The Day I Said Yes

campground

The Wesleyan tabernacle as it stands on the campgrounds outside Atkinson, Nebraska today.

The summer sun beat down on the roofs of the Nebraska Wesleyan District campground, with its white-washed structures randomly planted among the cornfields and cow pastures, surrounded by country dirt roads and barbed wire fences. Thousands of dogday cicadas softly hummed their weeee-oooooooo-weeeee-oooooo, welcoming the human intruders to their rural domain. Sand burrs lay hidden in the sandy soil waiting to impale bare feet. Any grass lay trampled by the feet of dozens of children gathered for church camp.

The morning breakfast of pancakes and syrup with a side of canned peaches had been consumed with a side of Tang, and the iron bell clanged its beckoning call to chapel. The air was musty and humid in the cement-floored tabernacle, which stood boarded up against the elements most of the year, until summer camp rolled around. Now it was filled with pre-pubescent mischief and energy, anxious to get on with the activities for that day.

The day I said yes.

Fowler familyI was sitting on the aisle at the end of the wooden pew in the right half of the building, a half a dozen rows back from the front of the platform. The breeze blew in lightly from the screenless windows through my permed towhead hair. My feet squirmed in the sandy dirt on the concrete floor beneath my feet. The pastor was preaching a compelling message, and though my eyes were fixed on his polyester baby blue plaid suit, I could not focus on his words.

Someone else was speaking to me.

“I want you to say yes, no matter what,” the Holy Spirit whispered.

“Yes, to what?”

“I want you to say yes, no matter what.”

The words reminded me of when Moses asked the name of the One who spoke from the burning bush.

“I Am Who I Am.” While obviously a person cannot tell God that is a lousy answer, I’m sure that Moses did a little shaking in his sandalless feet when he realized that was actually the answer God expected Moses to give to Pharoah. The Pharoah with the temper, and a grudge.

If I were in Moses’ bare feet, I would have thought, “Are you trying to get me killed by making me into a smart-mouth, ‘I Am Who I Am’?” Thankfully, Moses chose his words more wisely at that time.

“I want you to say yes to me, no matter what,” the Holy Spirit pressed again as if the wind itself were carrying the words through me.

“Jesus, I already have you in my heart, I don’t know what more you want from me,” I protested.

“For the rest of your life, I want you to say yes to me, no matter what. I have great plans for you, but I need you to always tell me yes.”

By the time the pastor gave the altar call, I was running for the front of the altar to pray with hot tears of conviction streaming down my face. My counselor, Tracy, followed me. I felt awful for her because I was sobbing so hard, all I could say was, “I just want to do what Jesus says.”

That day, I committed my life to Christ in what I now know is called sanctification — the moment when God got all of me. I had already experienced all of God’s forgiveness and love, but it took years before I gave God the right to overrule any of my decisions. That day, I knew that if God made His will clear, I would follow it, no matter what.

I was not saying yes to a project.

I was not saying yes to a profession.

I was not saying yes to a pursuit.

I was saying yes to a Person.

Jesus didn’t want my affection, my talents, or my plans, He wanted my YES.

He wants your YES too.

When I tell people today about God asking us to move to Ghana, I’m always a bit surprised to hear people say, “Oh, Africa? I could NEVER do that!” Saying “never” to God is not an option. For me, the choice was made more than 30 years ago on a sandy concrete floor in the front of a musty tabernacle.

The choice was made the day I said yes.

 

“But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'” — Luke 9:62 NASB

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Being a Child Again

IMG_1277When Addie and Palmer first came home from Africa, we had to teach the kids a “boo-boo” routine. When they got hurt, we had to teach them that they needed to come to us, sit on our lap, let us oooo and ahhh over their injury, no matter how minor, kiss it and let them sit with us until they felt comforted.

We had to teach Addie and Palmer to need us. To seek comfort from us. To ask us for help.

