In my country, 16 is the age when most students have to decide which educational path to embark on next. It could be going to a polytechnic, a junior college, or taking up a course in a post-secondary institution. For me, 16 was the age when I announced I was going to quit school to be a missionary.
It wasn’t your typical “God is calling me” type of announcement, however.
Sometime in the middle of my sixteenth year, I had volunteered to be an usher at a yearly missions conference, as I had wanted to attend it but could not afford the conference fee. On the last night, James Hudson Taylor IV—descendant of the well-known pioneer missionary to China—gave the closing message in fluent Mandarin. I was moved to tears and when the call to the mission field was made, I raised my hand.
Sounds grand? Unfortunately, the real and ugly truth was that I had thought that serving God as a missionary would be my ticket to freedom. I was struggling in school that year, my results were dismal, I hated my teachers, and I had very few classmates whom I could call “true friends”.
Little did I know what God had in store for me.
When my mother asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into, I confidently replied that teaching and living in a village would be easy. To my utter amazement, my mum agreed and acted on my words immediately. She contacted her close friend, a missionary serving in Southeast Asia, and got me a six-week return ticket. So off I went.
Just 11 hours into the journey, I found myself completely lost. Thrust into a country that spoke in a language I couldn’t comprehend, with four chickens scurrying about under my seat and my bag perched somewhere on the top of the truck, I was terrified.
It was nothing like the life I envisioned it to be. There was barely any electricity, so everyone went to bed at eight and got up at five. Living in a children’s hostel also meant that I had to help with the cooking, cleaning, and farming for 30 children and five adults! Other chores included leading morning devotion and feeding the chickens. There were no computers or textbooks, so lessons had to be conducted using chalk and a chalkboard.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. I grew to love the hostel children who became my best language teachers. I adored them and used all my allowance to buy them stationery. There was also the amazing view, fresh air, and cool evenings to take in every day.
But I got extremely homesick. I did not want to eat salted fish porridge for breakfast or boat noodles for lunch any longer. Neither did I want to sleep on mattresses on a creaky wooden floor in suffocating heat, covered by a mosquito net. And I was getting tired of trekking 45 minutes over a mountain every morning to the nearest school—which was in the next village. I wanted to go home.
So when the six weeks passed, I packed up and returned home. I went on to complete my studies and get my degree as well as a diploma in teaching. I also went back to the hostel four more times and visited many other village schools in other parts of Asia.
It’s been a decade since all this happened, and I have not given up my dream to serve the Lord as a missionary one day. But I know that being a missionary is not an escape route; neither is it easy. Most people spend months or even years getting themselves prepared, which could mean taking up language studies, teaching, or cross-cultural communication lessons.
That short trip changed my perspective on missions completely. I have learned (the hard way) to wait upon God’s sovereign timing, rather than take things into my own hands as I did in my youth.