(Follow up to my previous post – read it first)
This was my first time out of the country. My first mission trip. And I really can’t talk about the trip without sharing some of the events that led up to it.
I was happy with my life in the beginning of the year of 1998. I was 24 years old; working, attending a church I loved, had amazing friends and family. Towards the spring of that year I went through some major struggles with some things that were happening in my life that affected it in all areas. I was heartbroken. Devastated. I don’t need to go into detail here, it’s not necessary. If you want to know the story, set aside a bit of time and ask me about it and I’ll share it with you, but it’s pretty personal.
Fast Forward: I ended up going to summer camp with our church as a chaperone with our students that summer. And it changed my life.
Through a series of messages and several situations, I felt a strong pull that God wanted me to be involved in international missions. I had a heart for it. I didn’t really know what that meant, because I’d never been around anyone involved in missions very much except those people who dressed up in weird outfits and spoke funny at church once a year. I knew I didn’t want to be THAT…but my heart was broken, wide open, for the “rest of the world.” It was very specific and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
Once I got home from camp I started researching what this meant. Did I quit my job and move to Africa? Did I go to seminary…because when you are Baptist and you’re called to missions, you go to seminary. But I sure didn’t want to go to seminary, but I DID want to do what God wanted me to do. I was confused and searching and there was no one out there near me, that I knew of, who could help me try to figure it all out. So I spent a lot of time with just me and God, He’s the best one to ask anyway. He told me to go to India. I knew it a whole year in advance.
During this year of preparation, I was pretty excited. I learned how to commit to something in advance believing that God would provide the way. But during that year my brother was in a terrible car accident. We were actually told he would not survive it. He was in a coma in a hospital an hour and a half away from us in a trauma unit. In all he was in the hospital for about a year, and survived it (thank you, God). But it was a tremendous time for our family.
Then another devastating thing: A few weeks before I was to leave, one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a week later, at a very young age. This person was super special to me, words can’t describe the kind of friend he was to me. Even now I’m crying thinking about him, our friendship, what he and his family meant to me. It just didn’t even feel real. It was so fast.
I struggled with if I should leave his wife, also a best friend, and their small child, who was like a little sister to me. How could I leave them when they needed me, plus the fact that I was an emotional wreck. I struggled with the decision to go or not to go for a while. I prayed and asked several wise people what to do. Finally his wife spoke to me and told me to go. She told me that he would want me to go and that she’d need me later, when I got back, when everyone else had gone on with their everyday lives. Leaving was very hard to do, but I agreed.
So the day came for me to fly from the airport in Memphis, TN to Miami, Florida for my training and then on to India. I was going by myself with a team of people from all over the states and knew no one on the team. This training time was also to be a time to get to know one another before we set off on this journey together. So I headed to the airport in Memphis. I think this was only like the second time for me to ever fly and first time to fly alone.
The trip to Miami was crazy! I won’t go into to many details, but everything that could have happened, did. I was re-routed, flights cancelled, flights delayed, etc. It was nuts! What should have only taken a couple of hours for me, actually took 6 airplanes and 14 hours! I was alone, an inexperienced traveler – didn’t know what to do when your flight cancelled (now I know…hehe!). I was booked on several flights in case one thing or another didn’t work out. I didn’t have a contact number for the people in Miami (they were in a hotel and this was the days before everyone had a cell phone). They called the airline when they noticed issues with my flights when trying to confirm to come pick me up at the airport, but the airline told them I was delayed until the next morning, when I actually came in on a super late flight to Miami (around 11pm). So I got to the Miami airport and no one was there to pick me up, and I still didn’t know of a way to contact anyone from the organization.
I did know the name of my hotel, so I went outside and found a shuttle bus that transported to the hotel, and hopped on. I was young, never travelled anywhere alone before (remember I’m a small town, Mississippi girl), alone in Miami, scared, nervous, didn’t know anyone, and couldn’t figure out why no one was there to pick me up…but for some odd reason, I was completely at peace. There was like a supernatural peace over me that entire day. I will never forget it. I knew I was missing the entire first day of training and getting to know my teammates, but that was pretty much my only concern. I didn’t know what I’d do once I got to the hotel, but was just taking one thing at a time. While on the bus I prayed that God would just take care of it, like He did everything else that day.
As my bus pulled up to the hotel, I was walking up the sidewalk and Steve, my team leader (whom I’d never met before) looked at me strangely and asked, “Sherry?” and I was immediately relieved. He explained that the airline had me booked on the morning flight also, so when he called they just told him that piece of info, and he didn’t know that I’d actually be arriving on the later flight. He said that something told him that for some odd reason I might actually come in on that later flight and so he was headed to the airport to see. I was so relieved. Thank you God.
He took me up to my room and introduced me to several of my female teammates. After explaining all that happened to me that day, they were so sweet to me. I wanted to stay up longer and get to know them better, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted so I went to bed.
The next morning I got up early and opened my bible to where I’d left off the day before. A few months prior I had decided to read the bible from cover to cover as a goal and that morning I was in the book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 8. I got to verse 2 and it jumped off the page at me: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart…” I thought about the statement and all that Moses in particular was referring to and I also thought about the past year in my own life. It wasn’t 40 years and it wasn’t in a desert, but it felt like it. It was a tough year in a lot of ways (from the horribly hurtful situation at the beginning of the year, to the near death of my brother, to the death of my best friend, to the hard decision to leave my best friend – his wife – at a time when she needed me the most, to the craziness of just travelling to the training). I was humbled, I was a mess, and in no condition emotionally to take off with a bunch of strangers to a foreign land, but I realized that maybe that’s just where God wanted me. I was broken and totally dependent on Him. Maybe the result of my year was to humble me and to know what was in my heart. I prayed that what God saw was good. And I prayed that He could use me in a powerful way. I prayed for a supernatural love for the people of India and Nepal, a true God-like kind of love. And I especially prayed that God would use the events of the past year of my life in a powerful way, somehow.
To be continued…