‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!” Surely not, God, not me? After all, missionaries are holier than thou, aren’t they? Aren’t they the ones people put on a pedestal and look up to? The women who like to wear long floaty skirts and socks with sandals? The ones who are amazing at languages? None of which apply to me!
I was hot and sticky and listening to a sermon on Isaiah 6 being translated from Portuguese while on a short-term mission trip to Belém, North Brazil. It was my fourth short term mission trip and third to Brazil. I had gone specifically praying that God would show me if He wanted me to do this long term. It was during this sermon that God gave me my answer, and I knew that one day I would return.
Up until then, I had never allowed myself to believe that this could be what God wanted for my life. There was no way I was good enough to be a missionary. Slowly but surely, God had been breaking down my misconceptions through my short-term mission trips and showing me that missionaries are just ordinary, down to earth, weak people. No better than anyone else, sinners just like the rest of us, saved by God’s grace. Yet they were people who loved Jesus and wanted to make His name famous even when that meant sacrifice and denying self.
A PGCE, four years as a Maths teacher and two years at Bible college and finally I arrived in Brazil again. This was it. A year of language study at a school specialising in teaching Portuguese to foreigners, and I was going to speak perfect Portuguese. Then it would be off to save the teenagers. God was sure to use my love of life and love of Jesus to transform these messed up young people. I definitely had some unrealistic expectations, and it didn’t take long until they were dashed. I soon realised that learning Portuguese was pretty difficult, that I would be learning it for the rest of my life and that I would always speak it with a strong accent.
I finally arrived back in the north of Brazil to start working with a project reaching out to teenagers living on the streets and others who live in residential care homes because they come from abusive families. As I started working with extremely challenging teenagers who had suffered greatly, it didn’t take long for me to feel out of my depth. I had no idea what I was doing. I felt useless. Every day was a battle, trying to make myself understood in Portuguese and understand what others were saying, constantly sweating and fighting a losing battle with the mosquitoes. Was this really it? Had I really given up a job I loved, a church which felt like family and my friends and relatives for this? What had I done? Was it worth it? Could I turn back the clock?
What was God doing?
Yet God was at work, and He was using all of this to teach me some valuable yet painful lessons. He was breaking me down to build me back up. He was showing me what it meant to trust in Him and not in self. I began to realise that before going to Brazil I had often trusted in my own ability to get me through. I was good at my job and so I didn’t need to rely on and trust in God. I was good at the youth work I was involved in and so could depend on the gifts God had given me, rather than in the giver of the gifts. Suddenly this was all being stripped away from me and so I was forced to begin to learn what it meant to truly depend on God and trust in Him in every situation. It’s something I am still continuing to learn, as naturally I want to rely on myself.
God was also revealing to me that I am worse than I ever imagined myself to be. I always thought that I was a patient and loving person, not selfish and with lots to offer the teenagers. After being on shift for two to three days with teenagers constantly disobeying me and throwing everything I offered back in my face, I began to see the state of my own heart. Instead of the unconditional love that I thought I had, my selfishness was being revealed. One day it was like God switched on the light. As I was complaining about the behaviour of the kids, God showed me that the way they were with me is the way I am with God. God shows me unconditional love and grace and pours out so many blessings on me, and yet so often I throw it back in His face and choose to go my own way. Yet whenever I return to God, I am always met with an unending supply of His grace and mercy. As God was revealing to me the depths of the sinfulness of my own heart and the reality of the person I am, the gospel grew in its power and significance.
How utterly amazing that God would choose to use me with all my flaws and brokenness to take the gospel out to these teenagers! I was called to respond to these teenagers in the same way that Jesus responds to me — with mercy and grace.
Five years on and so much has happened. So many unimaginable things, so many challenges, trials and hardships and so many adventures, joys and blessings. God’s Word has become alive to me like never before, as He has continually proved Himself faithful in even the toughest of times. He has led me through valleys and over mountain tops and proved to me that He is always up to something good. Do I still ask myself whether it was worth it? Often. But I now know the answer — definitely!
I now work with a different project called Creative Hands. It has planted a church in a poor and dangerous neighbourhood built around a large rubbish dump that is ostracised by the town. We seek to take the good news of the gospel of Jesus out to the very needy people through a variety of different activities. These include church services, preschool, football training, Bible studies, after-school clubs, kids’ Bible club, teens’ group, small groups and visits to the rubbish dump.
Do I still feel out of my depth and like I don’t know what I am doing and pretty useless? Most of the time. Does it break my heart to see people living in such desperate circumstances? Of course. And yet I am convinced that there is hope even for the most hopeless of situations, and my God is big enough to deal with the toughest of the tough. My job — to proclaim Him and to share my life with these people so that they may not see me, but the One who has sent me.