A year ago I walked the streets of Denmark and my life was in a very different place. I walked those same streets a week ago and I was reminded of how much can change in a year.
If the theme of last year was stress and re-direction, the theme of this year was growth and settling.
Last year I felt certain that God was calling me to go on the Denmark trip to serve as a journalist. God used that trip to expose my pain and struggles and re-direct my path away from working overseas in order to move back “home” to work full time as a writer.
This year I didn’t experience that same certainty in returning to Denmark but because I was invited, I wanted to be faithful with the opportunity God placed before me. This trip turned out to be one of the biggest blessings and good gifts from God. A time where my views on ministry shifted and grew.
No matter what place we’re in, often what we expect is very different then what God has planned.
Last year I was set on what I thought my future would be. I felt confident in how God had made me and where he was leading me. For years I believed that it was best for me to live and work overseas, doing the “hardest thing”. Or what I deemed to be the hardest. I had the underlying belief that if I did the “hardest thing” I would be serving God with my best. To experience success in this place would be to earn the merit of my peers, even history.
What lofty goals that were honestly more wrapped up in seeking glory for myself and not for God.
The reality was, that if I moved overseas to do the “hardest thing” I would have completely fallen apart. My emotional and spiritual health needed more stability and structure. What was driving my desires to move overseas was unhealthy and wrong. Thankfully the people in my life in charge of making the decision to let me go versus stay saw that and said, “stay”.
It all came together on that Denmark trip a year ago. It was painful. It was devastating to feel so exposed. I felt frustrated that I was being limited. Yet, I could not see the full view of myself. God did, and he worked through wise leaders to steer me in a different direction.
In being re-directed by God and responding in faith by following his leading, I experienced healing and growth.
This year has been full of peace and settling. Thriving and living in how God made me best.
Although I tempted to say, “I’ve got it all figured out and know exactly where God is leading me!” I can’t. But there’s freedom in saying that I don’t know the middle road and end of my journey.
This year in Denmark I experienced more deeply God’s unique love for me. I saw him bless me with good conversations, incredible moments of learning, and little joys and pleasures. God is a Father who just loves to give good gifts because he loves us. There was freedom in trusting God with what he had planned for me each day.
This year I felt humbled in Denmark. I looked back over the past few years and recognized evidence of how God graciously loved and worked through me, even though I wasn’t faithful in loving those who I worked alongside well. I didn’t love my team well – I viewed them as a means to an end. A stepping stone in the efficiency plan to accomplish big things for God.
This year in Denmark I slowed down. I learned what it means to remove my cultural bias and judgement to accept people for where and who they are. I learned that it’s okay if people live differently – there are ways to still share the gospel with them it just looks differently than back home.
This year I reflected more critically of my own culture. Western Christianity often does sound aggressive. From a Danish perspective it can feel impatient and rushed and judgemental. In a context like Denmark those become natural points of tension when trying to build friendships and develop trust. It’s challenging, yet deeply freeing to set aside our perceptions of how to do ministry “best” and just be learners. To not go in with an agenda except to listen and love people well.
In that space of listening and loving others, it’s more natural to build trust and develop real friendships. It develops the space where we can share our lives and stories of how we see God at work. It develops curiosity about the gospel and who Jesus is. In that space it actually helps people come to know Jesus. And it’s a lot more fun too.
This year in Denmark I had a blast learning and loving the people God placed before me. I learned what it really means to love the people in front of me, whether Danes or my teammates. Loving well the people God has placed in my life IS my mission. They are not a stepping stone to get to a greater mission. It was a lot more fun when the focus was on loving God fully, loving my team, and loving others.
As we see the Great Commission lived out through the Great Commandment (to love God and love others) – we will experience freedom in being our true selves without the pressure of an agenda in ministry and joy in the journey of seeing people really come to know Jesus.
A lot can change in one year. And I’m so so so grateful.