Taste and see …

An intentional life? February 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — F. Penner @ 10:53 PM

I’m going to be honest – I had the hardest time writing this post. Not because I’m about to expound on some deeply personal aspect of my life or anything (well, I guess I kind of am), but because I wanted it to be just whoa. I wanted it to be deep, insightful, intelligent – and I kind of wanted to blow some socks off people. So I picked a topic and started researching and writing some stuff, but the words weren’t really flowing. I deleted that draft … After thinking about it for a little, I decided that I really don’t want to force anything. I did that enough in college, and it’s just not fun. Granted, I did well on all my papers, so I’d have that going for me, but still … Anyhow, I decided to just share something that’s kind of always on my mind, that’s affected my life and how I want to live it out.

As I’m writing this, a team from my church of 13 people are heading to Kisumu, Kenya, to minister there for a week. I really struggled with the decision to not go on this trip, because I’ve gone twice and loved every minute of it. I know there are plenty of people out there who look at missions trips and think, ‘I’d never ever in a million years want to do that!’ Or there’s the whole idea that if you actually give your life to God and let Him take charge, He’s going to send you to Africa. I’ve heard pastors I respect say that He’s not going to send you to Africa if you don’t want to go to the Africa (or any other geographic location that’s not part of the ‘first world’), and I agree with that to a certain extent – God’s not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. It’s called free will. On the other hand, though, I think that if you do submit yourself to God and let Him work in you, your desires will change. It doesn’t happen overnight, and I’ve found that for me, at least, the change is kind of subtle but I tend to fight against it every chance I get even when I don’t want to fight it (Romans 7:15-20 – true story). I will be the first to admit that I had no desire ever to go to any third-world country, or really do anything missions-related aside from wholeheartedly supporting all my friends who wanted to do missions. I’m pretty sure I probably said at some point that I wanted to be rich so I could support them all as they fulfilled the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) in various parts of the world and I lived the American Dream in my McMansion feeling good about my contribution to global missions.

I still remember the Sunday that I decided I was going to maybe think about possibly applying for the trip to Kenya they had talked about that morning. I was sitting in church listening to our missions pastor talk about the upcoming trip and one of the long-term projects they hoped to accomplish in Kenya over the next several years, and just thought, ‘I want to be part of that!’ So I went to the interest meeting for the trip, listened, grabbed an application, and drove home trying to figure out what had just happened to me.

I went to a missions-oriented college, and after college, I had toyed around with the idea of doing a short-term missions trip to France, because I’m a bit of a Francophile (and Anglophile, for that matter) and just wanted to go live in France, eat the food, enjoy the scenery, and perfect my French. Unfortunately, I really didn’t want to be a missionary, so that went nowhere. Fast forward about 10 years, and I was suddenly contemplating a 2 week missions trip to Kenya, a place I knew nothing about, and a place I had frankly never had any desire to visit. I liked my comfortable life, and I always got sad and teary when they’d show heart-wrenching videos of poor children at church, but I didn’t want to go see the children. In his book ‘Radical,’ David Platt tells the story of a pastor who actually told him (David) that this particular church would continue to support him in his ministry as long as they (the church) didn’t have to go there themselves. And that’s kind of where I was at before that Sunday in February of 2012. I didn’t want to get pulled out of my little Christian bubble into caring about strangers who were less fortunate than me. It sounded potentially depressing and definitely uncomfortable, plus that’s what missionaries are for! (I could go off on a tangent about my thoughts on that now, but I won’t). Occasionally I’d email or call one of my best friends and vent to her about how dissatisfied I was with my career, how I wanted to do something more meaningful, but then I’d fall back into complacency and continue on my merry way.

I applied for and made it onto the team for that trip, and spent the next year getting to know the group of people I’d be going with, sending out a bunch of support letters, selling jam to raise more support, and getting inoculated against everything. I tried to assure my parents that I’d be safe, that the trip leader would take good care of us all, and that everything would be perfectly fine. From the second I saw Kenyan soil, I was hooked. I’m pretty sure by the end of the end of our first day, I was ready to give it all up and move myself to Kenya. Doing what, I still have no idea – I don’t think librarians are in high demand on the mission field! I know part of that was just the emotional high or whatever of being on the trip, but the joy of the people I met, the smiles and hugs of the children, the excitement of people when they saw wazungu (wanderers, aka white people), the incredible faith of some of the people we met or ministered with, even the poverty … I have a hard time putting it all into words, honestly. I just know that it changed me. It turned me from being a passive supporter to being someone who wants to live more of an intentional life, to do more with the time and resources I’ve been given. It took several months after we returned for me to process everything, but I eventually came to realize that if I wanted to be doing more, I didn’t have to wait for the next trip to Kenya. Unless God calls me to move to Kenya, that’s a ‘once every couple of years’ kind of trip, which leaves a whole lot of days in between trips to do … something. (Thank you, Matthew West, for writing a song that expresses my thoughts so much better than I can!) So I poked around a little into some local ministries outside of church, got a little more involved in different areas in church, went back to Kenya a second time, and frankly, I’ve been having a great time with it all! And just in case anyone thinks that all this ‘doing’ has been easy for me, it has not. It’s become easier, but I still get nervous when I’m the only person in front of a group of children. Or when I’ve decided to try out a new ministry (especially then). I think this little picture says it perfectly, though:

I have no idea what my future holds – I’ve got a few things on my wish list – but I do know that I can’t live my life the way I did before. I used to think that the American dream was IT, the thing to work toward, to attain at some point in my life. Now I’m not so convinced. It still sounds nice, sure, but for me at least, I just want more than that.

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