DSCN0022Without such instruction, they were daredevils who felt no pain. They would scale tall structures fearlessly, fall and hit their heads, or ride their bikes into spectacular crashes, and they would merely get back up, go back to what they were doing, and pretend it didn’t hurt. It was particularly frightening watching Addie, who had rickets and osteoporosis, play recklessly. Palmer had even more of a wild streak — taking off his training wheels and jumping his bike over curbs — the very first day he learned to ride.

2012-01-12 13.25.38Because they had been in an orphanage with minimal adult influence, and even less compassion, they had learned to fend for themselves. Even before they were in the orphanage, the kids were remarkably independent. Addie was still young enough to not have achieved premature adulthood in the Congo, but Palmer would go shopping by himself, go to work, and care for younger siblings when he was no more than 6. We tease that he seems like a little old man, because he especially learned independence at a very early age.

2012-01-12 13.33.41We have had to teach Palmer to be a child again. We had to teach him to ask for help.

This Christmas season, God has been teaching me about humility. The most difficult part of the missionary journey for us has not been the thought of giving up our possessions, learning new languages, giving up clean running water, or living at the edge of a desert. It’s not risking our health and security in a more primitive part of the world. It’s not sharing Christ’s love with Muslims, treating AIDS patients, or moving to a brand new field where we will be alone as the first Global Partners missionaries.

The most difficult part of our missionary journey is asking for help.

Ken and I have three master’s degrees between the two of us. We have diversified our skills so we would always be employable. We have lived with no extended family nearby to depend on for our entire marriage. The vast majority of holidays: Just the two, or now four, of us. Our first objection to going to the mission field was that we didn’t want to have to be dependent on others. Yet in The Wesleyan denomination, missionaries raise all of their salaries and living expenses, plus their operating and administrative expenses. If God wasn’t so clear on what He wanted us to do, we wouldn’t have even started the process.

But He is clear. He spoke through our children, He healed my lungs, He showed us first-hand how our skills would meet the needs of the Ghanaian and French-speaking people of Africa.

God is teaching us to be children again. He is teaching us to ask for help.

We are asking for people who will partner with us in prayer by making a prayer commitment here (Yes, we need you to sign up!), and for people who will partner with us financially in faith promises or donations. We cannot go until we are 100% funded and supported in prayer. At this point, we are at less than 10% for each, and have many opportunities for people to invest, not in what we are doing in Ghana, but what God is wanting to do in Ghana through us. Moving to Ghana, ministering to pastors, healing the sick, and teaching others about the good news of Christ is simply too big for only four people to do on their own. What God is doing in Ghana is so amazing, we know that He is calling hundreds of others to be a part of what He is doing there as well. We are called to go, even more are called to send.

This Christmas season, I am putting into practice what God has been teaching me, as I humbly ask you to consider partnering with us to be a part of our sending team, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves — be one of 400 prayer partners, and be a part of our financial partnership team. We are not asking you to give what you feel what you can afford, but asking you to give what you feel God is asking of you. We’d love to have you on our team!

Everyone Loves a Baby

Ken and I sat in the back of the first ever Ghana North Wesleyan District Conference behind dozens of other delegates. We were thankful for the fans overhead, which blew against the mid-90-degree heat, providing some relief from the rising temperatures. After Ken gave the morning devotional, we sat watching this newly formed conference conduct business for the first time.

A pastor and his beautiful statuesque wife arrived a few minutes later, and sat near the back just in front of us. As the wife sat down, I noticed their sweet chunky baby strapped to her back.  The baby definitely noticed us. Her deep brown eyes were wide open and affixed on our very white skin. She likely thought she had seen two ghosts, or that her vision was failing. I attempted to entice her to smile, giggle, wave, with no success. Her lips sucked on her dimpled fingers and her Afro-puffs bobbed in the air, but she would not react to our attempts to woo her. Still, I adored her.

Aren’t babies the best? The chubby cheeks. The fat rolls on the legs. The babbling of newly formed words.The slight-tipsy awkwardness as infants learn to touch, grasp, crawl, and walk. Babies are fascinating to watch. You can almost see their brains processing new information, figuring out how to apply it, making mistakes, and learning from them. What babies learn is so important in their early years because it shapes much of how they will grow for years to come. Yes, babies can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught.

