Eight years ago our family received a child for Christmas. Through World Vision, we sponsored a little girl living in Rwanda. Our commitment involved feeding coins into a kitchen jar to support her and waiting expectantly for her end-of-semester report cards and photo to come in the mail.
At dinner we prayed for her family and discussed what it would be like to receive a report card that commented on the skill of “carrying water” as well as reporting grades. Her last name, Uwimana, means gift of God, and she has been a gift to us we’ve never met.
Two years ago, I told my husband over Pad Thai that I wanted to go to Rwanda and see her and asked if he would be willing to come along. After a long swallow, he stared at me through his lawyerly wire frames and said, “We have two kids going to college soon, let’s focus on that.”
I was disappointed. He didn’t share my enthusiasm for this missionary adventure. “We have connections there and I would be willing to raise money for the trip,” I implored. No response. The idea of exploring a thousand green hills, visiting schools and orphanages and our sponsored child was not capturing his imagination. So I began a dangerous effort to convert him, prayer.
E. M Bounds reminds us that prayer is the way by which kingdom dreams are achieved. “No man can do a great and enduring work for God who is not a man of prayer, and no man can be a man of prayer who does not give much time to praying.”
Serving the poor can be “a great and enduring work,” if you’re Mother Teresa, but most of us are called to the small, simple act in our own backyard, and even that local call is tough to discern without prayer. If we have something in our heart and mind we believe God is calling us to do then we should be willing to spend time with Him and check it out.
Throughout this knee bending process of prayer, one word kept showing up in my journal, “prepare.” As is so often the way with God’s responses, it isn’t what we want to hear. Prepare? How does one prepare for a trip to Rwanda? Shopping for new Keen hiking boots came to mind. But that would be a selfish preparation. Knowing God, He was probably talking about a spiritual preparation and not a trip to Nordstrom Rack.
About three miles from our home, a multi-ethnic refugee community teems with color and life. The building’s sandy brick exterior, few windows and tall fences convey the appearance of a fortress. Thousands of people drive by this housing development everyday and never notice it. One Sunday morning, Church of the Resurrection ran an announcement in their bulletin mentioning “Parkside” was looking for volunteers.
Several people from the church had moved into Parkside to minister Biblical truth and values to this diverse group of people. They were living in an intentional community. These were highly educated professionals who made the choice to actually live among the poor, full time. Could we also break out of the “bubble” and serve there?
Sometimes, when we sense a call to do something out of our comfort zone we pray and throw out a fleece. In this prayer time, the fleece was, “Lord if you’re asking me to serve in Parkside, then give other members of my family a ‘yes’ in their hearts to join in the work.”
When I asked our daughter about helping out at Parkside, she didn’t even blink. “Yes, I’d love to” was the response from an 18-year-old girl whose whole life has been all about ballet dancing, school and her friendships. Her self-sacrificing response felt like a miraculous confirmation. About two weeks later my husband, my daughter and I found ourselves climbing up rickety iron steps as Parkside volunteers.
Every Sunday evening, eight girls gather for Bible study, prayer, sharing our “highs and lows” from the past week and eating their favorite, chicken noodle soup. It’s basic discipleship and mentoring 101. It’s not a sexy ministry (i.e. evangelizing remote communities along the Amazon river), but it’s good. The girls are mostly refugees from Burma and their personalities range from hilarious, “I want to be a Korean pop star when I grow up,” to convictingly sweet.
Last Sunday, as we studied Mary, the youngest girl in the group said Mary was chosen to be Jesus’ mother because she was “prepared.” In her single word answer, the joy of this preparation became clear. After eight months, we’ve grown to love these boys and girls in flip-flops. It was as if the Lord was saying, “Sure, I’d love for you to go to Rwanda, but I need you to learn how to love these people at home first.”
“Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” We may yearn for the ends of the earth, those grand mission adventures, but sometimes the Lord needs to keep us in “Jerusalem” to prepare us for the other stops along our journey with Him. We also have to accept that “Jerusalem” might be the stop along the journey for us. I haven’t forgotten Rwanda, but Burma in my backyard is close enough, for now.
Note: Since this article was written, the Parkside Community has been informed that they may be displaced to make room for a greater tax revenue-generating development such as Target. Please voice your support for preserving the Parkside community by visiting glenellyn.org and leaving a comment for village officials.
Margaret Philbrick is a contributing editor of the collection, Everbloom - Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. You can follow her writing at www.margaretphilbrick.com