Life as a sea-faring missionary taught me a few things about the beauty of God and the ugliness of our fallen world.
Here are my 10 most memorable life lessons.
1. God’s Plans are Exceedingly, Abundantly Better than Mine. My biggest dreams…my greatest visions…my most far-reaching hopes are hugely small when displayed next to the dreams and visions of an eternal God who made me with a specific purpose in His mind. All it really takes to apprehend His plan is a child-like willingness to trust and obey His call. Remember that God has infinite resources to accomplish things that seem impossible to our finite minds. I never imagined God would make a way for me to join the Ship’s Ministry. But He did…and His grace and calling sustained me in the hard times. You are no different than me. Lay aside your small ambitions and ask God what He has for you!
2. God Cannot Be Limited! 196 countries, a multitude of cultures, countless skin colors, in-numerable languages, a myriad of world views and religious beliefs. In poverty, in abundance, in sickness, in health, in life and death…His love blankets the multitudes without exception. He is Lord over all and His love is for all! God is not imprisoned to our definition of “Christianity.” He saves through dreams, He appears in visions, He comes to light through suffering and whispers to every single living being. When I saw desperate people from desperate places turn from false gods and bitter circumstances to worship Christ, my understanding of God’s vision for the world to broke open and my hope was renewed!
3. There is Heart Silencing Suffering in this World! Witnessing extreme poverty can shatter your heart forever. If it doesn’t break you, humble you or cause you to live with a sense of responsibility and purpose, then I question your humanity. I remember my day in this village with more clarity than these photos could ever capture and yet they are still so hard to look at. I never want to forget what I saw. And I never want my own children to believe that the world around them isn’t hurting just because they have never seen suffering. Lord, help me to live with understanding and passion in light of all you’ve shown me…
4. God Blesses Obedience! When you follow after His calling on your life in spite of the discomfort you will face, He is with you all along, showering you with GOOD THINGS, whispering secrets right into your soul… secrets that are too intimate to share with words. God shows Himself to you in the ways you’ve always prayed He would. He causes you to understand that true blessing has so extremely little to do with gaining treasure in this world and everything to do with losing it…for His sake. Thank you that you are a God of beautiful paradoxes.
5. There are Many Disappointments in ministry! Being in God’s will is soul satisfying. But being in God’s will does not mean you won’t suffer great disappointment and disillusionment. During my time in Austria, my friends and I met Daniel. He was 17 and he suffered with depression. Amazingly, he became a believer and we built a precious relationship with him. But, after returning to the ship, we received the horrible news that he took his own life. His Dad found him just a few minutes after he hung himself, just a few minutes too late. Under his pillow was a picture of a little boy sitting on a King’s lap. We knew that was God’s love note to those Daniel left behind. The news was devastating. I couldn’t understand this seemingly useless loss. Now I know that there are people in this world who struggle inside of a darkness not easily understood by others. But there is freedom in Christ. If not in this world, then the next.
6. The Beauty and Fierceness of God’s Creation Helps us Revere Him! There is nothing quite like sailing on the vast ocean, inside an old creaky ship in the midst of an angry storm. There is nothing like gazing into the midnight sky somewhere between land and infinity and falling into a starry, border-less galaxy. There is no beauty like the hissing sun falling from a cloudless sky and sinking into an abyss of sea. There is nothing like the deep green waters that flow between guardrails of green mountains. Who can fathom Your greatness?
7. People are Not Always Who they Seem to Be! Just because someone becomes a missionary, doesn’t mean Christ is Lord over their heart. Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they don’t sin. From sexual impurity, to theft, to alcohol abuse, to drug use, to adultery, to conspiracy to commit murder…during my two years on board, the ship’s ministry was victimized by many perpetrators. Where was God in all this? It was easy to doubt His presence. But He was still there. He wasn’t surprised when ugliness emerged. In this world, people contend with sin. Sadly, some are mastered by it. Believers are no exception. Our need to guard our faith and not place any hope in flesh is ever present. God is always true. Nothing is hidden from Him… And…He still used us in spite of it all.
8. Doctrine Can be Divisive when not held with grace and humility but God brings unity! There was a time on board when the ship’s staff was engaged in a cold war over Calvinism and Arminianism. Some believed that the TULIP acrostic was more important than loving their fellow Free Will “freak” and vice versa. Sadly, I was one of those people. Until God showed me that the man I would marry was on the opposing team. At first, Wouter and I couldn’t even agree on who Christ died for. I told him I wouldn’t marry him unless he became a Calvinist. Well, he never did join my team even after three years of Moody Bible Institute. But God has brought unity to our marriage through walking the Calvary road of discipleship; a road of brokenness, surrender and pure joy. Love conquers. Humility and grace awaken our souls to the true desires of God’s heart.
9. Loving People is Hard Work! But God’s treasure is within every individual and that means that I can draw riches from everyone God brings my way. It was easy to get irritated with my cabin-mate who stayed up until all hours of the night with her light on, often keeping me awake. But she was a prayer warrior and most of those nights I would hear her quiet sobs and prayerful whispers. From her, I learned that intimacy with God requires a love for His presence and a zeal for His fellowship. God requires us to love one another deeply. Quite frankly, that means extending grace to people that get on our nerves while remembering that, more than likely, a lot of people are extending grace to us.
10. Starting Strong is Important, but Victory is found in Finishing Strong. We all start things well, don’t we? Especially the things we want to do. We have energy, vision and passion. We show up early, stay up late, clean up afterward and prepare for what’s next. But midway, we grow tired, get lazy, sleep in, take off. We stretch out our battle-weary arms hoping to touch the finish line where, finally, we can get some rest. But weariness is only a sign that we aren’t drawing off of the life of Christ! Why do you think He allows us to grow weary in the first place? So that we can stop trusting in our own energy, resourcefulness and ambition and start fueling our journey with His supple riches. Weariness is where it all begins! Ship’s life taught me that…
Well, there you have it! Trust in Him. It’s well worth it.
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