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Why-Am-I-Taking-a-Gap-Year

Why Am I Taking a Gap Year?

I must admit that when I first decided to take a gap year, I might have started off on the wrong foot.

You see, I was giving different reasons to different people—depending on who asked. To the friendly taxi driver, I was taking a year off school to work. To my parents, I was not ready to enter university since I had no idea what I wanted to study. To Christian friends and mentors, I needed the time to get back on track with God and to serve Him in Christian organizations.

That got me thinking. Why didn’t I have a confident and consistent answer? Was it because I didn’t have a concrete answer? If I were to be honest with myself, what reasons would I have come up with?

I graduated from a local polytechnic with a media-related diploma two months ago. I should have headed for further studies right after that, but months earlier, halfway through my last semester, the thought of taking a gap year had crept into my mind.

In case you didn’t know, a gap year is an intentional choice by a student to take a year off school to work, volunteer, or travel. It is mostly done before or after one enrolls in university. A couple of my friends were taking this long break. One wanted to spend her time backpacking round Europe, and another had planned to go to Thailand with a non-profit organization to help in animal conservation efforts. Others were looking at taking up internships to help them decide on what to study in university.

My friends all seemed to have legitimate—even noble—reasons for wanting to take a gap year. My motivations seemed to pale in comparison; I felt like I was the only confused one.

In the two months that have passed since I started my sabbatical, I have come to realize that my motivations were rather selfish. I had wanted to take a break after three years of studying in the polytechnic. The late nights and tight deadlines had left me with little time to relax and I was utterly exhausted. The idea of having more time to myself for such a long period sounded fantastic. Also, I had finished a six-month internship with a local newspaper and found that I preferred working to studying.

Reasoning with myself and my parents, I argued that I didn’t know what I wanted to study in university—hence I needed the time to “find myself” and figure it out.

However, I was aware that taking a gap year would mean a very long break from school. My sabbatical would in fact last 1½ years, because my academic year ended in February this year and God-willing, my university course would only begin in August next year. To make sure I used my time more wisely, I was determined to learn a new instrument—the ukulele.

All these reasons were not necessarily wrong, but did they truly glorify God? Where was God in my decision-making process? I had prayed to ask God what He thought about my gap year, but I had not actively sought His reply. When I lay on my bed to pray every night, was I asking God to bless my plans or was I asking God for His plan?

Such thoughts lingered in my head when a sister-in-Christ challenged me to rethink my motivations for taking the sabbatical. She suggested that as Christians, our motivations, thoughts and actions should be very different from that of a non-believer.

I reflected on how I spoke with God every night and realized that often, I wanted blessings and not direction from God. It was the wrong way to pray. The deliberate act of choosing to be stuck in limbo was probably due to selfish reasons on my part. They reflected my personal inward desires instead of God Himself. However, I believe God can still use this time to teach me many things—if I am willing to listen.

Reading a recent devotional on Romans, I was very inspired by how Paul allowed the Gospel to shape his whole person. His identity, mission, relationships with others, and convictions were so aligned to the Gospel. It challenged me to think about how I should let God use me, and how much more I need to surrender my life to Him.

So far, in the past two months, I’ve spent my time serving with Singapore Youth for Christ to gear up for an evangelistic event in June. My interest in writing has also led me to join YMI as an editorial intern. However, even though I’m doing “Christian” things, I know it is still important for me to pray constantly for God’s guidance.

I still don’t have the answers to many of the difficult questions I’ve asked. However, I pray that I will continue to seek God first, to ask for His direction instead of His approval. May I learn how to discern what my personal desires are, and what God has called me to do. With 16 more months’ sabbatical to go, I hope to make decisions that will make God happy instead of those that will make me happy.

I can only plan so much for my gap year. But I am convinced that if I let God plan for me, He will give me far more than I can ever ask or imagine.

Amy Peterson The Banished Missionary

Amy Peterson: The Banished Missionary

Ministering in a country where Christians are a minority can sound daunting even for an experienced missionary. However, for Amy Peterson—a 22-year-old fresh graduate at the time—the thought itself was exciting. “Going to a place unreached with the Gospel was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. The young hopeful did not expect that one day, she would be banished from the country she ministered in, unable to return.

Now 35, Amy is a writer, assistant director of honors programming at Taylor University in Indiana, USA, and mother of two children. She documented her experiences as a missionary in her first book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, which was published in February. “As I reflected on my experiences, I wanted to make sure that I had learned all God wanted me to learn from them,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I was listening to my life.”

Amy, who was raised in a Christian family, was drawn to the life of a missionary after reading biographies of famous missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward as a child. “I wanted to serve God in the greatest way possible, and so I felt drawn to overseas missions,” she tells YMI in an e-mail interview.

She took the unconventional route after graduating from University to explore what being a cross-cultural missionary was like. Although Amy’s parents were nervous about her 10-month stint, they were supportive. Amy, on the other hand, “had no doubts” about her decision.

To prepare for her trip—which was organized by a Christian organization she was attached to—Amy attended two classes on intercultural studies from Wheaton College in Illinois and received another three weeks of specialized training from the organization.

Amy Peterson (3)The training was especially crucial for Amy as she was not allowed to directly evangelize in the country. Due to the Southeast Asian country’s political situation and cultural dynamics, she was only able to enter the country as an English teacher. Amy says: “I was simply living my life as a Christian in a foreign country.”

Amy’s efforts paid off when one of her students, *Veronica, started to visit her apartment with questions about Christianity. “I think she guessed I might be a Christian because I was American,” Amy says. The 19-year-old had become interested in Christianity because one of her favorite American pop stars was a Christian.

