When I was a young teen, or maybe a tween, I told God I would become a missionary. Even through the distractions of girls and school, I still planned to go to Bible college, and carry out my mission. I never had any specifics and knew nothing about missionary work, except what I saw of the visiting ones at Vacation Bible School or Missions Week at church. Somewhere along the line, I dropped the ball of that promise. Even when the memory of it came to the surface years later, I pushed it back down and rationalized that I was in a service career, and that had become my "mission." After all, doesn't the Great Commission make everyone a "missionary" in their own setting? It sounded good for awhile.
While I was trying to decide on a path for a second career as my first one draws to a close, God gently reminded me of that promise.
I have spent some time working in a counseling office as a peer-support coordinator. I was the guy people would come to when they weren't too sure about going to see the mental health counselor. There's just something about that title that bears a repellent stigma. While I was working in that role, I learned to love ministering to people on a personal level, especially those in crisis. I knew counseling was not for me, but I was drawn toward one of two other options: nursing, which I saw as helping coaches, ministers of health in primarily physical but also the spiritual and emotional aspects as well; and preaching ministry, which I viewed as valuable, but intellectual with no material product. I recalled Paul's instruction to work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and I recognized that pounding them on a pulpit was not the same thing. I wrestled with this decision. I prayed. I cried. One day, I was earnestly praying, desperate to know which way to go. I reminded God how slow I am to recognize His answers, and asked that He please make this one obvious.
Just then a car passed me on the wrong side. (Yes, I was driving at the time.) As it zipped around me the car cut me off, narrowly missing my fender. There in front of me was the biggest bumper sticker I have ever seen. It was huge! It was plain white with enormous black letters that simply said, "BECOME A NURSE". My tears became laughter as I said, "Yes, Sir!" and began seeking information on nursing schools in my area.
A short time later, my wife, Cindy, and I had been talking about the passion we have for Africa and for children. We were both confused about where we would put our skills to work for the Lord, but we were sure it would be somewhere in Africa. Cindy has always dreamed of living in Africa. If I really want to get her excited, we sit at home and watch Hatari. Sometimes I can duplicate the effect just by scat-singing Chuck Mangione's Baby Elephant Walk. We have a friend who immigrated from Liberia by way of a refugee camp in Ghana, but for some reason, we knew that was not our destination. Right after we had this discussion, we were sitting in church when the pastor introduced a woman who had been on a mission trip to Uganda. As soon as we heard the name of the country, Cindy and I looked at each other and mouthed, "UGANDA!" as we were both touched by the utterance of the word and somehow knew that was it.
The plan has been delayed by life, as plans sometimes are. My best friend was suddenly struck quadriplegic, and needed someone to help him to rehabilitative therapy. I thoroughly enjoyed ministering to him that way, and became comfortable moving another man around as is necessary when one cannot move himself. When he was finally able to get to the gym on his own, I ventured off to school. I have a lot of classes yet to take before I can even apply for nursing school, but I am taking it one day at a time, content with God's timing. I know that He is developing me in more ways than just a nursing degree. He is developing patience. Sometimes the wait gets long, and the obstacles ahead seem daunting, but that's when I remember that God is already in my tomorrow. He is with me today, and He will be with me tomorrow. Just this morning, I received a link to a song by Templeton Thompson - "When I Get That Pony Rode" that, though Country and not necessarily Christian, helped me to remember to be dedicated and to patiently endure, to be content with slow progress, because the harvest will be worth the wait.