I remember when I first felt the Lord calling me into global work. A global worker from the jungles of New Guinea spoke at my college about riding a dugout canoe to her thatched-roof hut in the middle of nowhere and eating food like the locals, including grubs. Global working life sounded like such an adventure, a life full of new and exciting horizons. All the global workers I met, then and later seemed like spiritual giants.
In the years that followed, I married, and my husband and I began preparing for the adventure we expected the Lord would take us on one day. That day arrived in April 1990 when we sensed the Lord directing us to Costa Rica. I had read many global worker books and sought out any visiting global workers to soak in their tales: conversions, healing and danger. Loving excitement as I do, I couldn’t wait to join the ranks.
Little did I know that the real adventure the Lord was putting together for me wasn’t one of cutting paths through the jungle to reach the unreached but rather cutting a path to my heart.
My adventure didn’t begin at all like I expected. There I was, a first-time mother with a 3-month-old, colicky baby, in the middle of a foreign country. I didn’t understand how to use the bus, the language, or the money. I felt helpless. When I went to buy meat, I struggled to translate kilos/colones into pounds/dollars to know if I was getting a good deal. Every single interaction was mentally exhausting. After getting quite ill, I visited a doctor, who told me I was just plain exhausted and needed to take a break for a while.
That was the first scraping away the Lord did. I always had been a strong person; exhaustion wasn’t in my vocabulary. For that matter, neither was rest. It always seemed I could do it all. How adventurous is exhaustion and taking a break? The Lord obviously had a different sort of adventure planned for me, starting with showing me that I couldn’t do it all.
After that first year of language school, I was feeling a little more at home with what had seemed so foreign at first, yet I was lonely. Most of the friends I had made in school had moved on to global service in other countries and I found it difficult to get to know the Costa Ricans. My husband began working in his ministry, which left me with the shock of caring for my 1-1/2 year old son alone for the first time. It had been fun having a stay-at-home dad when we were both studying. Reality began to set in.
Although life was different, it wasn’t physically hard. We weren’t living in a thatched-roof hut in the jungle but in a suburban house in the capital city. We had our choice of Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King or Pizza Hut. In fact, if you wanted, they all delivered to your door. Instead of wearing traditional indigenous clothes, the Costa Ricans were more fashionable than anyone I had run into in my home town. I wasn’t surviving in the hot jungles cooking over an open fire; I lived a lot like North Americans do, with my stove, and fridge and other conveniences. Weren’t global workers supposed to suffer more? My life seemed too regular to fit me into the ranks of the famous foreign workers I had read about.
Yet God wanted to teach me a second lesson. I needed to trust that He had put me where He wanted me. Suffering for Him would make me feel more holy, but it would only be a holiness built on my own righteousness. I longed to have exciting global working stories for my newsletters, but God didn’t want me to build myself up in that way. He needed a humble vessel to work through.
The worst part of the way this adventure was turning out was that I wasn’t evangelizing the world like all those global workers I had read about. I wasn’t even making friends with the neighbors. I felt completely insignificant. Back in the United States I was known as the one who led a Bible club with neighbor kids or the lady who baked good cookies. Here in Costa Rica, at best I was known as the gringa with the blue-eyed baby. My hair was light and my time schedule was all off. I was preparing supper while the Costa Rican ladies, who had already eaten their big meal at noon, were visiting over coffee.
It was during this dark and lonely time of insignificance that the Lord began to do the most work in my life. He began peeling away the layers of protection I had built around myself, showing me how I had built my significance on the things that I did rather than just in Him. Now that I wasn’t doing anything, I felt worthless. I began to realize how I depended on the praise of others to feel good about myself. When I began to get a grasp of God’s love for me—and that I didn’t need to do anything to merit that love—I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
As I sought to get involved in ministry those first years, the Lord closed every door. It was difficult to rest content in Him, because I felt responsible to my supporters to be doing some great work with the nationals. But God just kept saying, “Not now.” I wondered how many times in the past have I run ahead of God’s plan for me, seeing an opportunity and jumping into it without really waiting on God?
As I learned to wait on Him and opened myself up to His working, He began to lead me into the ministry opportunity that he had for me—He eventually opened doors of friendship with my neighbors. He gave me the idea to start a baking class with these ladies, as most Costa Ricans are interested in learning how to bake traditional North American desserts such as apple pie and brownies. Before we eat the fruits of our labor, I always lead a devotional weaving the theme of the devotional around the item we are baking. I pray and ask God to show me what to say, and He never runs out of creativity. Over the past four years, my neighbors and I have laughed and cried together; the ladies have opened up to me with their prayer requests and we have seen God’s answers. I have learned to love these ladies who at first seemed so different than me.
True, there are continual challenges but we have come to see this as our home, because we know that we are exactly where God wants us for now. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that I need never fear the adventure God has planned for me. His adventures always turn out better than what I could have planned.
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.