Veronica’s quest for more answers kept her visiting Amy. In the end, they started reading the Bible together and studying the book of Luke every Sunday night. They also watched Jesus, a 1979 film adapted from the Gospel of Luke, together with two of Veronica’s friends. Veronica later borrowed it over the Lunar New Year break so that she could watch it again with her family members.

After several months of Bible study with Amy, Veronica started to understand how Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for sinners. She subsequently prayed to receive Christ.

Amy recalls receiving a letter from Veronica, in which she wrote: “The Bible let me understand that the Father comes to us not because we are good enough, but because we are forgiven.” Reading the letter, Amy was astounded that Veronica could already recognize this truth, which Amy took years to grasp.

Over time, Amy witnessed how Veronica would eagerly share about her newfound faith with those around her, including her family members, classmates, and even friends studying at different colleges around the country. She even finished reading the whole of the New Testament by herself and did Bible study with her friends. By the end of the school year, four other friends of Veronica had come to know the Lord.

At one particular dinner with Amy’s Christian friend and Veronica, Amy recalls how Veronica boldly declared: “If I have to choose between my country and God, I choose God.” She also went on to talk about the power of the Word of God fearlessly, saying: “I have a more powerful weapon than my government does. I’m not afraid.”

Unfortunately, after Amy returned to the United States for her summer break, the local police found the students having Bible study. They were repeatedly interrogated and threatened by the authorities, had their Bibles confiscated, and forbidden to talk about Jesus.

Cracking under pressure, one of the students revealed that they had received their Bibles from Amy. The police ordered the university to sack Amy. She was also not allowed to enter the country again. “I had no idea that I would never come back,” she says. “The experience shook my faith.” Although Amy kept in touch with Veronica for three years after she left, she soon realized that the police were still monitoring and checking on Veronica. Hence, for Veronica’s safety, Amy decided to stop contacting her. (Because Amy’s students are still being monitored by the police, Amy can’t reveal which country she went to for their safety.)

The series of events made Amy feel guilty. “There were so many things I didn’t know, so many things I took for granted, so many ways I wasn’t cautious,” she wrote in her book. Some of the things Amy wished she had not done include allowing Veronica to keep the Jesus film over the mid-semester break, conducting a Bible study session with her students in public, and not warning Veronica to be careful.

It took a year of struggling with the guilt before she was finally able to forgive herself. “I made mistakes. But obsessing over my mistakes elevates them as more powerful than the sovereignty of God.” When asked if she regrets going to there, she answers with a firm “Never”.

To the current writer and teacher in Indiana, her mission with God has not ended. Her role as a mother and a teacher gives her the opportunity to share about God with her children and help her students navigate their relationships and life circumstances. Amy says, “I think all of us are called to be on mission with God, putting love where love is not. I seek to use my words in ways that help make the deep, deep love of God clear to those around me. I believe that we can do small things with great love.”

Ultimately, Amy hopes to encourage fellow Christians to keep serving God. “I believe firmly that God is working in exciting and meaningful ways through people in all vocations, not just through missionaries,” she says. “God is at work everywhere, if we have eyes to see it . . . and God calls all of us to be on mission, wherever we are.”

Amy Peterson

Read more about Amy’s story in Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. Published in February this year by Discovery House, it is available at www.dhp.org for $13.99.

*Not her real name

United-airlines

United Airlines: Who deserves to be on that plane?

See #UnitedAirlines trending on social media? If you haven’t heard about it, United Airlines is currently embroiled in a controversy over a shocking video of a passenger being forcefully removed from a flight after he refused to be off-loaded.

According to news reports, the flap started when passengers on Kentucky-bound Flight 3411 were offered US$800 to give up their seats to make way for four crew members. No one volunteered so the airlines randomly selected four passengers. While three of them left begrudgingly, Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American, resisted, saying that he was a doctor and that he needed to see patients the following day. Chicago Department of Aviation security officers then yanked the 69-year-old from his seat and dragged him off the plane.

Numerous videos captured by fellow passengers went viral and caused a storm. To make matters worse, a company e-mail was leaked revealing the airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz describing Dr Dao as “disruptive and belligerent”. He also said that he stood behind his employees.

Many are now accusing United Airlines of discrimination, saying that they treated Dr Dao so badly because he is Asian. This was not helped by a news report supposedly highlighting the doctor’s troubled past and brushes with the law.

When such things happen, it is easy—almost natural, in fact—to condemn the airline. After all, it would seem that Dr Dao should not have been subjected to the treatment he received, no matter what his past and ethnicity. Some have also condemned the news site for digging up his criminal past.

Reading these arguments has left me with a number of questions. For example: Should our ethnicity determine our worth? Should we be judged on our past? In short: Who deserves to be on Flight 3411?

As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that in God’s eyes, the answer to the first two questions are: No. God does not see us based on our skin color nor our past. In fact, we are all equal: all of us are sinners, and all of us are in desperate need of His grace. We can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable to Him, or to increase our worth. That’s why God does not look at our past criminal records and secret sins, nor our achievements and accolades.

In fact, if God were to judge us based on our sins, we would all suffer the same fate as Dr Dao—mercilessly dragged off the plane. We would not even have the chance to be on that plane.

Our merciful Father loves us as His children and forgives our sins. Instead of hauling us off the plane, He invites us to join Him on board.

Now, if God were willing to forgive and put aside His judgment against us, shouldn’t we, as His followers, be willing to do the same? Do we judge people or treat some as less deserving? Having received God’s love and treatment, do we view them the same way God viewed us?

Today, I would like to challenge you to remember that we are all “equal”—we are all sinners who need grace just as we do.

It’s easy to point the finger at United Airlines and others. But is it time to do the same to ourselves?