May 24, 2017

Beginning My Missionary Journey: the College Years

In my last post, I began sharing the story of how God called me to home missions. I went off to college with a burden on my heart for spiritually oppressed people and a specific call to prepare for full-time Christian service as a pastor’s wife. I wasn’t sure how all the pieces fit together, but God was still writing the story…

Beginning My Missionary Journey: the College Years

The final two things God used to direct my missionary journey were faithful involvement in ministry and a short-term missions trip.

During my first semester in college, I got involved in an regular outreach ministry on the weekends. We would travel to nearby nursing homes, women and children’s shelters, and local churches to minister through puppet shows, special music, preaching and teaching, and even short dramatic productions. I had connected with the ministry team through my older brother, who had traveled on a short-term missions trip with them one summer, and found it a great way to gain experience in various aspects of ministry.

One Saturday afternoon in early February, we were driving back from a nursing home service. I was riding with the team’s director. He started talking about the missions team they were putting together, a trip across the Western USA to do evangelism and some foundational church-planting type work. The team was convening in early May, and they were still looking for 2 more team members.

I had no plans to join a missions team quite so early in my college career, and had no idea what church-planting involved, but it piqued my curiosity and I asked for more information.

I filled out an application “just to see where it went,” was accepted shortly thereafter, and started sending out letters for support. I had about 3 months to raise $2500, which seemed like an impossible task to a poor college freshman. But God made it abundantly clear that He wanted me on that team! He provided over and over again in amazing ways — from girls on my hall who donated summer storage barrels, to a church (not my own) who took a love offering and generously gave over $1000! By the last possible due date, all my funds had arrived and we were working on final logistics for the trip. In early May, we all met together for crash course in Mormonism, then left a week later for a two-month trek around the country.

I won’t share all the details of the trip — it was a busy two months, after all — but I learned a lot, made some good friends and some wonderful memories, and experienced the joy of seeing people come to know Christ. And God used that trip to direct me to a specific region and type of ministry.

I fell in love with the West in Wyoming. We stopped in a little town called Wheatland, right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and stayed in a house about 45 minutes from everywhere. The wide open sky, the wild horses and free-ranging antelope, the larger-than-life mountains… it all got in my blood somehow, and I knew that I would be back some day.

During the next month we held services and did missionary work throughout Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. When we got to Salt Lake City, we met up with the founder and director of Northwest Baptist Missions. We held some services and a Vacation Bible School in the area, then they traveled with us down to the southern part of the state.

For the final two weeks of our trip, we stayed at a campground in Kanab and drove out to surrounding towns to do some serious church-planting work. That’s where I felt drawn to the people of the West. 

As far we could tell, based on extensive research by the missions board director, the Gospel had never been shared in any of that area! There were whole counties where no Christian had ever even set foot… in America, which at that time was perhaps the most Christian nation in the world!

To say I was deeply impacted would be an understatement. It was both eye-opening and heart-breaking to realize the vast spiritual darkness in the area, the hundreds of people who had never known the hope or life-giving power of God’s true gospel!

When I got back to school in the fall, I was still astounded by the vast need here in America. I had never before considered the idea of home missions, and struggled with the apparent convenience of it. I thought surely I was supposed to go somewhere hard and foreign, like Sudan or Ethiopia! But after many hours of praying and struggling with the idea and seeking godly counsel, God pointed me to Acts 1:8, where Christ commanded His disciples to be witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In other words, they were supposed to start where they were (Jerusalem), then go to the surrounding country (Judea), then travel to the foreign field (Samaria and “the end of the earth”). God used that progression to impress upon me the need to start reaching the lost at home, right here in America. After all, if we can’t reach people in our own nation with the Gospel, how will we keep sending out missionaries to evangelize other nations?

The pieces were finally starting to fit together. God had opened my eyes to a vast group of spiritually oppressed people. Through the work we did on the missions trip, He had pointed me toward church-planting as a way I could serve as both a pastor’s wife and a missionary.

I still needed a pastor to get married to… but God was working on that, too! I’ve shared our love story elsewhere, but the short version is: my husband-to-be went on a different missions trip across the Western U.S. that very same summer, which God used to call him to home missions too. Our shared burden for the West led to many great lunch conversations, which led to a deepening friendship and eventually to marriage. You can read the longer version here.

I know God is still writing my story, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us. I might be able to see a small part of the overall picture — but He’s weaving a masterpiece that I won’t see the whole of until eternity!

Have you ever experienced God’s call to a certain ministry or mission field? I’d love to hear your story!

PS. Read the latest update to our missionary journey here!


Comments

  1. Mom Johnson says:

    Loved reading your “Beginning My Missionary Journey”. You truly have a gift of writing and words. I went back and read your “Love story” again and cried again. I have seen most of these events take place in your lives, but continue to learn more about God’s faithfulness in your lives and about both of you through reading your work. I should have you write our family history for the grandchildren to read and be encouraged, as I have by yours. We love you both and are grateful to be a part of your lives.

  2. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Elizabeth. I was involved in a puppet ministry for quite a few years — so that brought a smile to my face. In addition, I was a summer missionary the summer out of high school (now that I have teenagers of my own, I can only imagine how much praying my parents did when their 17 year old went off to south Florida to knock on strangers’ doors!). I appreciate your story and will continue to pray for you as it unfurls. 🙂

    • You know, I can’t imagine what my parents went through when their 19 year old went out for a 2 month trek around the country! 😉 Thanks for the encouragement and prayers, Paula!

  3. I recall right after I was saved, God called me to serve at a pregnancy help center. It was work I had never done as a peer counselor but I loved the Lord and had a heart for young women so I jumped in. And it was such a great experience as I had to fully depend upon the Lord and upon prayer as you have no idea who you will meet at the center. Many answered prayers there 🙂 I stepped back from serving once I had my kids but hope to return one day. Love your heart for a dark place right here in our home country. God is so faithful to call us all to serve where we are most needed!

    • I’ve always admired my friends who’ve served at crisis pregnancy centers, and hope that someday I’ll be able to contribute to their work in some way. What an amazing opportunity to share the love – and freedom – of Christ’s gospel with so many women!

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