A Calling for Sweden

I find that in the light of what I am about to talk about, it would be important for you to know my personal testimony as well.

To an extent, it’s fairly simple how I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior: I grew up in a Christian home, with godly parents and five younger siblings who were taught alongside me in the Word of God. I received Christ when I was about 4-6 years old. I was homeschooled up to the 8th grade and was enrolled in a small, private Christian high school when I entered 9th grade. I am grateful for my upbringing in God’s Truth and the valuable things that my parents taught me and involved me in.

Where my spiritual walk really began was when I was 12 or 13 and began to question many things such as whether or not the earth was created in 6 literal days or an extended period of time, and am I really going to heaven. These things along with many others led me to a path of growing closer to God as I grew older. However, when I was 17, I became angry at God for who He created me to be and where He had left me in my life. I was so consumed by the prospect of being so insignificant that God couldn’t use me for anything and I would never be successful like so many people I knew. Everything God had brought me through up to that point in my life was consumed by my anxieties of inadequacy and uselessness in life. But then I attended an intensive Bible camp where I discovered God’s love for me in a unique and personal way, and it turned my perspective around back to Him in a beautiful way. There is more that I could write about this particular part of my life, but at this time I will remain focused on the intent of this article. Ever since I attended the intensive Bible camp I have naturally still struggled with returning to those thoughts of inadequacy and insignificance, but God always somehow reminds me of how He made me victorious from those captive thoughts and what Truths can set me free if I let Him take the reins of my life.

Now, this is what I really love to talk about, because I am sure that God will get me there someday, somehow, and it excites me as I prepare for the day I set foot on Swedish soil.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been rather fascinated by different cultures, especially regarding my own Swedish heritage. Although I wasn’t too thrilled when my mom dressed me up in a white robe and plopped a wreath decked with candles on my head. She handed me a tray of various breakfast dishes and told me that I was now St. Lucia. As an eight-year-old, I was kind of embarrassed. But looking back on all the years we attended St. Lucia brunches at the local Covenant Church on my birthday, I’d always wondered what it would be like to be chosen as the St. Lucia who got to serve everyone with her accompanying maids. Dad had his Dala horses lined up on his bookshelf, and had encouraged me to read his copy of “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils” but I wasn’t really interested until one summer when I experienced Sweden on an even more personal level.

On a Christian teen girls website I’d joined when I was 14, a girl asked on the global chat, “Is anyone here Swedish?” So I told her that I was. (Because, after all, 25% has to count for something, right?) She and I connected right away. She discovered that I was an American, not a 100% Swede like herself, but all the same, we became fast friends. We exchanged as many emails per day as a human being could conceivably type, and we chatted as often as we could considering the major time difference. We got to know each other really well, and I came to discover the immense moral differences between us. She was a new Believer, and the only one she knew for miles. Having grown up in a secular environment, she participated in immoral practices that she hadn’t known were wrong according to what the Word of God taught us. Her only mentors were priests who certainly didn’t discourage those actions. She was bullied at school. Her family thought she was crazy. My little teenager self didn’t know how to effectively convey encourage or respond to her lifestyle. I felt responsible for when she had finally had enough of this “God thing” and dropped all communication with me. It was too hard for her to live with this knowledge that didn’t back up with the people around her.

Ever since that brief chapter of my life, I have seen God at work, preparing me for one day sharing the Gospel of Christ in Sweden. I have no idea when I will actually get to that point of being there; I have considered options and plans that could land me in Sweden, but those are all up to God, and as His vessel I would like to be able to go as soon as possible.

That is, after I graduate from Association Free Lutheran Bible School in a little over a year. I have learned so much here already, not only on the level of academics through God’s Word that the faculty provides, but also on a personal level through work, social situations, and much more. I am excited to see what God has in store for me as I continue to grow and learn more and more about my identity in Christ and how to effectively communicate the Gospel to others.

Ecuador, 2017

Ecuador, 2017

In the summer of 2014, I went to Romania. In the Spring of 2017, I went to Ecuador. I had two things in mind for this second missions trip: 1) have no expectations, and 2) make it better than the last one.

