For the longest time I had no idea why He called me to go.
We are flying into Phnom Penh's airport and all I can see is dust and dirt - barely any green, save a few trees here and there. My heart is sinking with the plane. I can already feel the weight of poverty in my soul, and the landscape is only making it worse. When we leave the airport, the city’s heat and noise further crowd in on me and every story ever told about “crowded Asian cities” proves true. I’m trying hard not to think about how I don’t like it and I’m doing my best to not think about how I don’t think I can do this. It’s a little like trying to “not think about a pink elephant”. I’m not doing well.
We’re on our way to the orphanage. Bouncing along in the back of the pick-up truck we pass a large muddy pond with lotus flowers on top and it’s true: “The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.” I think, “If I were ever to get a tattoo, it should be of a lotus.” (I don't ever get that tattoo).
Morning devotions and a team member gives a revelation, “God knows our needs. If we don’t have fans or AC, it’s not to torment us. It’s because God knows we don’t need it.” I’m oddly comforted by this thought.
Our work is almost done. It’s our second to last day and I’m up in the children’s “bedroom” - a large empty room with a tile floor - and I’m painting the walls. A team member comes to talk with me and I begin to cry. Unlike every other girl on the team who is my age, I can’t wait to get home. I haven’t had an epiphany, or a life-changing moment. I’ve just been working really hard (along with everyone else), and keeping my mouth shut about my selfish annoyances. It’s not that I haven’t had any moments of joy… I have! I’ve truly enjoyed the children’s laughter, and I’ve whole-heartedly smiled with the widows who run the orphanage at their antics. But it’s not been inspirational enough to alter the course of my life. I feel so “less than” and more confused. Why did I think that God called me to this mission trip? I’m doubting now that I truly heard Him.
The last day at the orphanage and we all gather in a circle to pray. Our interpreters are both praying and translating prayers. I stand next to a woman who may be only a year or so younger than me, but the fact that she is there tells me that she has experienced more heartache and trials in her lifetime than I would ever be able to understand. And as I bow my head to pray, she takes my hand and holds it so tightly - she won’t let go. I’m taken aback at first, but as I hold her hand I pray that our Father would bless her greatly, now and always.
8 years later, I’m sitting in church listening to a missionary share his experience and I’m reminded of my trip to Cambodia. Despite the good I know we accomplished, I still have never figured out exactly why I believed that God called me to go. It’s a bittersweet feeling and I tell myself that when I see Jesus face to face, I’ll ask him if he really did call me, and if so, why. But just as I’m imagining this heavenly encounter, the missionary says something that wakes me up:
James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” Some translations say “look after” instead of “visit” but I like “to visit” better. It reminds me that it’s not enough to throw money at people in need - that’s not true love - true love joins with people in their affliction and says “I’m in this with you.”
And at last the blinders fall from my eyes: it wasn’t about me. At least, not exactly. God called me to be there, because He wanted me to Be. There. With the children. With the women. He wanted me to serve them, and laugh with them and pray with them. Being a missionary to Cambodia wasn’t to be my vocation - but that was never meant to excuse me from “visiting widows and orphans in their affliction”. After 8 years, my heart was filled with joy to realize that I had indeed heard God correctly. It was worth the wait to receive that confirmation - and it was made all the more sweet to know I had obeyed His call, even when I didn’t know why.
May God open our ears to hear His call and strengthen us to always obey His promptings. May we never make our understanding of His rationale a prerequisite for our obedience. And may God fill our hearts with the joy that a daughter has when she is in her father’s loving presence, now and always. Amen.
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