This was the message that I shared with my church congregation a few weeks ago. It's a little long, but I pray that you will be encouraged by it.
Are You Listening?I have always been aware of God's presence in my life. Both of my parents were raised as Catholics, and I grew up hearing about Jesus. When I was young, I vaguely understood that you could pray to God for help. I would pray to Him if I lost a toy, didn't understand my homework, etc.
God has brought me through some very difficult times in my life, and after a series of circumstances in 2003, I committed my life to Jesus Christ on November 3, 2003.
I was born four months premature, and have spent most of my life in and out of hospitals. I weighed 1 pound and 12 ounces at birth. At that stage of prematurity, babies' lungs are not fully developed, and their skin is very thin, almost translucent. They run a high risk of having Cerebral Palsy (nervous system disorder that affects muscles and leaves them tight and weak), Hydrocephalus (buildup of fluid in the skull) and severe mental and physical handicaps. Nineteen years ago in 1991, medical science was nowhere near as good as it is now. I was given a 39% chance of survival. Needless to say, this was a challenging beginning to life. I was born with Hydrocephalus and mild CP, and spent 4 months in the NICU before I could come home.
In my 19 years of living, I have had 15 surgeries. Most were for my CP (leg muscles) and hydrocephalus (shunt malfunctions and modifications), and there were also a few for strabismus (“lazy eye”) and mild scoliosis (curvature of the spine). And one, in November of 2004, was to remove a brain tumor. It was non-cancerous (a mass of tissue and cells), but its size and location would have caused problems and potentially been fatal if left untreated. Its removal affected the nerves and muscles, and left me with hand tremors and lack of coordination for months. I spent almost four months in physical therapy, re-training myself to hold a fork, tie my shoes, walk, and other important things. That was one of the worst and scariest times of my life.
Jeremiah 29:11 – “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
Well, God, thank you so much for letting me know that, since I have no idea what’s going on here. (And, quite frankly, am scared out of my mind.) At least SOMEONE here knows what’s going on! What a relief!
“What Faith Can Do”, by KUTLESS, is one of my favorite songs.
“I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
And I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do
That's what faith can do!
Even if you fall sometimes
You will have the strength to rise.”
What a wonderful promise of God’s faithfulness! If we just believe, have FAITH in our God, then He will heal our broken hearts and make us new, and will give us the strength to rise from even the most difficult of circumstances. He knows the plans that He has made for us, and He will never forsake us. God is good!
During that awful, scary time in November of 2004, one of my last few roommates (I was there for so long that I went through 4 or 5 different roommates!) was a girl who was 11 or 12 years old and was very, very sick. I was struggling myself at that point, dealing with a lot of challenges and some dark things, but as always, God carried me through. I remember that young girl's father looking at me with tears in his eyes and asking, “How do you do this? How are you used to this; how is it normal for you? What do you do?” I was able to share my story with them and tell them about my God and His faithfulness and love for me. We talked for at least a few hours that day, and when we finally stopped, they were greatly comforted.
That was the beginning. It was clear to me now: God had brought me through these challenges, mostly unscathed, so that I could minister to others with my success and my faith.
Isaiah 6:8 – “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me!’”
In March 2007, I answered God’s call for the first time, stepping out in faith at the age of 16 to go on my very first mission trip. That year, I spent my spring break on a mission trip in Mexicali, Mexico, at a cinder-block church in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We spent a week working alongside the people of that church, painting and repairing the building, and holding Vacation Bible School and playing games with the children.
At that time, I had only had one year of high-school Spanish, so my Spanish was limited to basic phrases like, “What’s your name?”, “Where’s the bathroom?”, and the handful of Christian phrases and children’s worship songs that our translators had taught us.
That trip was a huge step of faith for me. I had never been out of the country before, never been in charge of teaching a VBS lesson on my own (especially one where I had to rely on a translator), and so many other things that were “firsts.”
Matthew 25:40 – “Jesus replied, ‘Truly, I tell you: Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.’”
Little did I know that that one-week trip, just a little way over the US border, would be the beginning of my missionary experience.
Since that trip to Mexico in 2007, I have said “Yes” to God’s call to travel. My Spanish has improved, and I also have a fairly decent grasp of Arabic as well.
In April of 2010, God put me to the test. I speak Arabic, and I have a passion for the people and culture of the Middle East…. but I also know the history and conflict of that part of the world.
And yet, one day in April, God spoke clearly to me. “My child, I want you to go.” He was calling me to work with Shevet Achim (Hebrew for “Brothers Dwelling Together”, taken from the Hebrew translation of Psalm 133), a Christian organization in Israel that brings children and teens from Iraq/Kurdistan, Palestine, and Gaza to hospitals in Israel for life-saving heart surgery.
I wanted to go, but I was afraid. At first, I resisted. “Really, God? Israel? I hear You calling me, and I really do want to go…. but I think You may have made a mistake. Israel is too risky right now. Isn’t there somewhere else I can go; someone else You can send?”
But, of course, God knows better than we do! Again He spoke. “Go, My child. I am with you. I have brought you through all these things, and I will be with you again. Go and serve My people.”
I spent a month in Israel, working alongside Shevet Achim staff. While waiting before surgery and waiting to recover and go home after surgery, the children and their mothers stay in Shevet Achim's center in Jerusalem. We work and live alongside these families, getting to know them and sharing the love of Jesus as we pray for and with them, sing worship songs in Arabic and Kurdish, and support them through their child's surgery and recovery.
During my four weeks in Jerusalem, I held babies from Gaza, made cookies with mothers from Kurdistan, visited the Wailing Wall (holiest site in Judaism) and Garden Tomb (site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection) with a mother and daughter from Morocco, sang worship songs in English, Arabic, and Kurdish, and got to know the families and Shevet Achim staff. We laughed and rejoiced, cried and mourned, shared meals, took pictures, played games, danced in the streets of Jerusalem, and grew to love each other.
During that month, I summoned my courage and obeyed God’s call to do things that I never thought I’d do. I saw and heard some very difficult things; some of the memories still haunt me. And yet, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to share my story with these mothers and children, letting them know that God had brought me through so many things, and that He cares for them and will carry them through their trials as well.
So, here is my challenge to you.
God has intricately woven together His plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), and if we have faith in Him, He will give us strength and carry us through even the most difficult of circumstances. Are you TRULY listening to God’s plan for your life?
He has called His people to care for the “least of these”, to minister to those around us. Are you ready? When God calls you, will you go? His calling for you may not involve traveling to the other side of the world. He may lead you to serve those people who are right next to you in your own city. Or, maybe you’ll be called to the jungles and mountains of South America or the deserts of the Middle East.
I was afraid at first. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Committing to follow God’s calling in your life is a very bold step to take. “But God, what if….?” “My child, I know the plans I have for you. Go!”
Go ahead. Take that step. Step out in faith and answer God’s call for your life.
I’m so glad that I did.