The issue with these two things was that they contradicted one another. Essentially, I found that I did have expectations in the fact that I wanted to make it better than the last trip. I found myself planning an itinerary in my mind of exactly how I was going to make it better than my missions trip to Romania, and I was not going to be flexible with that plan. In order to make it better, I subconsciously planned that certain things had to happen: I would work hard, I would connect with all the kids, I would be able to communicate myself in a way that avoided language barriers, and I would get out of my comfort zone. I figured that that was what it meant to be a missionary and that I was fully capable of doing all those things. And as I always do as I plan the itinerary of my character, I put my identity in it.

The moment I was introduced to my host family, I realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d made it out to be in my mind, but I pushed that aside and figured that I was overreacting and that it would get better. And perhaps I was overreacting, but I found it was tougher than I’d anticipated to communicate with my host family. I’d had it all planned out in my mind that we would become best friends with each other, regardless of the language barrier. However, my idea of “best friends” may have been a bit different from their idea, and I had no clue if they even liked me. Car ride upon car ride, I endured long time periods of awkward silences. Or perhaps they were only awkward to me, and my host family thought it completely comfortable? The cultural difference in personalities alone was alarming to me and I couldn’t quite grasp how I ought to reciprocate love for them. Quiet meals were held in the home and walks around Cuenca and surrounding attractions were silent as we fumbled for communication with each other. The first week was admittedly difficult.

As we produced skits and songs for the kids at the schools and Paz de Dios Church, I was quickly realizing that communicating with the children also was difficult, and I was running out of creativity for connecting with them. I felt like I was an awful missionary, and I slowly withdrew to the comfort of my boyfriend or other teammates who spoke English. I felt selfish, and I fumbled around to find ways to work harder.

So I physically put my all into it. I worked as hard as I could, I did my very best to reach out to the kids, and I got out of my comfort zone as much as I could stretch myself. But when Grace got sick, I began to feel helpless. I couldn’t do anything for her. In addition, the kids didn’t  seem to reciprocate my reaching out to them, and I felt like a loser, ineffective in my work. My host family didn’t talk to me much, so I thought I was doing a poor job of showing them the love of God. I didn’t feel like I was connecting well with my teammates, and I felt as if everyone was judging the way I interacted with my boyfriend.

It wasn’t until one day that I was quietly riding in the truck with my host family and watching the mountains fly past us along the winding road that I realized what I was doing. I wasn’t resting in Jesus, the Creator of all this beauty around me. Every day in the car, I would be in awe of the gorgeous greenery and vibrancy of Ecuador and I was giving praise to Jesus, but I wasn’t giving Him myself and all my plans. I was protecting those because I felt like I could do a better job. As Grace slid to the ground and cried out, I heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you….for when you are weak, I am strong.” As the rain tapped the truck windows, God whispered to my heart, “Be still.” And as my host family and I hiked up the mountain of their potato farm that day, God reminded me, “Put your identity in Me.” I stumbled upon a patch of beautiful daisies and God breathed into my soul, “I love you.” I pondered these subtle messages, and I was reminded of the story of Mary and Martha, and how Martha had put her identity in the work she was doing, and she got frustrated at Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, patiently waiting for Jesus, hanging on every word He said. I was Martha. I was frustrated at myself if I was ever still; if I ever stopped working, I would punish myself with self-hatred. And yet, Mary was not despicable, she was soaking in the life Jesus had to offer her. Martha was dying because she wasn’t willing to rest in God and give up her itinerary of the day, and be with Jesus and learn from Him.

I was dying inside. I got sick. Emotionally and spiritually sick. While God was whispering to me these words of comfort and reminding me that this missions trip was not mine, I was pushing Him away and continuing to busy myself with what I thought a missions trip meant for me. My body and spirit betrayed me and I was in such a dark state that I could no longer function in any healthy way. It wasn’t until I was completely shrunken into the ground and I had been forced to my knees that I realized what I had done to myself as a result of this idea I had in my mind of what it meant to be on the mission field. I was depressed, discouraged, and I was constantly beating myself up for no reason other than I wasn’t fulfilling my own expectations. I worked, yes, I animatedly interacted with the children, of course, and I have no doubt that God used those things to plant seeds into the lives of children who were seeking love and Living Water. There is no question in my mind that even in my foolishness God was using me to give life and love where there was need. But even so, I had suffocated myself, and God was there, comforting me and offering me healing and joy that could come from nowhere else, not from my plans, not from my expectations; only from Him.

