian--content to let others do God’s work--I was a Christian with a job to do myself. It didn’t take long for God to call me into service. The next night, I was approached about writing the Christmas play for that year. I almost said, “No”, but then I remembered the promise I had made to God the night before. “Anything you ask me to do Lord, with Your help, I’ll do.” So I said, “Yes”, or I think my exact words were, “I’ll try.” I went home that night, picked up a pen and prayed, “Lord, I can’t do this without You. You need to give me the words.” And He did. In fact, the words flowed so, that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up. God was faithful to His promise to be with me and help me as I served Him.
Over the years that followed, I found Him to always equip me to do everything He asked me to do. In the course of time, the Lord allowed me to serve Him in several different capacities--always blessing me beyond measure, and leaving me sure that whatever He asked, I would surely do. However, there came a point in my life where I felt as if what God was asking me (“calling” me) to do was impossible.
Starting in 2005, I felt the need to start trying to teach myself to speak Spanish. At that time, my job as a bank teller put me in contact with migrant workers who would come to the bank to get their checks cashed. I felt sorry for them as we tried to communicate with them. Most felt it was their place to learn English, but I felt differently. I could just imagine how hard it had to be, struggling to understand--and to be understood. So with that in mind, I set out to learn a new language. As I struggled to learn, I became more aware of those workers. It broke my heart to hear the things that even my closest friends said against them. Then I started noticing, that in almost every vehicle they drove, there were rosary beads and crucifixes hanging from the mirror. There were Virgin Mary stickers on windows and bumpers. God began to speak to me. He told me that someone was needed to stand up for these people, and to bring the true Gospel to them. I agreed whole-heartedly, but it didn’t ever enter my mind that just maybe God was already preparing me to “go” to the Spanish-speaking people.
Most who know me, know that I can get distracted very easily. All too often, I give up in my pursuit of something before I attain what I was going after. Several times, I got tired of struggling with the Spanish language, and I tried to just forget about it. Nevertheless, I found that I couldn’t let it go. There was a drive--a deep desire for me to learn all that I could. So, I plodded along. Learning words came easy to me. However, putting those words together to form a sentence was beyond my grasp. Then one day God put someone in my life who became a great friend, and who also changed my outlook on many things. Barbara Alford, and her husband, Jerry, are missionaries to Venezuela. I met them when they were on furlough in 2006. Barbara and I soon became fast friends and I found myself fascinated by her stories of life on the mission field.
Sometime during the beginning stages of our friendship, I asked her how to say a phrase in Spanish that we constantly needed at the bank. I then proceeded to tell her that I had been trying to teach myself the language, but without much success. She told me of their years in language school, and how it had also been a struggle for them at the beginning. Then she told me that someone had given Jerry a Spanish/English Bible as a gift, and that it had helped him to learn a lot quicker. I didn’t give much thought to the Bible, other than to say that it sounded interesting. When I got home that night, my sister Debbie, who is the manager of a bookstore was there. She told me that she had something for me and gave me a book. I looked down, and there in my hands lay a Spanish/English Bible! My heart did a little flip, as I wondered what it was that God might be trying to tell me.
I started that night, reading familiar Bible passages, and before long I could pretty much figure out what word meant what. I was also beginning to learn sentence structure, and patterns. As time went on, I was beginning to be able to turn to unfamiliar passages and work my way around the verses to figure out what they said. However, I found myself still relying too much on the English side of the Bible, so I decided to get a Spanish only version. Working with that one was very slow, but again, I couldn’t stop trying. I learned that studying that way not only helped me with my Spanish, but took me deeper into God’s Word, making me look closer at the meaning of the Scriptures. I began to carry my Spanish Bible to church, and before long had learned quite a lot as I followed in my “Biblia” as the pastor preached.
In March of 2008, I began to feel something that I couldn’t understand. That once familiar burning came back to me when I would sit and listen to God’s Word. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was working for the Lord, active in church, so what was happening? At this time the Lord led me to the website of a church in New York. There I found sermons by my friend Jerry Alford. As I listened to him preach, the burning became more intense--and I began to fear what was happening. In one sermon, he spoke of the Great Commission, “Go ye into all the world. . .” In another one he spoke of David, as he asked his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” He said, “We need more little Davids to get into the battle.” When I had listened to all of Jerry’s sermons, God led me to click on the sermons of another man, Richard Rawls. Once again as I listened, I felt God working in me, telling me that He was ready to use me in another capacity--asking me to say, “Here am I, send me.”