The business of the district conference began, and we were fascinated to hear the reports of the officers. In this northern region of the country, where 62% of citizens live on less than $1.25 USD/day, 75% are illiterate, and only half of children are enrolled in school, funding ministry efforts is a significant concern. How can churches be built to provide for congregations in the rainy season? How can pastors be paid to care for flocks when most members can barely care for their families?

The goals of the Northern Ghana District are to be self-administrating, self-propagating, and self-supporting. The district delegates discussed the use of farming to supplement income brought in by tithes and offerings, and ways churches could work together to raise crops and livestock for God’s glory.

Not one car wash was discussed. Nor were there any fundraising dinners suggested. No jewelry sales, bake sales, or gift auctions. Disposable income is not a concept they are familiar with. But they are familiar with farming, and hard work. They even voted to require all members of all churches to give above the amount of their tithe to build new churches in the district.

Another moment later on that caught me off guard was the discussion of childrens ministry. The goals of the childrens ministry was to train the Sunday School teachers how to teach a Bible story, sing a song, and play a game with children. No discussion of video production techniques, worship band formation, or security tracking systems. The simplicity was fascinating. Children’s ministry was so new and unencumbered by things most of us consider essential.

Christianity itself was new. At one point one of the delegates raised his hand and asked, “Can I ask? What is a Wesleyan?” The church is exploding at such a rapid rate in northern Ghana, most Wesleyans were Muslims or animists in the recent past. Discovering who Jesus was is central to their journey of faith, and John Wesley isn’t found anywhere in their Bibles. How does one explain not only what a global church is, but also John Wesley’s role, in two minutes or less?

As I sat and listened to the discussions, contemplations, and questions, I realized that this is how the apostle Paul must have felt on his missionary journeys, working with new churches, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything churches were doing was being done for the first time. How exciting it must have been to see churches grow and learn in their faith first-hand!

Yes, new churches can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught. What new churches are taught is so important because the information will shape how they grow for years to come.  In all of Ghana, there are only 10 licensed ministers and 4 ordained ministers for over 50 churches. With no Wesleyan Bible schools in Ghana, training pastors is a challenge, but a tremendous opportunity for hands-on investment with monumental Kingdom rewards. A significant part of Ken’s job in northern Ghana would be working with these new converts-turned-church leaders, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything these churches are doing is being done for the first time. Watching these new gatherings of believers grow and change has to be one of the best parts of building God’s Kingdom. After all, aren’t new churches the best?!

The First Conference of the Ghana North District of The Wesleyan Church. Also, Ken’s impersonation of “Where’s Waldo?”

Friend or Foe in a City We Don’t Know

By the time we left Accra early Tuesday morning, I was in love with the city. Ranked as Africa’s second most liveable city, I loved how Accra was the best of Africa and the best of the West. Roadside market stands sold everything from yams to microwaves, yet supermarkets rivaled any American supercenter with fresh produce, appliances, and a great selection of frozen food. The people of Accra were very friendly, and didn’t seem to notice how white our skin was in a sea of beautiful black faces. The Wesleyans have a 24-hour clinic just outside of Accra that I could easily fit into. And even though I have lived in the Bible belt for many years now, I was surprised that Jesus was incorporated into almost everything in the city. “Lion of Judah Taxi Cabs,” “Light of the World Bicycle Shop” or “Higher Ways Hair Salon,” were just a few examples of faith statements in local business. What surprised me even more was that even American companies adopted Christian slogans, “Start the day God’s way: Nescafe” or “Blood of Jesus: Coca Cola.” The steeple of a church rose above surrounding buildings on nearly every block. Obviously, there was no separation of church and anything!

But Accra wasn’t the only place we were to visit during our time in Ghana. We also were to visit Tamale (pronounced TOM-ah-lay). We were going to be visiting with the pastors there, but also evaluating Tamale as a place we might potentially live. Tamale is the capital of northern Ghana and is the fastest growing city in all of West Africa. While Accra was clearly Christian, Tamale is predominantly Islamic. Muslims and Christians tolerate each other, and under the best of circumstances can even be friends. I was anxious to see how this relationship worked in person.

