I’ve been thinking about writing this for the last couple of days, but have struggled to find the words to explain it, and give it the justice it deserves.
It’s an important post for me, because I want to document this. Some of you will know, if you’ve read my first Honest Reflections post, or know me in real life, but my plans for this year changed quite suddenly towards the end of August. In order to fully explain the excitement of Sunday evening, I need to give some context. I’ve decided to share with you the my story of the last 9 months. Now may be a good time to grab a cuppa, as this is a long one.
Ever since I went to Tanzania in the summer of 2016 (more to come on that very soon..!), I knew I had a heart for mission, and to serve God in ways beyond the reach of my doorstep. For me, it seemed logical to take a gap year, give myself a break from the stress and lifestyle of exams, and give a year to God; serving Him in new ways.
Around Christmas time, or just before, I decided to apply for the gap year programme run by BMS World Mission. Action Teams seemed to tick every box in my mind; God was the focus, small groups were chosen to be well rounded, with people who worked well together, and we wouldn’t just be thrown into the unknown and left to flounder. I went along to the Encounter event in February, and my mind was made up – Action Teams was how I wanted to spend this year.
Throughout March, I knew I’d progressed to various different stages of the process. My interview was successful, and I’d been put into team selection. Next thing I knew, I opened an email one Thursday afternoon to see I’d been selected for the India Delhi team, with the two girls I felt a real connection with at Encounter. I was shocked beyond words, ran downstairs (accidentally waking my Mum up from a nap in the process), and proceeded to grin like the Cheshire Cat. Needless to say, I was very excited.
The following week was really tough, as I faced a rejection from my top choice of university, with very little reason as to why. I clung onto the fact that my next year was in hand, and I was India-bound.
But the disappointments didn’t end there. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, the India Delhi team was disbanded, and couldn’t go ahead. This shook me. In the space of 10 days, I thought I’d lost my most wanted plans, and it was really hard. I struggled seeing where God’s hand was, having thought he’d opened the doors for me. There was clearly ‘a’ plan, I just wished I knew it.
Following a lot of prayer, and discussion with some pretty wise people, I accepted a new place, on the Nepal Action Team. This was still an adventure, but I guess I was wary about getting as excited as before, because who knew what could happen.
God’s hand was definitely in the process, and this was evident through my fundraising. Each Action Teamer had to raise nearly £4,500 to part fund the programme. Within a couple of weeks of finding out about Nepal, I had events planned, unexpected donations coming in, and my fundraising was finished in under 3 months, before I’d even finished for Study Leave. God took care of the finances, and my attention could be on my exams. Never before have I felt, nor understood so clearly God’s provision.
I’m going to fast-forward to the Summer now, as I’m aware this has gone on a lot already. (Well done if you’re still with me, I promise it gets better soon!) To many, the A level summer is one to make the most of. It’s one of the longest, between finishing exams at the end of June, and often not going onto university until the middle/end of September. There’s often the sense that it’s the summer to make many memories, spend time with school friends, and celebrate the end of an era. In a way, I did this, but there was always a niggle at the back of my brain that things may not work out the way I wanted them to come September.
Just after finishing my exams I received a phone call from BMS. There were concerns over an aspect of my health screening, and wished for an improvement by training in September, otherwise we’d have to re-evaluate. I’m not going to lie, this was a real challenge. The issue was weight, and food, and being someone who loses their appetite when stressed, coming off the back of A level exams wasn’t the best time. The stress of trying to gain weight inadvertently caused me to lose it – and I was locked in a vicious cycle. Suddenly training was looking less and less likely, and my worries increased.
In about the second week of August I realised that I needed to make some decisions. I was going on holiday for a fortnight, and as things stood, I’d return on the Saturday evening, and training started on the Monday. If this year was happening, I needed to get my act together. Through prayer, and conversation, I got to the point where I phoned BMS. Explained what was going on, my thoughts, and wanted to know where they stood.
What has stuck with me most about that phone call was how well Ben handled things. I honestly felt that he wanted the best for me, listened to all my reasons, and actually, although this may sound selfish, emphasised that they didn’t want me to have to leave the programme. But, and we both agreed on this, my health was more important than spending 10 months serving God through Action Teams. God had other plans, he just hadn’t shown them.
