Daydreaming is a pastime most of us fall into, some more than others.
I happen to be a recovering daydreamer with a little bit of a hopeless-romantic thrown in. As a teenager, I would romanticize every aspect of my life, reliving my day in the evenings with the added bells and whistles that I thought should accompany my day-to-day life, like it was a Hallmark movie.
So you can imagine when I signed up for my first overseas mission at age 18, I had some pretty dreamy thoughts about how it would unfold. I had seen the videos of kids my age handing bowls of food to emaciated children and bringing bins of clothes to families in need. I saw collages of evangelistic meetings and people clothed in white walking to the waterside in droves to be baptized, all while soft music played in the background.
Through all the months of preparation, I envisioned my face in the scenes from the videos. While we raised funds for travel and supplies, printed Bible study lessons, learned hymns and other spiritual songs in the native language, and practiced skits for children’s programs, I dreamed and imagined what it would be like.
Finally, the day came for us to begin our travels. With 20 other young people, I donned my oversized backpack and began the 19 hours of air travel that would take us to our destination. We met with other youth from the local branch of the organization we volunteered with and split into villages across the country. Thus, began a radical transformation of my idea of mission.
What struck me first was the sense of isolation.The area we served in was rural, with no access to electricity or running water, much less telephones. While we had been prepared for this, the reality of it was daunting. Speaking little of the local language compounded the situation, and the food felt as strange on my tongue as the language did.
The days were long and hard. We would rise hours before the sun to pray and worship before making breakfast on an open fire. We walked for hours in the African sun to get to know the people and offer Bible studies. Of course, I was mostly a spectator here as my partner was from the region and would lead the study in their native dialect. It took all my effort just to stay awake!
Then, we would walk back to our compound, make lunch, and prepare for our afternoon children’s program and evening evangelistic meetings. After the meetings, we would assess the day’s events and practice for the next day’s programs. By the time I was lying in my sleeping bag at night, it would be after 11 PM, and we would be up again in 5 hours.
Just one week into this six-week adventure, I was thoroughly exhausted and more than a little disillusioned.
How could I make a difference in this world where I did not seem to belong?
How could I get past the drudgery of the necessary hard work to be a part of God’s plan here?
As I cried out to God in my prayer journal one night, I felt a familiar verse press its way into my spirit.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1 (NLT)
I realized that no matter how I tried to deceive myself leading up to this, I had been largely motivated by pride. I wanted recognition and praise for my efforts. However, there was no room for ego here. There were real needs to be met, and if any glory was to be given, it had to be for God and not myself.
I decided to pour myself into whatever task needed doing. Whether I was washing dishes or leading out in a children’s program, walking long distances over dried river beds or taking part in a Bible study, I tried to do it as unto the Lord and to learn something in the process. I gave up on my glamorous filtered ideas of the mission field and accepted the realistic beauty of giving even when it is hard.
At the end of it all, we did have the grand baptism and the people clothed in white robes singing as we walked to the river. It was made even more powerful because of the struggle that led up to the blessings – the backbreaking work of sowing if you’re going to reap.
Have you ever felt certain that God called you to perform a specific task or go to a certain place, but the reality was not what you envisioned?
Maybe you are learning the lesson that a calling does not negate hard work, or that glamour is not promised as part of the package. If this is your experience, ask God to open your eyes to His purposes in this season and the beauty of serving Him, even in the mundane things.
For most of our lives are not about serving God on the mountains when we are exhilarated, or the valleys when we may feel desolate, but in the inglorious ordinary plains of everyday life.
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)