The plane landed on the runway of Tamale Airport early on Tuesday morning as the arid sun pierced the landscape. We taxied toward the single-gate airport, and witnessed the massive earth-moving machines constructing a new international airport to support the growth that Tamale is experiencing. As we parked on the tarmac, I noticed that there was a crowd dressed mostly in white on the other side of the fence, just yards from our plane. As we stepped off the plane, the crowd erupted with shouting and heart-piercing African drumbeats. I was close enough to recognize traditionally dressed Muslim men and women. Hijabs and kufis adorned every head.  As we exited the airport with our luggage the still-screaming crowd pressed in on the sidewalk, yelling, hands waving high in the air, with drumbeats underscoring the tension. There was no way for us to exit the tiny airport other than to walk straight through the crowd.

I was wearing very conservative clothing, but not compared to a Muslim woman. I had on short sleeves. My ankles were visible below the edge of my maxi skirt. My head was uncovered. I was clearly not one of them. This was my first time in an all-Muslim crowd. An all-black Muslim crowd. In Ghana. In a predominantly Muslim city.  I had no idea what to expect. Would they fight me? Push me? Ignore me? The only way to find out was to push through the shouting crowd to get to the parking lot beyond. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

The crowd shuffled aside to let me pass on the sidewalk, but their cheering did not stop. Rather, it ramped up in volume. It took me a minute to understand what they were saying.

Wait, what was that?

“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” they shouted as the women lightly patted my shoulders. The drumbeats somehow seemed less ominous, and somewhat more celebratory. I looked into their faces and saw excitement, and even kindness.

My new best Muslim friends

The crowd of Muslims leaving the airport after celebrating our plane’s arrival.

As I exited out of the other side of the flock of my new closest Muslim friends, I smiled in relief, and hoped that the rest of my visit to Tamale would be just as pleasant.

Unfortunately, Tamale had a few more surprises in store for me.

Ah Yes, This is How Things Work in Africa

The plane touched down on the runway in Accra, Ghana, and the passengers immediately burst into applause. We were thankful to have made the long journey from Amsterdam — and many much further. After having two hours of mechanical difficulty before even lifting off the ground, we were all relieved to have made the journey safely. We were surprised by the cool rain that was pouring down on the hot tarmac, but relieved to get a temperate welcome rather than a scorching one.

Our trip to Ghana had already provided the opportunity to make many new friends. At the boarding gate in the Amsterdam airport, a crowd of Ghanaians pressed in around us to hear our plans to visit Ghana as a part of a vision trip to investigate if we could see God using us there, and in what ways. “I would like to give you my phone number, so you can call me if you need help,” was the response from multiple people in the hours along our journey.  We received recommendations on where to live, who to trust, and how to avoid being taken advantage of as foreigners. “Remember that there is one price for Ghanaians, and a higher price for foreigners.”

Ah yes, that is how things work in Africa.

We had traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo just two years prior, and the memories of corruption were still fresh. We had been held by the police more than once, forced to pay to be able leave the country, denied boarding passes to get on the plane, had Addie’s passport stolen by airport officials, and were abandoned by our paid translator. Anyone with even a little authority in Congo, especially the police, used it for corrupt purposes. They knew that we white mzungus were traveling with plenty of cash for unexpected emergencies, and they were all too happy to provide such emergencies to relieve us of our money. I knew if my perception of Africa did not change, I would never be able to live there, in a constant state of paranoia. I needed Africa to be redefined in my mind, and in my heart.

After 4 hours to get through Ebola screening, immigration, baggage claim and customs, we finally walked out of the airport at around midnight — more than 30 hours since our trip had begun. Fortunately, Rev. Joe Ocran and his wife Jemima were waiting for us, welcomed us warmly, and drove us to our hotel for a brief night of rest.

