It was volleyball night at Sahel Academy. In between games, a junior asked if he could interview me for one of his classes. He had a variety of questions for me all related to my college experience but he finished with a kicker. “What one thing would you change if you could do it all again?” Without hesitation, I told him that I wished I would have had a deep assurance of God’s truly unconditional love for me during my college years. I feel like that would have lifted my burden of fear and released me to be free to be who God created me to be.
You see, from my earliest years growing up as a missionary kid in Nigeria fear has been a part of my life. I can remember laying in my bunk bed being careful not to let my arms or legs hang over the side lest they encounter a snake or some other creepy crawly or looking out the window of my dorm room to the strange shadows being cast by the porch light and being fearful of a lurking witch doctor. As I grew older the fear of snakes and imaginary things turned into the fear of failure and the fear of man – desiring the good opinions of people more than that of my Creator.
After graduating from high school, I chose to attend Toccoa Falls College because my sights were set on teaching missionary kids. I knew that I would need a degree in education and the biblical foundation I would receive there. But by the time I left college, the goal of teaching missionary kids was a distant dream. My focus was paying off my loans and actually surviving my first years of teaching. They were difficult years full of behavior problems, stupid mistakes, angry parents, needy children and learning, learning, so much learning! At times, I felt like I was one of the Israelites wandering in an unending desert knowing there had to be some greater purpose for my life but unable to access it. Much like He did with the Israelites, God was waiting for my obedience, too.
Though I had been a Christian since I was a young child, I had never been obedient in the area of baptism. The Holy Spirit had been nudging me consistently about obedience in this area of my life since I had been a teenager but somehow I always managed to find a way to ignore that still small voice. My main excuse was simply that I felt my story of coming to Jesus as a young child and walking with Him since that time wasn’t adequate enough. But the bottom line was that at the ripe old age of 25, I was ashamed to admit that I had failed God in this area.
One Sunday after a baptismal service, I remember driving down the road under a heavy spirit of conviction. I was throwing out my usual excuses – “My story’s not good enough.” “What will people think of me?” when God very clearly interrupted my thoughts and said, “Beth, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I love you and this is what I have done in your life.” From His mouth to my heart – the deep assurance I needed of God’s truly unconditional love for me. It broke through that wall of fear with which I had been surrounding myself. I was baptized and I could confidently share my story because it wasn’t really about me after all. It was God’s story!
Obedience in that area of my life allowed the Holy Spirit more freedom to work, calling up desires and dreams that I had suppressed because I had been afraid of failure and disappointment. It began with the desire for a husband and a family – one that I rarely acknowledged for fear that disappointment was inevitable. Using Abraham’s story of sacrificing Isaac, the Holy Spirit challenged me to consider my biggest dream for the future. Was I willing to lay that dream of a husband and a family on the altar and trust God to provide just as Abraham did? Yes, laying this desire down on the altar meant acknowledging that it was real but I wanted God’s provision for my life in this area and so I entrusted it to him.
It wasn’t long before the Holy Spirit pointed out that other dream – the one that had been sitting like an elephant in the room for quite some time – that dream of teaching missionary kids. There was a lot of fear surrounding that desire too. “Being a missionary means talking in front of large groups of adults. God, you know I don’t like doing that!” “Being a missionary means raising support – I can’t do that! Where will that money ever come from? What if I fail?” It was about that time that I ran across a very convicting portion of Henry Blackaby’s book Created to be God’s Friend. Blackaby pointed out that when God calls people to do something, often times instead of being obedient to the first thing He asks, they start thinking about the second and third steps wondering how God will provide. As a result, sometimes they miss God’s purpose altogether. Reading that was like looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of myself. I was using my fear to excuse myself from the call of God on my life. So when the question came, “Beth, will you trust me to provide for this dream of teaching missionary kids?” The answer was, “Yes.” More than anything else I desired to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.
After a bit of a bumpy ride, I found myself back in Niamey, Niger teaching at Sahel Academy, a school I had attended as a middle schooler. It was exciting to be a part of the growing ministry there. I was teaching First and Second Grade and I was able to be a part of students’ lives both inside and outside of the classroom which was something I missed during my years teaching in the public system in Atlanta. I had a deep sense that God took pleasure in my presence there and in the work to which he had called me. It wasn’t too long before my two year short term assignment with SIM turned into a long term assignment in Niger.
Physically, Niger is a dry and dusty land but for me personally, it is a place of abundance. It is a place of abundance because God has called me there. It abounds with young children who are hungry for learning and for relationship. It is a place where I have the privilege of introducing my students to the God who loves them unconditionally, the One who was patient with me even as I struggled to let go of my fears and trust Him with my deepest desires, the One who is faithfully writing his story in all of our lives!