So here I was, the person who thought that she would never say no to anything God asked--doing that very thing. I came up with dozens of reasons that I couldn’t do what He was asking, but He kept it in my mind, day and night. He gently prodded--and I ran, just as I had done when I was a teenager. The only difference was that this time, I went to church to prove that what I was feeling wasn’t real. I listened to those sermons on the internet again and again, hoping that I would become immune to their message. But they only intensified the burning in me.
In May of 2008, I could stand it no longer. Barbara was in from Venezuela for some medical tests, and I called to ask if I could come talk to her. I met with her the next day, and after several attempts to start, I began to tell her that I could feel the Lord leading me to do something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. She talked to me for a long time, asking me questions, encouraging me to just let the Lord lead. She told me that there was something that I was holding back from Him. I kept saying that I had surrendered my life to Him over 10 years ago--but in my heart, I knew she was right. I went home that day feeling worse than when I got there. Over the next couple of days, God dealt with me constantly. I couldn’t get Barbara’s words out of my mind, telling me that there was something I was holding back. An e-mail from my sister, finally brought to light exactly what was wrong. In it she wrote:
“For some reason, I have felt a great burden for you today. I might be completely off-base, but I just feel like you are struggling with something, and I wanted to let you know that I’m praying for you. I know that you feel like God is calling you to something, but you aren’t sure what--and I know that family obligations are coloring your thoughts as well. I want you to know that if God is in fact, calling you away somewhere, we will all be fine. I will take care of Mom and Dad, and they will take care of me. The last thing any of us would want is to come between you and what God wants for you.”
So there it was, right there on my computer screen. The thing I wasn’t surrendering to the Lord was my family. My Mom and Dad were both in poor health--and over the last few years we had come close to losing them. My sister, at that very moment, was battling cancer--and still had a long way to go. I thought that if I surrendered and told God, “Here am I, send me” that they wouldn’t be able to do without me. I forwarded the email to Barbara and she sent me a reply that told me what I already knew. Until I was willing to give my family into the safe keeping of God, He couldn’t use me. I had to tell her--and God--that I just couldn’t do it.
I was miserable. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even pray. The next night another email came to me. It was from my cousin Heather, in North Carolina. She told me that she had mentioned me at her church that night and they felt led to have a special prayer for me. That was more than I could take. Here was a church, over 150 miles away, that had no idea what was going on--and they had special prayer for me. I quickly sent another e-mail to Barbara telling her the latest thing that had happened. I told her that I felt like I was on some weird carnival ride and I couldn’t get off. I felt like I had no control over what was happening and I couldn’t take it. I told her that I wanted my life back. As soon as I hit the send button, I wanted that e-mail back, so I quickly sent another one, telling her not to pay attention to the first one--that I was just letting off steam.
Barbara has never been one to listen to me, so she popped on instant messenger and started typing:
Barbara:Why don’t you just give up and do whatever He wants?
Me:I don’t know.
Barbara:You’re being the beanhead, right?
Barbara:You will be happier in His will my dear.
Barbara:Don’t think too much--it will hurt.
Barbara:Cat got your tongue?
Barbara:Oh, you’re playing hard to get.
Barbara:He already has you, so what new thing could it be?
Barbara:Yeah, it’s me here!
Barbara:Don’t forget that.
Barbara:You’re making me laugh, even though it isn’t really funny.
Barbara:I know, you’re writing an e-mail to God.
Barbara:He doesn’t work that way.
Barbara:Just talk to Him.
Me:I’m trying, I’m just having some problems right now.
Me:What’s wrong with me?
Me:I’m way too human.
Barbara:That’s what God works with--not dogs, not cats, not monkeys.
Me:I’ve never, not been able to pray.
Barbara:You can’t even talk.
Me:My heart hurts.
Barbara:Then give it to Him.
Barbara:That’s why it hurts, you are trying to keep it.
Me:I thought He had it!
Barbara:He does have it, it’s just whatever He’s dealing with you about that you have to give to Him.
Barbara:That is if you are willing to give it to Him.
Barbara:We go to Him as little children, so be a child a while and just go to him.
Me:I want to.
Barbara:Then just do it.