As we rode through the dimly lit streets of Accra to our hotel in Tema, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our last trip. The smell of dust, burning trash, and car exhaust mingled in my nostrils as a familiar reminder of the smell of Africa. I was amazed that even though we were hundreds of miles away from the Congo, the aroma was still the same, as were the roads. Even though it was late at night cars and motorcycles weaved dangerously in and out of lanes of traffic. Potholes were the rule, rather than the exception. The midnight streets were still abuzz with activity.

The one difference was the jovial Joe Ocran, the National Superintendent for The Wesleyan Church of Ghana. A dual citizen of both Canada and Ghana, Joe was a delightful host who chuckled affably at the culture clashes we were already experiencing. We laughed most of the way to the hotel in Tema, where we would stay for the next two days.

As we drew closer to the hotel, the streets became darker, the roads became more uneven, forcing us to slow, and the police were visibly more present. I could see their eyes searching our vehicle. I suddenly felt very white, even in the darkness.

At last, we caught the attention of a pair of police officers at a roundabout, and they motioned us to the side of the road to inspect our vehicle. They approached with flashlights fixed on the interior of our vehicle. The dark veil of night could not hide our foreign identities.

“Ah yes,” I thought to myself, “This is how things work in Africa.”

And A Child Will Lead Us

Ken and I have been very cautious about talking to our kids about going back to Africa. It’s not a far off strange place to them. Africa is a place where our kids most closely identify with and remember vividly, and those memories are not all positive ones. Actually, most of them are not.

We also wanted to account for the different personalities of our kids. Addie is emotional and spontaneous. She loves easily, laughs easily, and forgives easily. She also has the gift of intercession. While she may struggle with communicating complex thoughts otherwise, she does not when she prays. Addie is a mighty prayer warrior wrapped up in 80 pounds of chocolate brown skin.

Palmer is our logical child. He analyzes, reasons, and thinks through things. He asks tough questions and doesn’t settle for easy answers or half-truths. He wants the whole story, he wants to follow the rules, and has a heart for what is fair. His question to me, “Mommy, why are there so many doctors in America and not in Africa?” shows his level of a sense of justice in the world — and not for himself, but for others.

It was at an evening dinner in August when we finally broached the subject. I began, “Daddy and I have listened to your stories about Africa, and they are very important to us. We know that had there been a doctor there, or someone to tell you about Jesus, your lives might have been very different. We are thinking about moving to Africa to help people there when they are sick or need Jesus. What do you think?”

Both kids faces fell in disappointment. The pain of their memories was written in furrowed brows and downcast glances.

Ken continued, “But we are not going to go there unless we go there as a family. We will not make you go. We all have to decide this is right for us. And we promise that while you are there, you will never go hungry. You will always have a home to live in. You will have toys, and books, and even video games. This is not the Africa you remember. This is Africa with our family.”

“I’d like for the two of you to think about it and pray about it. God speaks to you, just like He speaks to Daddy and I, and we want to know what He is telling you. That will help us know if we should go or not.”

“Should I pray right now?” Addie asked enthusiastically.

“You can pray anytime,” I giggled in return, “but I would like you to spend some time in your room after supper praying and asking God if moving to Africa is what we should do.”

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the kids’ reactions. I was expecting that they would be excited to go back to their homeland. But their faces said otherwise. Dinner ended much more quietly than it had begun.

A few hours later, I was working on a lecture in the living room when Addie came skipping by. “He said ‘yes’” she verbally tossed my way.

“Daddy said yes about what?” I inquired, not being clued in to the real subject at hand.

“I just got done praying in my room, and God said He wants us to move to Africa. And He wanted me to tell you.”

What Ken and I had wrestled with for months was settled in the mind of our 8 year old daughter in a matter of hours. What we had made complicated, Addie had made simple.

Luke 18: 16-17, NLT

“Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’”

We had Addie’s answer. We would have to wait much longer for Palmer.

Jewett (37)

Permission to Go or to Stay?

Our minds weren’t set, but they were open. In many different areas of our lives, we felt an increasing tug of our hearts toward Africa.

