Like many in our generation who come from a Christian background, my story started with some faulty assumptions.
Life assumption 1: Missionaries are OK. Although I always expect their talks to be as dull as normal sermons, they tell better stories than anyone else I know! But they dress in frumpy clothes, and it seems like they live really far away from civilization. So that life is not for me.
Life assumption 2: Christian women are supposed to marry amazing men and be homemakers. If I want to follow God, then that’s what I need to do.
This is the account of how all of my premises were slowly destroyed, and I started to truly follow God, without a plan and clueless as to where I’d end up.
God’s Plan for Kerstin’s Life in Four Easy Steps
Step 1: Go to a Christian college; find a major to fill the time until you’re ready to get married and be a wife.
How Kerstin failed Step 1: I met a guy freshman year who I thought would perfectly fit Step 1. Unfortunately, he had his sights on another girl. Despite my sparkling personality and dazzling wit, I was dateless throughout college.
Step 2: Your college major is all you have left. This will be your life.
How Kerstin failed Step 2: I decided to be an art major, graduate, become famous and spend the rest of my life in a studio, painting multi-million dollar masterpieces. Great plan, but I didn’t account for getting interested in other things—turns out there’s a great big world outside of the art studio. Who knew? I blew off my painting homework for deep conversations with friends about the state of the world and what was to be done about it, The New York Times in one hand, Bible in the other. We held group meetings and invited various nonprofits we could dig up—IJM, World Relief, Invisible Children, local church missions agencies. We kept asking, “What should we do about all of the injustices we’re learning about?” Our answer was always (courtesy of a wise advisor): “You look at the needs in the world, and you look at the gifts God has given you, and you figure out where they meet.”
Step 3: Go out, get a job, and above all, be successful so that God gets lots of glory because of your success.
How Kerstin failed Step 3: After having all those great conversations during college about the state of the world, I realized that if Christians were informed about issues of justice, they would be compelled to do something. Imagine how the world could change if American Christians lived up to the calling Jesus gave them! My plan was to document what God was doing around the world to challenge and encourage American believers. I applied for jobs with Christian international relief and development agencies. I ended up as a retail associate at a bridal boutique in Boston, selling designer bridesmaid dresses. Failure.
Step 4: Give up the planning and all of your preconceived notions. Either God gets all of you, with you having no idea what that means, or you’re not really following Him.
Step 4 went a little better than the rest. I told God He could really have all of my life, even if that meant I sold bridesmaid dresses forever. A month later, I got a call from one of the friends who pursued social justice with me in college. “I found the perfect job for you…” she said. She was working at World Relief, and they had an opening for someone “to communicate stories of what God was doing around the world through World Relief to American churches.” I flew to World Relief’s main office for an interview. Less than a month later, I had a new job.
Occasionally, I visited World Relief’s international program work, but slowly, I realized that I wanted to be more than just a visitor in those places. I had learned my lesson about forming crazy ideas and trying to make things happen on my own—so this time, I started with prayer instead of action plans. Again, about a month later my boss came up to me. “I know you’ve wanted to be located in the field. How do you feel about Cambodia?”
Pleasing God in One Easy Step: Go where He sends you.
Riding on the back of a moto for hours in between rice paddies. Hiking into villages where there is no road. Traveling on planes so small, you don’t even get a seat assignment. Driving on leveled-off landslides. Meeting other Christians in the most unexpected places. Being blessed by people who are financially poor, but spiritually rich. Attending church meetings that have to be secret. This is my life.
Last month, I took 14 plane rides, documenting World Relief’s work in Indonesia. This month, I’m back home in Cambodia, editing video. I hope to visit India and China this year for work. I’ve followed God around the globe, and found that I can wear non-frumpy clothes, be far from “civilization” and still manage to survive. It’s not always easy, but it’s far better than any plan I could imagine for myself.
Conclusion: I think God might have more of a clue what to do with my life than I do.