“Am I really a global worker?”

She was new on the field. She had a baby in her arms and a two-year-old clinging to her skirt. Her four-year-old was buzzing circles around us. “I spent six years in Eastern Europe as a single global worker,” she went on. “I taught, evangelized, was involved with the national church. Then I got married, had these three, and came here. My husband is out with the people, learning the language. I can hardly get out of the house to go to market. I love being with my babies, but I feel guilty at how little I’m doing for the Lord. Can I even call myself a global worker anymore?”

The question took me back a dozen years. I too was young, standing in the cement driveway of our tiny row house in a small town of southern Bolivia, a baby in my arms, a toddler clutching at my jeans, our four-year-old hugging Daddy goodbye. My husband would be gone at least two weeks this time, visiting rural churches far beyond reach of phone or radio. We would have no way of knowing if he was even still alive out there in those rugged Andean ranges until he arrived home.

I remember sighing as my husband’s motorcycle, his backpack lashed precariously onto the back, disappeared around a corner. Even until the birth of our third son, I had been able to teach women’s classes and hold Sunday school out on the sidewalk in front of the small adobe church we attended, my four-year-old coloring with the other children on the rough cement, my second son on a blanket at my feet.

Now it was all I could do to keep two babies quiet and off the dirt floor through the Sunday morning service. With no car seats, I couldn’t even take out our elderly Volkswagen bug, much less involve myself in church or community activities, and I had long since had to turn over shopping at the open air market to my husband. Sometimes it seemed I hardly held an adult conversation anymore.

Speaking of which…

Maybe a visit to a neighbor not too far away would console my solitude. Rut too was a young mother with a four-year-old son and a new baby. We had been friends since my husband and I had helped her family start a Bible study in the neighborhood. Tucking #3 into his front pack, I buckled #2 into our rickety umbrella stroller and took my four-year-old by the hand. The quarter-mile trek to Rut’s house was as much an adventure as climbing the Himalayas, the road unpaved and studded with rocks, its path meandering down through a dry creek bed and up an incline that almost defeated the stroller’s tipsy wheels. But at some unmeasured time later, we jolted up to the concrete steps of Rut’s three-room cinderblock home.

Unlike myself, Rut had ample family in town and a home that always seemed to be swarming with relatives and guests, but she seemed as pleased as she always did to see her North American gringa neighbor. We sat at the wooden table in her tiny kitchen, sipping tea and nibbling at the bunuelos she was frying to sell in the open air market. I don’t remember the conversation being particularly spiritual, just children and home, her worries about the economy, the instability of her husband’s job, and the latest cute doings of our babies. Women talk little different the world over.

It was hard to leave, but I could scarcely steal more of her day. The road seemed even steeper and stonier as I trudged back to my empty house. “What do we do now?” my four-year-old asked as I lifted his brother from the stroller. Yes, what do we do now? The rest of the day stretched endless in my mind. Diapers. Naps. Washing clothes by hand in the tub of our broken-down wringer washing-machine. Reading aloud ‘Are You My Mother’ and Dr. Seuss. If I was lucky, maybe the other global workers in town would drop by with some mail or a book I hadn’t read a dozen times before.

You call this being a global worker? I rebelled. All those years of Bible college and training and ministry experience and now what was I doing with the calling God had given me? I felt guilty and useless, my mind a mush that had hardly conceptualized a thought above preschool level in months. My husband was serving God, but me? How could I still call myself a global worker?

  • There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  • These homebound years of babies, diapers, and preschool literature will pass before you know it.
  • This is your field right now.

I wish I could say these words of wise counsel went through my head right then. They didn’t. But as I looked down into my oldest’s eager face, caught the mischievous grin of my toddler as he fished for the cat under the couch, felt the warm squirming of the baby as he woke up inside the front pack, my heart twisted inside me. My husband and I had prayed for years for children, and God had answered with these three beautiful sons. Whatever the feelings of guilt and inadequacy, I loved being home with my babies. I wouldn’t trade one of their adorable smiles for all the acclaim and ministry success of a Billy Graham.

“Hey, who wants to wrestle on the rug?” I announced as I lifted the baby into his bassinet. The giggles that followed left no time for further doubts.

The years have passed. My oldest is graduating this year from high school, my youngest–a daughter born four years after her brothers–a sociable little second-grader. Since that long-ago day, I have taught the Sunday school classes, directed the camps, spoken at the women’s retreats, done all the things global workers traditionally do. And from the distance of time and some hard-earned maturity, I don’t regret a day of that recess God placed in my life.

Not long ago we returned to Tarija after an absence of almost ten years. Rut and I visited until two in the morning. It was as though the intervening years had never separated us.

“You know,” she told me as we reluctantly kissed each other goodbye. “I never told you how much your visits meant to me. A lot of Christian workers have come and gone in our church these years since you left, but I have never been able to share with them the way we did. You were never just a global worker. You were my friend.”

* * *

My new global worker acquaintance was still standing in front of me, her pretty face harried and a little discouraged in an expression I remembered well because I had felt it often enough on my own features. Detaching her two-year-old from my own skirt which she had somehow mistaken for Mommy’s, I answered her firmly, “Look, I know this is going to sound cliché, but these years really are going to be over before you know it. Right now this is where God has called you. So forget those perfect language scores and the teaching assignments and the speaking engagements, and you just have as much fun with those babies as you can. And, yes, you are a global worker!”


©2001 Thrive

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.