While I (Maria) was finishing up my first semester at the NTM Missionary Training Center, God was making his plan for me and my passion in missions more and more clear. Early in December I wrote in my journal:
Today I had a challenge and reminder about what I’m growing more and more passionate about: support work and doing practical things, helping other missionaries in any way that I can so that they have more time to do what they came for.
I grew up in a missionary family that was a little out of the ordinary.
Our ministry? Computers.
Our foreign country? East Texas.
My parents are support missionaries. This means that they help other missionaries in practical ways. After years in the secular workplace, my dad was ready for a change. He felt God calling him into missions with his computer skills. But when our family was discouraged from raising support to go overseas (because of the potential expense of sending a family of 8), and because technology was advancing so that you could fix computer problems from anywhere in the world, God called us to something different, support ministry with Missionary Tech Team.
I loved helping people, always have. And I loved that my parents were able to help missionaries and organizations all over the world from this one location. I wasn’t that into computers though, so instead I learned all I could about another part of the organization: architecture. I spent afternoons learning how to use CAD (a computer program for drafting), looked at lots of blueprints and floor plans of churches, summer camps, seminaries, and more, planned for building all over the world.
I loved it, and with the mission trips I took during high school, I was growing more and more certain that missions was what God had for my future. I thought probably South America, I was decently fluent in Spanish, and knew lots of missionaries from there.
When I was choosing colleges, my plans got a little less clear. The university I had picked out, my dad’s alma mater, was huge. Like 40,000+ students huge. When I learned that my freshman classes were going to have 100-300 students per class, with a similar ratio of teacher to students, I wasn’t so sure anymore. And when I heard the list of classes I’d be taking for my major for architecture, and found that over half of them were math, I said no. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I’ll just switch my major, I thought. I really like teaching. This is a big school they probably have and education major too. I asked our tour guide. “Well, sort of, yeah, we do,” she said. “We’re just starting, it’s actually really exciting! It’s our first year, and we’ll be bringing over some teachers from the local community college twice a week to do education classes so we can have an education minor, and soon an education major too.”
Nope, sorry. I decided if I’m going to pay for a college education, I wanted a good one.
So we drove home, a two day drive, and I was very uncertain. There I was less than a year away from starting college, and I now had no clue where I was going. We had visited other schools, but it just wasn’t a clear decision anymore. We happened to stay overnight at a little Bible college during our trip home. My dad, probably seeing my indecision, suggested we could do a tour here, since we were here anyway. We could at least get a different feel for a smaller school. It was summer, late at night, during a thunderstorm, and the person who came after hours to give us a tour didn’t have the keys, so we just peeked in the windows, didn’t meet anyone else, and he told us a little bit about the school. We stayed overnight in the empty dorm and I wandered the halls, thinking and praying.
Believe it or not, I ended up attending that school. God knew what he was doing. I got my education degree and a Bible degree, with some missions thrown in too. As graduation approached I still wasn’t sure where I was going, but I heard about New Tribes Mission through my best friend. I met her at that college, visited her when she went to missionary training, and I decided to go too. I wanted to be involved in missions, and I liked their mission statement: “Reaching the Unreached.” I couldn’t see myself teaching in a classroom, but I knew missionaries doing church planting needed practical help in lots of areas, such as homeschooling.
As I headed into missionary training I was excited about jumping right in to doing something I knew God had called me to do and that I enjoyed. I knew, God had been preparing me for this type of ministry my whole life. At the same time though I had a recurring prayer. I knew that being a missionary without being married can often be really difficult, especially in Papua New Guinea which I kept hearing more about. I also knew myself and knew that I wanted to be married and serving together with someone overseas. I had no idea how that could ever work out, but I said, “Okay God, I’ll follow you into this missions thing, but I need you to provide a husband.”
The next day (after I wrote the entry in my journal), we were having the wedding party get-together for my best friend, who was getting married soon (same friend who connected me to NTM). Her fiance’s brother was going to be the best man, and he stayed after the party to help clean up (the party was at my house,–I was going to be the maid of honor). My friend and her fiance were in the next room talking about wedding stuff or something, and after we finished the clean up, we chatted a bit while we waited for them. His parents were missionaries too, with NTM, working as church planters overseas.
We talked about mission trips we had been on, he’d been to Israel pretty recently, that was cool. I was mostly listening, partly trying to hear if the conversation in the other room was wrapping up since it was getting late, and I wanted everyone to get good sleep during this busy time. But as I focused back into the conversation we were having, I almost fell off my chair at what he said next.
“It seems like missionaries everywhere have lots of practical needs don’t you think? I really feel like God is calling me to do some support work, help missionaries out in practical ways so that they have more time for their ministry. I like to work with my hands, so I’m sure there are things I could do. My parents always could have used some help while I was growing up.”
I don’t remember a lot of what else we talked about, and things wrapped up soon after that. As soon as everyone had left and I closed my front door I ran back to my bedroom and grabbed my journal off the bookshelf. I quickly flipped through the pages, looking for the entry from the previous night. I read it three or four times, amazed that the words that had come out of this guy’s mouth were almost exactly what I had written. “Okay God,” I prayed, “This can’t just be coincidence that you’ve given him the same passion in ministry as I have, right?” It made me wonder.
The guy that I was talking with? His name is Jotham…
Coming soon – “The Rest of the Story…”