As you can probably imagine, I suddenly went through a whirlwind of emotions. Disappointed because everything had been pointing towards Nepal, and it was no longer happening. Relieved because I no longer had to think about leaving the country for 6 months, and how unprepared I was. Terrified of telling people of the change of plans, because everyone had given so much in support that I felt I’d let them all down. Worried about my future: how would I now spend my year? Going from full-time education into nothing was a scary prospect, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. There were many, many more, and it was quite a confusing time.
I went away on holiday, and for the first time, September was not an exciting prospect. I loved the idea of going back to school, getting back into routine, seeing people, and even just studying again. This year, I had none of that. While September held new and exciting things for so many, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that my year of adventure had gone, and it was possible I could find nothing to do.
God reappears here in the story too. I mean, He never really disappeared, it’s just more obvious here. Within 4 days of being home, I’d already met with my pastor to discuss options for this year. It was here that the word ‘intern’ was first mentioned. I spent a couple of weeks thinking, but when it came down to it, every item on my mental check list had been ticked off, without me doing a single thing. God was working out a plan for me, and it had fallen into my lap.
Throughout September, if things had gone as expected, I would have been in Birmingham at training. Instead, I was at home, doing not a lot, and gradually saying goodbye to all my friends as they went off to university. The first week of October was a real challenge. It was the first week after everyone had left, and the week I would have flown out to Nepal. My mind was pretty much all over the place, yet one thing kept me grounded.
On the Wednesday, I started my new adventure. This time, as Church Intern. So far, I’m loving it. I’ve been welcomed in, made to feel useful, and feel like I’m growing in understanding of the Church as a whole, and the ways in which I can serve. That said, it has been a challenge. I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone pretty much all the time, especially in the realms of working with children, and learning how to communicate with strangers.
I’ve had a few dips, and at times have ended up thinking “Did I really make the right decision?” “Should I be in Nepal right now?”. One of these times was last Friday, when the emotions got the better of me.
But now I get to share the most exciting part. And trust me, it is the whole point of me sharing this story today. Even writing this, I’m smiling while thinking of how to share it.
On Sunday evening, God spoke. And He spoke straight into the depths of my heart, where He knew I was hurting, and confused. Pete Greig, the ‘bewildered instigator of the 24-7Prayer Movement’, came to speak at Church. (on a side note, if you’re looking for a book to read, I highly recommend ‘Dirty Glory’.) His message was spot on – and so relatable. It was something I needed to hear, even just to be able to say: ‘Seasons are Changing’. Maybe I’ll share something about that at some other point.
Anyway. The important, and exciting bit. At the end, during a time of ministry, Pete suddenly said that he’d got a word from God. It was about detours.
“There’s someone here today who has been set on something, an end goal, for a long time. That destination hasn’t happened for some reason, and you feel like you’ve gone on a detour. In your mind, that was Plan A, and what you’re living now, is Plan B. God is saying that your Plan B, is His Plan A.”
This was powerful, encouraging, and totally surprising. He knew exactly how I was feeling, and spoke in love. For me, this meant so much more, as Pete had no idea of my situation. Any one of the leadership team could have said something, yet they knew what was going on. This was a stranger – once again confirming the power and love of God, this time in something tangible and really special for me.
This week I’ve gone to work with a new attitude. God knows exactly where I am in this moment, and I’m supposed to be here. I’m not saying that it’s always going to be easy – it’s not. But, the truth is, He is in control.
I love this, from the Message:
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
In straight terms, Proverbs 3:6 sums things up.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
The past couple of months have been a rollercoaster, and I’m still learning to find my feet now. But things are looking up, and the knowledge that God wanted me to be here is comforting, encouraging, and something to hold fast to, just like His Word.
It’s been hard opening up and sharing this, but I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to document the excitement of Sunday night, yet that would be pointless without the story behind it. I hope you can respect this – it’s been a journey, and one that’s still ongoing in many ways. Thank you for reading this far, if you’re still with me. It means a lot.