by Becky Pope
The Lord opened the door for me to become involved in missions full-time in 2006. Prior to that, however, I remember as a teenager responding to an invitation at church. I didn’t know how to articulate what was going on in my heart, so when my pastor’s wife asked why I had come forward, I told her I wasn’t sure, but that I didn’t want to grow up, get married, have 2.5 kids, and live in a corner house with a white picket fence – all the things that described the average American life at that time. While in nursing school my church had its first mission conference, and I learned to start giving to missions. In Bible college, one of my best friends was a missionary kid, and I never tired of hearing her stories from the countries where she had been raised. Whenever I heard missionaries give their presentation I was in tears because I was distressed for those without the hope of Jesus Christ and without His Word in their language. I believe now that the Holy Spirit was using all these things to direct me toward missions.
Foolishly on my part, there were several years when I was very backslidden, but the Lord is merciful and faithful, and I responded as He drew me back to Himself. By that time, however, I figured I was no longer a suitable candidate for missions. Still, I was heart broken with every mission presentation. Then one day a friend loaned me a preaching tape by Missionary Mark Sigstad. I could hardly believe my ears, but he was saying that a person could volunteer to be a missionary. Immediately I called my pastor and discussed this option with him. His response was that we could go in that direction as long as the Lord kept the doors open. Sunday, August 12, 2006, I went forward in a church service to publicly volunteer as a missionary. The Lord has kept the doors open all these years!
I think it is human nature to plan out our futures, and I was no exception to this in regard to how I ‘scripted’ my life as a missionary. I had read plenty of missionary biographies, and the ones I liked most were the ones where the single lady went to some remote area of the world and served faithfully until she died, reaping a harvest of souls along the way. In my mind, the best missionary was the one that led hundreds to Christ, discipled them all and then died on the mission field. Not exactly realistic, but nevertheless, it’s how I envisioned my future life as a missionary. But God didn’t follow my script!
In two years I raised my support to live in West Africa and participate in an already established medical ministry. I was going to a francophone country, so I attended language school in France to learn French. Truly, it was one of the hardest years of my life, so I was devastated when just weeks before graduation I found out that the country to which I was going was in civil war and many missionaries were leaving. A few months later I found out that the government had taken over the clinic where the ministry was based, and there was no longer a medical ministry. I was so worked up that I was literally pacing the floor and wringing my hands with a hundred thoughts going through my head. What am I going to do? What do I tell my supporting churches? Has all this been a waste of time and money? I know the Bible says that God speaks in a still, small voice, but that day the Holy Spirit had to shout above the din of uncontrolled thoughts screaming doubt and unbelief. I remember His voice penetrating through my agitation and confusion – ‘Lean not unto thine own understanding!’
It took several months of prayer and counsel, and I consider the work that the Lord did in my heart during that time as very precious, but I eventually became aware of a ministry that took teams of medical volunteers to other countries on short-term mission trips to help church planting missionaries in their outreach. There were several things about this ministry that appealed to me, but my biggest hesitation was that I would not be ‘the one’. By ‘the one’ I mean that I wanted to be the one to lead people to Christ. But in this ministry the members of the church with whom we were partnering were the ones witnessing to the patients as they came through the clinic. It only makes sense that the gospel be shared in a person’s native tongue when possible, not via an interpreter, but I had a hard time accepting that my position wasn’t that coveted one of leading someone to Christ. Again, the Lord had an answer for me, found in an African proverb given to another medical missionary decades ago who struggled with the same concern. When this doctor talked to the chief in the village where she was serving, the chief said, ’We can’t all be the last link in the chain.’ Very simply, he was saying that it takes many laborers to lead a soul to Christ, and the person who leads someone in prayer for salvation is not the only link, nor the most important, though we often give them the most glory. Paul teaches the same concept in I Corinthians 3:4-9. We are laborers together with God, but God gives the increase. Once I surrendered to being a link in the chain of bringing someone to Christ, and not solely the last link, it wasn’t hard to accept that God had a different script for my life than I did. His script has turned out so much more than anything I could have dreamed!