As an idealistic college student, I attended a banquet where American aid worker Heather Mercer told her story.
Heather had gone to Afghanistan in early 2001 to work for a faith-based humanitarian aid group. But as her team distributed blankets, food and basic care to the Afghani people, they shared their faith and were consequentially imprisoned. The 105-day ordeal stretched well into the aftermath of September 11, and could have easily resulted in their deaths.
While I wasn’t so much drawn to Heather’s story, the work she did or the people she brought to Jesus, I was touched to hear of how she came to understand God’s call for her to journey into the heart of Afghanistan.
At the time, I was in my own phase of discernment. The career I had mapped out for myself conflicted with my deep belief that God needed my hands and feet to work in the lives of people in need. I needed answers.
This young woman, not much older than myself, had discerned God’s call in this way. Perhaps, I could as well.
And so, I prayed her prayer.
“God use me. Take my simple life and let me go into places that no one else wants to go.”
I prayed it over and over again for months. Helping the homeless wasn’t on my radar. And being an executive director was the farthest thing from my mind. But just as she said it would happen, the pieces fell into place.
Now, I had heard Heather say that God would put me where he wanted me to be, but I had completely overlooked the chances I would face situations that I didn’t necessarily care for. I pictured myself in an African village with droves of happy children dancing around. I imagined the homes I’d repair, the lives I’d restore and hope that my love for least would create.
The magazine cover. The Peace Corps advertisement. The local service brochure. That is, of course, how the world suggests we view a helping career. Yet, many more wise than I are quick to admit their call to mission dropped them at the heart of the most unexpected situations.
Signing up to change the world, we think, will always put us on giving, not receiving, end of uncomfortable moments. But if we’re out to do our work by the example of Jesus Christ, we probably should have realized a long time ago that we weren’t signing up for comfort.
Consider the three people that Christ encountered as he struggled through those narrow streets of Jerusalem—the Via Delarosa, the way of the Cross and the path from condemnation to crucifixion.
Mary, mother of Jesus, didn’t ask that God select her to give birth to his son. But she did. She loved him, raised him and then watched him walk to his death. What does a mother do in that horrible moment?
Worry or pray?
Simon of Cyrene was innocently visiting Jerusalem for Passover festivities when he wandered into the raging crowd of crucifixion groupies. A battered Jesus was struggling to carry the weight of his cross any further. And of all people, the Roman soldiers selected Simon to help Christ finish the journey. How do we respond when innocently required to bear the burdens of another?
Worry or pray?
By the time he reaches the weeping women of Jerusalem, Jesus tells us exactly which choice has the best chance of making his kingdom more apparent here on earth. “Weep not for me,” he says, reiterating the idea that His kingdom, His plan and the difference that can be made is anything but of this world.
God puts us where he needs us, yes. But when we are truly doing His work, more often than not, the moments that are most likely to bring about the greatest change in the world will be the last places we want to be.
Those times are deep. They are dark. And they leave us with nothing but a choice between worry and prayer.
Our only hope is to remember who sent us.
In Heather Mercer’s darkest hours, when she may have even believed God had abandoned her, she fought with worry and continued to pray. And here is what he said:
“Heather, you said you wanted to change the world. This is how it happens. You think it happens through a mountaintop event. But if you want to live a New Testament life, I’m giving you the chance to do so.”
In the worst of circumstances, when worry is cast aside and prayer to our heavenly Father reigns, Christ lives again in us.