Suddenly I got a mental picture of myself as a little girl, walking down a long hall. At the end was a throne. As I got closer, the One on the throne held out his arms to me, ready to greet me with a hug. In my mind, I began to run, and then threw myself into His arms. He pulled me onto His lap, and held me tightly as I gave Him my all--my love, my trust, my life, and finally, my family. I sat at my computer, staring at the screen, but not seeing it. Tears streamed down my face as I just basked in His love. Sometime I came to myself enough to realize that Barbara was still on the other end of my computer. I typed in the words: “I’m OK now.” She told me that she had been praying for me--and I told her that I could feel it. We stayed on messenger for at least an hour more, praising God for His love and mercy. I found out that night that it’s true where the Bible says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst. And I found out that it even works in cyber-space.
Over the course of the next few months I sought God’s will for my life. I wanted to know what He had in mind for me. I became impatient, wanting answers. I kept listening over and over to the sermons I had found on the internet by Brother Jerry, and Brother Rawls. As I listened, I learned more and more about this thing called missions. I learned that wherever you are is a mission field. I learned that until God can use you where you are right now, He can’t use you anywhere else. I learned that God gives us direction, one step at a time. And I learned that I needed to be much more patient.
I felt the Lord leading me at this point in my journey to get my passport, and to also get any shots that I might need to travel. Since I still had no idea where He might send me, I went to the Health Department with quite a list of possibilities:
Vera Cruz, Mexico
As the nurse gave me the list of vaccines I needed I’m sure my mouth fell open. For someone who isn’t very fond of needles the list was a little intimidating, but over the course of the next few months I got all of them that I needed. I was ready to go--when and if the Lord told me to.
Sometime during all of this Barbara suggested that since the sermons by Bro. Rawls were such help to me, that I ought to write and tell him. I hadn’t realized it when I first started listening to his sermons, but Bro. Rawls and the Alfords had been friends for over 25 years. Barbara gave me his address, and I sent the letter. I didn’t expect a reply from him, but in a little while a long letter came with many words of encouragment. Little did I know at the time, but Bro. Rawls was soon to become a very important person in my life. It all started as a practical joke. Bro. Rawls had sent an e-mail to Barbara using “hillbilly” slang, so to get him back, Barbara dared me to write to him in “Pig Latin”. Well, I never have been able to say no to a dare, so even though it took me an hour, I sent the e-mail to him. In just a little while he fired one back giving me the nickname, “Sorry Thang #2, (Barbara is Sorry Thang #1) and “fussing” at me for being so mean to him. But then he told me that he was praying for me, and gave me some Scripture references pertaining to missions. Before long, I came to rely on Bro. Rawls and his e-mails. I was already keeping Bro. Jerry and Sis. Barbara busy--and found it no problem to keep all three of them supplied with my endless questions.
I noticed also at some point that the Bible was becoming “alive” for me. I had long been able to read and understand it, but now the words took on a life of their own, and spoke to me in such a way that it made my very insides feel as if they were on fire. It was an amazing thing to me, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I was very happy and content. I had my “three amigos” answering all of my questions, and the Holy Spirit working in my Bible study in a way that He never had before. I could have stayed like that for ever, and been very glad to do so, but I was to learn very soon that it was time for my next step to be revealed.
On Dec. 26, 2008, Barbara sent an e-mail to me. In it she wrote:
Jerry and I were talking about you, and here are some things he thought would be good:. Go to some Spanish Church services in the area and get immersed in the language.
1. Decide if you want to have a Spanish ministry? Yes or No?
2. Get up Spanish lessons, at least 3 to 5, so you can get started right away and then continue working on some along.
3. Scout out the area to see where the Spanish people are located.
4. Get someone to go visit them with you.
5. Invite them to a Spanish Sunday School and then invite them to stay for the English church service to better their English.
He said he would help you any way he could with your lessons or any problem you might run in to. He is doing the same here. His aim is to win more souls to Christ for the New Year. What do you think of his plan? He said time is short and we are the only ones willing to do the work, so get busy. You have his thoughts of the day, what you do with them is up to you.
I can look at this list now and it doesn’t have the same effect it did on me then. When I first read it, it turned my blood into ice water in my veins. I looked at it and thought, “Are they crazy? I can’t do that!” I sent an e-mail to Bro. Rawls, telling him what they had suggested. I figured if I told him first, that I wasn’t ready to do something like that, that he could tell me how to break it to the Alfords. But when his reply came back, instead of siding with me, he told me to “GO FOR IT!” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear!! So I tried another tactic. I sent Jerry and Barbara an e-mail, carefully explaining to them exactly why I couldn’t do what they were suggesting. I worked hard on my arguments--and when I had finished I was convinced that once they read it, they would understand. Bro. Jerry was the one who replied to that one. He is a man of few words when it comes to e-mails, but with just a few words, HE CAN SAY A MOUTHFUL! He wrote:
Just take the first step--find a church. All you have to do is go and listen, but I know you can do more!