Henry Blackaby wrote in Experiencing God Day-By-Day, “Our Master commands us to ‘go.’ We need permission to stay!” Was God asking us to go long-term? Short-term? We needed help answering that question.

Ken and I both wanted to explore opportunities to serve The Wesleyan Church in Africa through their international ministry, Global Partners.

Early on August 6th, two months after our original conversation,  we participated in a Skype call with Bob Bagley, the Global Partners Area Director for Africa, to learn more about the areas of need in Africa, and how we might be able to fill those needs.

Immediately, I was impressed with how clearly and compassionately Bob understood our unique family dynamics, and the gifts that we bring. In order for Africa to be a good fit for our family, we would need:

  1. A place where Ken would have easy access to internet and transportation, so that he could help with the French-speaking churches of Africa, and with business management.
  2. A place where the kids could attend international school. Boarding school wouldn’t be a good option for our family, and homeschooling might limit our ability to build relationships, especially for our kids, who have already had to make new friends many times over in their short lives.
  3. A place where I would be able to find needs and be able to fill those in the medical field. Physician assistants are not able to practice medicine in all countries, so I cannot just move anywhere and use my skills in medicine.

In advance of our conversation that day, Bob had already thought through all of these complex issues for our family, and suggested the country of Ghana.

Ghana is an English-speaking country that has many international schools that could be excellent options for our kids. Though Ghana is a Christian country, the northern part of Ghana and its northern neighbor Burkina Faso are predominantly Muslim — and this is where the church is rapidly growing! There are many churches being planted in northern Ghana and in Burkina Faso whose pastors need mentoring, training, and encouragement.

 

Overall, Ghana also has a tremendous need for medical providers, with a ratio of one medical provider for every 10,000 people. In southern Ghana, there is even a clinic run by The Wesleyan Church. In northern Ghana there are fewer medical resources and the ratio is one physician for every 93,000 —  the needs are critical.

At the close of our conversation, Bob recommended two things: that we consider taking a vision trip to Ghana and Burkina Faso to see for ourselves what God is doing in Africa, and to begin to fill out our applications to become long-term missionaries.

As for the trip that we spoke of with Bob in August, we are leaving for that very vision trip this Friday, October 24th. Ken will be preaching and meeting with several of the new pastors in the area to encourage them, and I will be seeking opportunities for creating sustainable health practices in Ghana using networks of the local church to address medical needs. We are excited to see what God is doing in West Africa, and to explore how God might use our family in this part of His kingdom!

Things are just about to get very interesting.

Along the Way

After nearly two months of praying, considering, seeking advice, Ken and I decided to start talking about Africa. Had he been hearing from God in ways that I had?

Honestly, no. Ken’s primary concern was for me. The funny thing about Ken and me is that we always worry more about the other person. I love the fact that my husband protects me more than I do myself. And in this case, he was worried about me, and more specifically, my lungs.

As many of you know, I have suffered from asthma since 2004, shortly after I moved to Tennessee. I’ve had up and down times, but it’s been manageable as an outpatient. It’s been mostly more of an annoyance than anything, but sometimes it’s been more. I’ve always had the medications and tools to manage it myself, and I’ve learned how to juggle all of the medicines and titrate them appropriately. But how would my lungs adjust to Africa? Last time we were there, they did great, but Africa is a big place.

Along our journey, God has spoken to each of us through this Scripture passage:

Luke 17:11-14 HCSB

11 While traveling to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, 10 men with serious skin diseases met Him. They stood at a distance 13 and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 When He saw them, He told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And while they were going, they were healed.

In this passage, it is interesting that Jesus didn’t heal the ten men with skin diseases (lepers) right away, as He had with so many others. Instead, Jesus asked for their obedience, and then their healing came along the way. Now, because the ten lepers were considered unclean, there really was no justification for them to go see the priest, unless they were already healed. So to even begin their journey as men with leprosy, they had to have enough faith in Jesus the believe that their journey would end without leprosy. Then the priest would declare them “clean” and they could rejoin society. The healing only took place while they were taking steps of obedience in faith.

