Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
When Brendan and I began dating, one of our first conversations was about our desire to pursue international missions. He had spent summers in the Dominican Republic, and I had worked at an orphanage in Kenya. We both have strong hearts towards missions for a variety of reasons. The most important reason, though, is simply that if we believe that the Bible is true, then how can we keep it to ourselves? And how can we not leverage the gifts that God has given us to love others as He has loved us? Christ demands that we make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), and we firmly believe that missions is something that every Christian should be praying about consistently. Our experiences with international missions, both painfully difficult and mind-blowingly fun, have radically defined our faiths, and on the day we married, we vowed to go wherever the Lord asked us to go.
Shortly after we got back from our honeymoon, our church held an info meeting for people interested in going abroad for missions. We knew this was something we were looking to do at some point in the future, so we decided it was worth going to just to get some ideas. We left that meeting “with our yes on the table” and opened ourselves the idea of taking a year off from medical school and spending it in a foreign country, loving and serving the least of these. It was confusing, daunting, exciting and more than a little scary. I’ll be honest, my heart was like a pendulum most of last fall as we considered going abroad. Some days I’d be really excited about it, the adventure, the experience and the timing. Other days, the thought terrified me. What about my business? Do I just take a sabbatical? What will things look like when we get back? We have to have a way to pay rent!
Despite each of our own fears and reservations, we followed the Lord’s lead. We viewed this potential year abroad as a kind of “vision trip” for the rest of our lives. The time we were planning on going was between Brendan’s 3rd and 4th years in medical school, so he’d have a working knowledge of medicine, but still be in a position to angle his residency towards the kind of medicine he felt would be most useful and effective in a missions setting. For me, it would be great to see how photography, media, and the like can serve a community or grow a ministry. I viewed my role wherever we went as a kind of documenter. We began emailing missionaries and meeting with people who had spent time abroad. There were times when we had high hopes for a certain location, but things would fall through. Or people just plain never responded to us. From the get-go, it was a challenge to find places where we might fit with our very different skill sets, let alone be able to get in touch with the people there. We prayed and sought counsel for several months before an opportunity with Mission Emanuel, a ministry based in the Dominican Republic that I went to in high school, opened up.
Long story short, we bought a couple plane tickets and spent a weekend in the DR over Brendan’s spring break. It was an amazing two days. I loved seeing Brendan work in the clinic and speak Spanish. He’s completely in his element in a missional setting, and it was one of those times where I clearly saw that this is what God created him to do. We wandered around the town of Cielo, were invited into people’s homes and played with local kids who loved being picked up, tickled and photographed. These kids have an incredible amount of joy and and some of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen. If there was a way to bottle what they’ve done at Mission Emanuel, I would sprinkle it over every church plant I know of. In the 30 years that the ministry has been there, they’ve eradicated diseases from the community by simply providing clean water and accessible healthcare. They employ nearly 100 locals and have a thriving school where many of the mission’s current leaders were taught. They’re building wheelchairs for handicapped kids all over the country, and they’ve built countless homes for families who have almost nothing. But most importantly, they’re winning hearts for the Lord by simply being present and loving people.
It was exactly what Brendan and I were looking for and praying for. So when we kept feeling an unrest and uncertainty about moving down there, we were really confused! Brendan’s spent the last 6+ year preparing himself for something like this. Whether it was spending time in Latin America, working in Hispanic clinics, becoming nearly fluent in Spanish and growing his medical knowledge, everything he’s done in his career and education has been geared toward serving in this exact kind of community. And here it was, laid out right in front of us, and, despite our expectations to the contrary, God was clearly saying “No.”
To be honest, I’m not quite sure why God wants us in Chapel Hill for that year. We’re slowing starting to see Him lead us and are excited to be able to fully invest ourselves in our church and community without having to uproot ourselves so soon. The months we spent praying together for this have strengthened our marriage and opened our eyes to each others fears and excitement when it comes to international missions. It was also the first time in our lives where our decision had a monumental influence on the other person, and it was amazing to sit back and try to see things from each other’s perspective. The Lord opened a new way for us to serve each other and put each other first.
So, all that to say, that sometimes God works in confusing ways. It’ll seem like He’s leading you down one path, but really He’s leading you towards something you didn’t expect. Sometimes that’s really painful and frustrating. Sometimes it’s even better than you imagined. For us, we’re already seeing how this unexpected change in direction has motivated us to live missionally in Chapel Hill and is growing us to be more effective for the Gospel in an international setting later on down the road. Brendan and I have a trust and assurance that this is in the Lord’s hands and that when or if He ever takes us abroad, He’ll have it all planned out, even if it’s not the way we anticipate it.