Again--NOT what I wanted to hear. So for the remainder of that day--and all the next day--I tried to reason with the three of them, but they wouldn’t give in. I had every emotion under the sun. There were times that I was mad, because I felt like they just weren’t listening. There were times when I felt hurt, because I thought they were ganging up on me. I was miserable!
Bro. Rawls wrote in one of his replies to me:
I am actually blessed by watching you experience this and that may sound strange, but you see this would not affect you so much if the Lord was not letting it do so. So why is He letting this bother you so much? Do you think He might actually be directing you to do exactly what they are saying to you?
Sis. Barbara wrote in one of hers:
I know what you mean, and understand completely. Jerry does too, and Bro. Rawls, we have all been there. So know we love you, and we aren´t mad at you. One day you will laugh at yourself when you look back. But we have all been through the same thing, just different times. So stop fretting and just obey the Lord. Get off your own case and just be sweet and wait upon the Lord. We love you and are on your side, with the Lord.
Bro. Jerry wrote:
Remember, enjoy yourself and have fun, because you are on an adventure. Just be happy. Serving the Lord is to be happy. God does not expect us to do things we cannot do, or are not prepared to do. We just do what we can. But it is a joy to do our little part.
By Saturday night, the 27th, I was a complete wreck. I hadn’t slept at all Friday night. Everything they said just kept running through my head. Around 9:00 Saturday night, I realized that I was supposed to teach my Sunday School class the next morning. Glad to have something else to occupy my mind, I got out the quarterly and started studying. The lesson was being taken from John 15, where Jesus talks about Him being the vine and us being the branches. He goes on to say that sometimes branches that aren’t bearing fruit as well as they should have to be purged, or pruned to get more fruit. Every word in that lesson seemed like it was written directly to me. I couldn’t believe it!! I tried to figure out what I was going to do, but I finally had to lay it down and give up. I tried to rest, but sleep didn’t come. Again I was tossing and turning all night as God dealt with me.
I got up the next morning and actually dreaded going to church. I didn’t want to teach that lesson-- I didn’t want to sing in the choir because I was afraid of how the songs would affect me--and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to sit and listen to a sermon. However after arguing with myself for a while, I went on. When I got there, I sat down in a pew and to take my mind off of things, I picked up a songbook. I just randomly opened it. The song on the page was one I had never heard, but just the name sent a cold chill down my back. It was called: You Never Mentioned Him to Me.
When in the better land,
Before the bar we stand,
How deeply grieved our souls will be.
If any lost one there,
Should cry in deep despair,
You never mentioned Him to me.
Oh let us spread the Word,
Where e'er it may be heard,
Help groping souls the light to see.
That yonder none may say,
You showed me not the way,
You never mentioned Him to me.
A few sweet words may guide,
A lost one to His side,
Or turn sad eyes on Calvary.
So work as days go by,
That yonder none may cry,
You never mentioned Him to me.
You never mentioned Him to me,
Nor helped me the light to see,
You met me day by day
And knew I was astray,
You never mentioned Him to me.
By the time I finished reading those words, I was ready to get up and go home! I put the book down quickly and started thinking about what I was going to do about teaching the lesson. I started “telling” God, that I would teach it, but I would not let the class see how it was affecting me, and I definitely wouldn’t use myself as an example. When we got into our class, and got settled I began the lesson by talking about pruning fruit trees to make them bear more fruit. I went into great detail--stalling for time--but soon ran out of things to say. I knew that I had to go on, so I said, “God prunes us too, to help us bear more fruit. The Lord stopped me right there and said, “Tell them”. I said, “No Lord, I’m not going to--no way!!” I tried to go on, but couldn’t put two thoughts together. I looked out at my class. Each lady had their eyes glued on me. I finally said, “I’m sorry, I can’t teach this, because I’m living it. Then I asked the other teacher to take over for me. She said NO!! Well, I was stuck, so I just started talking. I don’t know what I said, but I did tell them that the Lord was working in my life at the moment, telling me the next step I should take--and I didn’t think I was capable of doing it. Somehow I finally got back into the lesson, but as I talked, it was God teaching me--not me teaching the class. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. By the end of the class I was so wiped out that all I could do was ask someone to close for us in prayer. As she was praying, I heard the Lord saying, “Ask them”. I thought, “Ask them what Lord? He just kept saying, “Ask them”. When the prayer was finished, I started to say the same thing I say every week, “Have a great week, pray for one another!” Instead of that I said, “I’m looking for a church that has Hispanic Services--does anybody know of one?” A couple of them told me of a Methodist church that held services every Sunday, and the others said they would be looking for me. As they left, each one told me that they would be praying for me. Finally I was the only one left in the room, and I just stood there thinking, “WHAT HAPPENED? I WASN’T GOING TO TELL THEM!!”