When God used people and circumstances through this Ecuador trip to speak into my life, and I finally stopped to rest, listen, and accept the gift of grace God was offering me to enable me to sufficiently fulfill the calling God had given me to be a short-term missionary in Ecuador, He opened my eyes to see what level I had brought myself to, and where He could put me instead. Only by the grace of God was I able to at last stand and smile with joy and begin to overflow love in an effective way.

There were may things that I began to realize about the trip, and essentially, God taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I can only hope and pray that through those things seeds of love were also planted in the lives of those whom I encountered as well. Eventually, I realized that my host family truly did enjoy having me as a guest, and I didn’t have to spend all that time worrying, and as I look back on the trip, I can see that every single time that I had the opportunity to show love and followed through with it, it was 100% God, and I had the opportunity to be His vessel in those two weeks. Things were hard, the cultural barriers and differences were difficult to hurdle, but when God calls someone to go, we need not be afraid of those things, for He equips us. The beautiful moments that come to mind from Ecuador shimmer like diamonds and blossom in my heart like wildflowers to compliment the cliffside that was the battle God equipped me to fight in this small, yet significant chapter of the life He has given me to live. From spinning tiny schoolgirls in the air to being a participant of the very last skit of the Fall and the Redemption, chills run down my spine at the recollection of these things, and how beautiful it truly was through every up and down to experience life as a short term missionary in Ecuador. Each missions trip is uniquely different, and there is no comparison; God continually works through those whom He calls.

 “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’

 Since we have that same spirit of faith, 

we also believe and therefore speak, 

because we know that the one who raised 

the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us 

with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 

All this is for your benefit, 

so that the grace that is reaching more 

and more people may cause thanksgiving

 to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. 

Though outwardly we are wasting away,

 yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 

For our light and momentary troubles are 

achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, 

but on what is unseen,

 since what is seen is temporary,

 but what is unseen is eternal.” 

—2 Corinthians 4:13-18—

Called to Youth Missions

Called to Youth Missions

I just feel so overwhelmed with passion and vitality for youth ministry. I am certain this is the thing God has called me to do. Throughout my life, I have been given opportunity after opportunity to be with youth of all ages; starting from working with the itty bitty age of one, to now high school aged students, God has been gradually and strategically preparing me for ministry to youth. It seems so obvious to me. I honestly do feel slightly hesitant, however, especially because of the circumstances throughout my life that I have experienced that had brought me to the wrong conclusions about various life directions. But nothing as huge as this. These other situations were small, off-trail type of things that ended up being for character building purposes for the next step toward what God had really been calling me to do. I thought I was so unqualified to teach little kids music; to lead such an endeavor seemed way beyond my capabilities. I said no to that opportunity, but ever since then, God has bombarded me with situation after situation to prove to me that I am not in fact incapable to do the things He has called me to do. When God puts such opportunities in my path, I must not say no. I can never say no to these things that God has called me toward. It seems that every time a youth ministries opportunity has been placed before me, I am again reminded of that one time I disregarded the children’s music instructor position. I could have done it. But God didn’t punish me for not following Him. No, that’s not the way Jesus works. He knows that His sheep will wander. Instead, He proves to us that His will really is better. He shows us reasons why we ought to trust Him. Sometimes that time of learning to trust Him might feel harder and more like punishment than other times. But as humans there will be trials in everything. Where there are people there are problems. And since I desire to work with people, of course there’ll be problems, and I intend to be an example of God’s love in those situations. I am called to be a peacemaker, a problem solver, a mentor, a light, and one chosen by God to do His good works here in this dark place. There could be nothing more obvious to me than every time God has placed this calling in my lap and said “Go.” Now, at last I am willing to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!”