Sometimes God uses the very act of our obedience as the means of our healing.

We both decided to commit my asthma to God for healing.

“So,” I asked Ken, “If my lungs were to not be  a factor, what would you want to do?”

“I would go to Africa in a heartbeat.”

It was time to start making phone calls, trusting in God’s healing along the way.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I am now off of all asthma medicines for the first time in more than 10 years.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Where I Am I Needed Most of All?

Ken and I were both disappointed in each other for not responding to the altar call.

Wait. Disappointed?

Did we both each really want to move to Africa instead of taking the easy path of staying put in our new home in North Carolina? Were either of us hearing God’s call, but waiting for the other to have the same clarity? Can God call a person through their spouse?

The only way to sort this out was to pray and let the Holy Spirit do the sorting.

For many years, Ken and I had decided that when it came to important decisions to trust the Holy Spirit to bring us to agreement. In fact, for years, I wanted children, and Ken didn’t, until God changed Ken’s mind. On important issues, I don’t want to convince Ken to do something he is resistant to doing, so I don’t. I trust that the Holy Spirit will bring us together as we each follow Him. So my prayer for us is that God would always make our hearts one, especially on big decisions.

So we didn’t talk about moving to Africa a lot — to each other. We read Scripture, we consulted other believers who have walked similar journeys, used our God-given reason, and waited.

For me, issues of social justice have long been close to my heart, and it has made its way into my home through two adorable African children who have opened my eyes to not only parenthood, but the world. Biblical social justice has also heavily influenced my approach to the classroom. One day as I was preparing for a class, I came across a really interesting interactive page on the website of the World Health Organization. It details the person to physician ratio in every country. (Give it a try!) What I saw was mind-boggling.

There is roughly 1 physician for every 400 people in the United States. In the Congo, it is roughly 1 to 10,000. In fact it is the same or worse in most of sub-Saharan Africa. In Liberia, there is 1 physician for every 72,000. How can one physician treat so many patients under normal circumstances, much less during an Ebola epidemic? Note that the countries below in yellow below have fewer than 1 physician for every 2000 people. Do you notice a geographic trend in healthcare shortage? I did, and my heart sunk. Why had I never seen this before?

Screenshot 2014-10-12 at 9.58.48 PM

Then one day, riding in the back of the van, Palmer asked me, “Mommy, why are there so many doctors in America, and none in Africa? My baby brother died because there weren’t any doctors.”

Any answer I could come up with sounded hollow. “Doctors don’t make enough money in Africa, so they stay here or come here after being trained in Africa,” or “Many places in Africa don’t have the right kind of schools to train doctors,” or “People cannot afford to go to medical school there.” Ultimately, I knew what the Holy Spirit was asking through my son was: Why am I here, when there is a much greater need in Africa?

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion–how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” — I John 3:17-18 NLT

For I was hungry
and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink;
I was a stranger
and you didn’t take Me in;
I was naked
and you didn’t clothe Me,
sick and in prison
and you didn’t take care of Me.’

“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

“Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:42-46. HCSB

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25 HCSB

I could not forget what I had heard. I could not forget what I had seen. I could not forget that my children lost beloved family members because of the disproportion of healthcare workers around the world.

And I was one of those healthcare workers.

At the same time, there is no easy solution. If I go for one week, two weeks, or more and only see patients, it will still be only a drop in the bucket in a continent dealing with desperate medical needs. Could there be a better solution? A more sustainable solution?

With my years of teaching in medical education and my love for the church, God began to create a vision in me for how He has already uniquely gifted me to serve the people of Africa.

But would anyone let me do it? Would people think I was crazy for even wanting to pursue healthcare in West Africa? Was God calling me long-term or short term? What about Ken? How was the Holy Spirit speaking to him? What would the children think? Was God speaking to them too?

After a whole month of not talking to each other about it, Ken and I sat down to talk about how God was working in my life, and in his.

And then it would be time to talk to the children.

Here I Am, Lord, Send . . . Someone Else!