The next part of the service consisted of two young Philippino men who are studying at Marietta Bible College in Ohio. They were at the church to present the work their fathers, who we support as missionaries, are doing in the Philippines. As the first one ran his presentation, the song that played in the background was “People need the Lord”. Barbara had taught me that song in Spanish--”Tienen Que Saber”--and as the music played, those words were running through my head. As I saw the pictures of the Philippino children and the adults also, the thought kept running through my mind, “There are people I am supposed to be reaching.” Tears ran down my face as we sat there. I was very glad that the lights were down so no one could see how it was all affecting me.
Then came the moment I had been dreading worst of all--the PREACHING!
I just about fell out of my seat when the pastor said, “Turn in the book of Isaiah. . .” But I felt GREAT relief when he said, “. . .chapter nine. Whew, I could finally sit back and relax a little. I enjoyed the first part of the sermon. It was a great message--AND it wasn’t aimed directly at me. But then somewhere in mid-stream, the pastor changed horses. He went from, “His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor. . .” to “Present your bodies a living sacrifice. . .” and finally to the one that I just KNEW was going to be there: “Here am I, send me.” The rest of the message was about what are you going to do in 2009? Are you going to move ahead for Jesus, or are you going to fall behind.
I went home and quickly sent an e-mail to my three amigos, telling them what had happened. Somewhere from the time I started that email, and the time I finished it, I surrendered to Him. I wrote:
That's it guys, I surrender! I'm His. I can't take it any more! I've already started looking for a church, somehow, and I'm actually looking forward to working up a few lessons. And I think I can finally lay down and sleep. I sure hope so--I'm beginning to look like something the cat dragged in. So it's taken me a while, but I think I am ready to say, "Here am I Lord, send me", and really mean it.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I began to feel like a different person. I was no longer scared and unsure. I started to feel like just maybe God could use me. I began to see things in a different light, and I began to plan for the future. My thoughts were consumed with ideas for starting a Hispanic ministry in my church. I worked on the lessons I would teach, and sent them to Bro. Jerry to look over and correct. I had such a “tunnel vision” about these things, that I found it hard to concentrate at work.
However, my quest for a Baptist church with a Hispanic ministry was one of failure and disappointment. I looked everywhere I could think of to look, and asked everyone I came in contact with. My own search made me realize just how much a ministry for the Latinos was needed in my area. Bro. Rawls was going to be coming to a church about an hour away from where I lived for a mission conference, and had invited me to attend the meeting. I quickly accepted the invitation. I had been telling him about how hard it was for me to find a church to attend to get immersed in the Spanish language, so he suggested I call Robert Fultz, who was the pastor of the church where the mission conference was being held. I contacted Pastor Fultz and found out that their church indeed held services, in Spanish, every Sunday. When I asked if it would bother him if I attended, he told me that I was very welcome to come. We talked for quite a while, and as we talked, I realized that God was once again putting someone in my life to help me along on my journey.
Before long, that realization became a reality. It was hard leaving my home church and going to another one, but I soon found out that it was all in the Lord’s plans to prepare me for my journey. Going to Cedar Creek opened many doors for me. There I began to be immersed into the Hispanic culture…if only for an hour a week. I also began to use what Spanish I knew to try to communicate. The members of the Hispanic congregation were so nice and helped me as I stumbled over words as I read from the Bible. They made me feel totally at home, and before long, I began to understand more and more. At Cedar Creek too, I began to study with Sharing Christ ministries. First I went through the entire course of Source of Light books, and then began college courses. It still amazes me at how the Lord provided for the education that I would need. And finally, it was at Cedar Creek where the Lord gave me the opportunity to go on my first mission trip to Honduras. During that first trip, the Lord spoke so definitely to me, telling me that this was to be my mission field.
(more to come in the following days.....)