I had better start out this series of posts with a confession. I failed miserably at being a superhero missionary. I realized that up until this point, I had been one heck of a ballsy gal. I had said yes. I had written letters, emails, and blog posts. I had big faith. I had planned. I had fundraised. I had photographed and posted the journey complete with a hashtag. #goingtokenya
Somewhere standing in the line for security checks in JFK airport, I lost it. Just like the unexpectedness of a tsunami, a great fear washed over me. I could not do this. I wanted to turn around and run. I wanted to return to the comfort of my home, with my husband and children. Every time I pictured their faces, I burst into tears. I cried all over that damn airport. My poor teammates, most of whom had never met me before, had to have been really nervous about traveling all the way to Africa with a crazy woman who couldn’t dry it up.
In that moment of panic, I realized the utter failings of my heart. One of the very basic aspects of Christian theology is that our life is not our own and our God is sovereign over all of it. Including our number of days. We can’t love our own lives and still follow Him. We have to be willing to say, ‘Jesus is better’, and actually mean it. Better than living.
Well. The planes didn’t crash. I was not kidnapped, trafficked, robbed, chopped with a machete, or gunned down with an assault rifle. Post-survival, I am safely back in my home trying to make sense of my journey and the fact that I am still alive and breathing.
Over the next few days I pondered my desperate reaction to such an elementary piece of my faith. I actually redefined what ‘brave’ means to me now. I used to talk and write about bravery. That all seemed really silly when I realized I was choosing to go somewhere where my safety couldn’t be guaranteed. I listened to stories of missionaries going into hostile situations or taking trips unsure of how they would get back home. I decided it was really sassy of me to declare that someone is being brave because they talked to a stranger in Walmart or said the name of Jesus in public or shared a personal story of struggle. I was left angry at Americans for taking so many things for granted, all while maintaining a great fear of losing those same precious privileges that were being taken for granted.
The Spirit was so good to remind me of that time Jesus walked on the water. The disciples were terrified, being tossed around by wind and waves in a little boat, then they think they see a ghost, of all the things. (I mean, I would have wet my pants too.) But immediately Jesus says to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He was just taking a little stroll across the water. Pretty awesome, right? Peter and I are cut from a similar cloth. Peter wanted to be great too, so he said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14)
Just like Peter, I could not find my footing. My footing, coming from my North American framework, was based on the sureness of solid ground beneath my feet. Ground that I know and can generally trust. Peter saw the wind and lost faith, just like I saw airplanes at 35,000 feet and an unknown, mysterious land full of uncertainty 8000 miles away.
I challenged Jesus to beckon me on this journey. I said to him, ‘If this is you, call me out onto the water.’ He did. Just like Peter, I set out strong. Fear sinks us every time. HE is faithful and merciful to reach down and save us.