God placed a burden for ministry on my heart at a young age. Growing up, I was constantly exposed to missionaries and service opportunities through my home church in Iowa. Our senior pastor had previously been a missionary and many messages included illustrations from his time in the Philippines; there were annual missions conferences and the highlight of every summer was the missions trip with the youth group. In addition, my parents were always offering lodging or loaning cars to pastors and missionaries in need. In our home, those in full-time ministry were respected and honored.
I have vivid memories of being enthralled by Dorothy Adam’s slides shows of Bangladesh. As the carousel turned and the clicking sound announced each new slide’s arrival, I would watch enraptured at the vibrant still images of the faces of those she ministered to; and I would listen as her calm, clear voice spoke, sharing details of a world I could only imagine.
Then came the Bennett family. They were a family in our church raising funds to head to the mission field for the first time and we were their sending church. I was closely connected because one of their daughters was my age. When they left for Australia during my 6th grade year, Becky and I hugged, cried and promised we would save our pennies so that I could go visit her. Five years later, we still didn’t have enough pennies saved, but my parents somehow made it happen. Off I went to spend the summer in Australia. I lived life with them and saw first hand ministry in another country. I was 17 and I was hooked.
After that summer, sometime near the end of high school, I had a conversation with my youth pastor. It went something like this,
Me: “I think God wants me to go into ministry but I don’t know what I could possibly do. I don’t think I can be a pastor’s wife because I talk too much.” (I was also thinking I can’t sew or sing solos either, because I thought all pastor’s wives did those things.)
Him: “There is no set of certain personality types for God to use you in ministry. If the Spirit is leading you in this direction, just take one step at a time to follow Him. He will help you grow and use you just the way He made you.”
Me: “So what should I do?”
Him: “Maybe you should consider a Christian college, so you can gain more Bible knowledge and be exposed to more ministry opportunities.”
Best. Advice. Ever. So glad I followed it. As I entered college, my heart’s desire was to serve Jesus Christ in ministry. I committed my life to Him and told the Lord I was willing to go overseas or stay local, and do so whether I was single or married. I just knew nothing else would satisfy.
Two years later after a couple dates with Patrick, we were sitting in Pizza Hut having a DTR (defining the relationship) conversation. I got out my list (yes an actual list) and checked off the non-negotiables and the preferences. Obviously he passed the test. After my graduation, we were married and I became a seminary wife, working and helping him finish his master’s degree.
For the next 23 years, God blessed us with the opportunity to be in full time ministry. There was so much learning and growing together with the Lord through the good times and the bad. Being a pastor’s wife was truly the fulfillment of my dream.
One of the best parts of working with students for all those years was the opportunity to go on annual missions trips. Most summers there were two trips. If I have figured right, I helped Patrick lead about 20 trips. People joked that Patrick ran a “well-oiled machine” in regards to the summer ministries and they were right. He had it down to a science. I was his co-pilot and we divided up the responsibilities.
There is no greater joy than to watch students experience missions for the first time. It’s like a light bulb goes off in their head that this world is bigger than they imagined. Immediately, their spiritual hearts are enlarged and their compassion is magnified due to such exposure. Like me, many of them are hooked after one trip. They cannot continue to be satisfied just thinking of their own little worlds. Dozens of students returned year after year for the trips and many have gone on to do missions trips as adults and even go into full-time service.
In his final summer on earth, Patrick wanted to go to Jamaica one more time. We wanted to introduce the new youth pastor and wife to our Jamaican friends and pass the baton into their capable hands. We didn’t know until the last minute if he would be able to make it, but with lots of help from everyone involved on both ends, make it we did. Anyone on that trip will never forget the emotions as Patrick said a literal good-bye to his numerous friends there. We all knew they wouldn’t again see each other on this earth. It still seems surreal to me.
Since Patrick died, one of the many losses I’ve experienced has included the loss of these kinds of ministry trips. It was such a major part of my life, the first summer without it seemed very strange. However I have never doubted that I would have other ways to serve. I have never thought I was less of a Christian because I no longer had the title of “pastor’s wife.” Whether in a paid position or not, we are all responsible to be salt and light and to minister in whatever way we can.
I had no doubt I would go on another missions trip someday. I just didn’t realize it would come so fast.
But God is like that, surprising us when we least expect it. Through a connection in my small group, last fall I was introduced to a missionary in Hungary who runs ESL (English as a Second Language) clinics every summer. At the time, I thought this kind of trip would be perfect for me so I mentioned my interest, thinking it would be a few years down the road before I could really consider it. I logically couldn’t see how it could work until A, B and C were covered.
But one email led to another and one by one each question was answered and each hurdle jumped until God made it clear I was go to. So I am thrilled to say that the plane ticket is purchased and I’m heading to Gyula, Hungary in late July! To say I’m excited is an understatement. I am overflowing with thankfulness for God’s guidance, grace and goodness in my life. I am also thanking Him in advance for His provision, as the trip is not yet paid for.
Four women from various parts of the US will make up the team and we will meet in Budapest where we will join with three Hungarian missionaries. The ESL program, called Bridges, has been running for over 10 years and is sponsored by ABWE. We will have a day or two to get supplies and lessons ready (and hopefully adjust to the jet lag). Then we will drive a couple hours east to Gyula where the clinic will be held and where we will stay with Hungarian families. The morning will hold classes for children and in the evenings we will host adult classes. We will also participate in church services. At the end, I will have one day to sight-see in Budapest before heading home. Although this is my first trip to a non-English speaking country, I am the only “newbie” on the trip, so I am thankful to be working with a team that has experience.
In every detail God has confirmed this is the right time and the right trip, so go I must. Join me in thanking the Lord for bringing little joys back into my life!
Psalm 51:2 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(If you are interested in ways you can help pray for me or support me financially on this trip, please email me at email@example.com)