My first mission trip was when I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school. It was a 3-day trip to an orphanage 3 hours away in Mexico. The Spanish Club from my high school took two trips that school year to an orphanage that my Spanish teacher had connections with. That was the hook that set in me, and it's been set in me this whole time, 30 plus years later.
What had prepared me for those first two trips I think was when I was in 6th or 7th grade. My dad was a pastor, and he had a singing group from Mexico "minister" at our church. Some didn't even speak English! That was a revelation to me at that age. I knew there were people who didn't speak my language, but I had never encountered them. Dad knew a few words and phrases in Spanish and that so made an impression on me at that age.
Years before that, Dad had gone his one and only mission trip to Cuba, before it had turned communist. He told me a several stories about out it and I was a boy with big eyes seeing adventure and wonder.
As I look back on my journey to the mission field and especially to Africa, I am reminded of the power of vision. It is a power unlike most things. It is the backbone of perseverance. It is the inspiration of passion. It is always forward looking and forward thinking.
Indeed, vision is what got me to where I am. When my wife, Marjorie and I 'knew that we knew' God was still calling us to the mission field, it was vision that kept us on the course laid out before us. We had fellow Bible School alumni tell us that maybe God was calling us to a church and not missions. We had family question if we heard God correctly. We saw the looks in friends faces when we told them we're going to the mission field- to Africa, and we were still here in the states, years later. To be honest, I had doubts that would creep up in my own heart, and I asked God many times- "How is this all going to work?"
In fact, for years, it didn't look like it would work. When we graduated from Bible School, we knew God was still calling us to missions. The next year, we acted on that. Marjorie and I took an exploratory trip to Uganda and Kenya, and knew God was confirming the call. We came back, met with our pastor who was for us, but didn't know how to steer us, as the church wasn't in the position to be a sending agency and we sure didn't know what we were doing too.
However, I knew that God was also telling me to wait for our church, to not go out from it, but to go out under our church. That sealed the deal for me, and so I thought that it wouldn't be too long until things changed and both our church and we would be ready to go. A few months maybe. Months turned into years, with no perceivable change. I looked like our vision and our church's vision were on parallel courses, never to intersect and merge, separate and distinct.
But God. God was doing something in our church AND in us. "And God works all things together for his good." And so He was. He was developing patience and perseverance in us. What we thought were parallel visions were actually visions that were aimed at each other. It only took a course of several years for them to merge.
Our pastor says with God, nothing happens quickly; but He is full of sudden-lies. We have found that to be so true. We've always said "Preparation time is not wasted time." Sometimes, I said it just to get people off my back, to "buy time" if you will.
It was about almost 6 years from the time I knew we were still called to missions to the time we actually moved to Guatemala for our first assignment. It was a long wait. There were many times of frustrations, times of longing and dissatisfaction. Times of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Times when people questioned our calling, questioned our vision.
But I knew the vision God had placed before us. The vision is what I could cling to in the hard times. I was careful not to give voice to my frustrations and doubts. Those are vision killers. "Do not lose heart in doing good," Paul says, "for in due season, you will be rewarded." How true that is.
Joseph waited 30 years to go from the pit to the palace. Noah spent 100 years building something no one had ever seen, for something no one had felt of to save them from something that no one had heard of. Jesus prepared 30 years to enter his ministry. Abraham was an old man, past his years before his vision came to pass.
I guess God gave us a suddenly with an under 6 year wait.
Thank you Father for the vision you have given us. Thank you.