A friend and long ago mentor is currently serving in North Africa. We keep track of one another through our blogs and often comment on shared adventures, the latest of which is using henna to dye our hair. She knew me as a newly wed, in the days of fresh vision for the mission field, and followed me throughout that journey. Recently she expressed hope in my radical change of calling, encouraged that there was a purposed life beyond serving overseas. Friend, today I marveled at the places I never imagined I would find myself. I entered through a locked door on the top floor of a sketchy building on the other side of the tracks, literally. Past a wall of the F.B.I.’s 10 Most Wanted. Past a poster of the varied tricks of catching a bank robber. Past a coat rack on which hung a selection of hand cuffs and chains.
It made me smile, sitting amongst law enforcement as a do-gooder, and wondered what a thorough background check would reveal. Had the Jandarma recorded my passport when they picked me up for handing out bibles on a college campus?
The inside of that department was less, in every way. Peeling peach cement walls with white plastic lawn chairs. Our summer team sat nervously, waiting, wondering. I had been an “angel” on campus, assigned to observe the short-term “egg-droppers” and make sure nothing happened. When one student responded in anger, throwing the wrapped New Testament (egg) at the face of an unsuspecting American collegiate, campus police quickly appeared.
Standing at a distance, I watched as two-person team after two-person team was detained and loaded into a black van. These were the days before cell phones. If these kids were taken off campus, how would we know where they went? How would we find each other again? Without another option, I ran up to the black van and pretended to be an American studying on campus. Did they need a translator? I got in.
I often wonder at the craziness of it all. Strongly against that methodology now, at the time we felt like we were giving Muslim students the very essence of life. Their angered rejection was to be expected, we reasoned. Some will view the Word as the fragrance of life, others death. A few hours drinking tea in a Jandarma office was the sacrifice of which Paul warned.
We were doing the most important thing we could imagine with our lives, in one of the most needed places. Full of principle and the weight of our calling, we learned to justify all sorts of actions and enjoyed the adventure.
Principled living framed our entire way of thinking. We were caught up in a story bigger than us, one that echoed from the ruins of Ephesus and along the road to the secret monasteries in Cappadocia. Early Christians had prayed over this land and we were there to reclaim it.
It is near impossible to argue with a vision of those proportions. And so, you can imagine the guilt we suffered when inklings of a change began to surface in our weary souls.
How can we leave our team? How can anything else be as compelling as serving in this time and place in Turkish history? How can God possibly be urging two language-ready leaders to abandon ship? Or that’s what we perceived him to be saying.
And yet he was, clearly. We took a year to transition and say goodbye and hand off our responsibilities, all the while in a complete fog as to what he was leading us to. The ship had been untethered and the course plotted for seminary. Beyond that, our destination was unknown, and I dare say, completely unimagined.
For how can a campus minister imagine herself walking into a strip club or praying over a truck stop or sitting in a sea of cops and handcuffs and guns? I talked to a prostitute today who wants to leave the life is not an update I ever thought I would give my husband over a glass of wine on our deck.
A new adventure, but principled living still.
However, I didn’t have to be staking out massage parlors to experience the weight of kingdom living and the thrill of God’s purpose. This I now know.
In the early days of resettling in America, I was drawn to other ethnicities, feeling more akin to their culture than my own. I relished the agenda-free conversations I could have, without the pressure of sharing my faith. For months I drew breath and found beauty and mowed grass, marveling at the expanse I felt and wondering where it would lead.
The Pacific Northwest taught me that God cares about taking care of his creation, eating foods fresh off the land tended by local farmers, reducing our negative impact on the world we are to steward. It taught me about caring for all humanity, those who harvest the cocoa pods for my chocolate or the beans for my coffee. It taught me that ultimately, living an intentional life is a God-honoring life.
I found meaning in being involved in our neighborhood school, strolling through our local farmer’s market, raising hens, and becoming educated about the global cause for justice. The longer we were off the mission field, the fuller our hearts became for the kingdom and God’s people.
And slowly, a new vision and calling emerged. God didn’t need us in Turkey anymore than he needs me to combat sex trafficking. What he needs is my heart fully submitted to his leading and direction. His path is always principled and purposed. It doesn’t matter where we reside or what our job description might be.