Ken and I took a full a week to even speak about our conversation with Bob Bagley. Ken had laughed it off as an impossibility. I was afraid that it wasn’t.

Riding home from East Gold Street Wesleyan church the following Sunday, the ice was finally broken. We were discussing attending North Carolina West District Conference to try to make connections in the hopes that Ken could transfer his ordination from the Nazarenes back to the Wesleyans. The District Superintendent would be there, as well as Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent. The speaker for the night was Dennis Jackson, Executive Director of Global Partners.

Ken and I had both been familiar with Global Partners for years. Ken’s college roommate, Peter, was the Director of Operations, and Ken had participated in numerous mission trips with the organization. I had been working with Global Partners for three years in mobilizing physician assistant students to do international rotations, in the hopes that exposure to the world’s shortage of medical care and theological teachings on holiness would inspire students to pursue mission work as a career and calling.

The physician assistant programs in which I have taught have been Christian programs, each with an emphasis on raising up medical missionaries. While each program has sought out applicants who have a desire to serve the poor, the number who actually became long-term missionaries was low in one program (2 in 10 years) and the other program is so new, it has yet to graduate any students. I have begun to feel wildly unsuccessful in regard to mobilizing medical missionaries, in spite of the word’s great need. Students have come to my programs wanting to do good, and the vast majority of students have left the program wanting to do well. The lure of paychecks and the skyrocketing school debt leave many hopeless that missions is a possibility for them. I don’t blame them, but I mourn my lack of success of being able to produce missionary medical providers. When I have pleaded with God to send me, the God’s answer has always been that some people are called to be “go-ers” and some people are called to be “senders.” God had put me in the senders category.

As the conversation turned to going to hear Dennis Jackson, the subject of our conversation with Bob Bagley, who also serves with Global Partners, came up.

“Wasn’t that crazy that Bob straight up told you he needed you in Africa?”

“I was wondering if you even remembered that,” Ken replied.

Remembered it? I’ll never forget it. As Ken and I talked about it, we reviewed all of the reasons why moving to Africa was a bad idea. We just bought a house, we had moved only weeks prior, our kids have unique educational needs, we have two dogs that we would have to leave behind, I still have school loans, we don’t like raising money, our last trip to Africa had been less-than-ideal, our kids may not want to go back, I just started a new job, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The list was pretty long. But nothing on the list was bigger than God.

A life of sanctification means giving God the power of veto on anything. God had called both of us when we were young to live lives of total surrender to God, and now that commitment was being challenged. Ken and I agreed that we had to at least be open to hearing the call of God on our lives. But was it God calling, or Bob Bagley asking?

The next night, Ken and I found ourselves at North Carolina West District Conference with the kids in tow. The music was moving, the atmosphere spirit-filled, and Dennis Jackson’s words were challenging. The phrase that I’ll never for get is, “We find that the best people to raise up other missionaries are missionaries themselves.” This should not have been a profound thought to me, but it was. All these years I have been trying to be a sender without ever being a go-er. But I’ve never been called to be a go-er. Was God now releasing me to go?

Finally, the moment came: the altar call. The music played softly. In a powerful moment, Dennis broke a snow globe on stage, challenging us all to break out of our tidy lives and ask if God was calling us to serve on the mission field. I waited for the prompting of the Holy Spirit — the compulsion to go forward, the pounding heartbeat, the mild nausea, the “Holy Spirit sweats” but they never came. Instead, I stood there thinking how much I thought KEN should go forward. I thought to myself, “Why isn’t Ken going to the altar? Didn’t we just talk about this? Ken is so gifted in so many ways — preaching, teaching, administration. Did Ken not hear Bob Bagley say that he needed him in Africa?”  Though strong, I resisted the temptation to give Ken a little push out into the aisle.

And then it was over. The lights came up, the service was dismissed. We socialized. We stopped by Five Guys and bought some burgers for the road.

The ride home was quiet, until the silence was broken by Ken. “Robin, I was really surprised that you didn’t go forward tonight during the altar call. I know God could really use you in Africa.”