I am hard to teach. I almost never learn things the easy way. As I’ve begun this trip and this attempt at living James 1:27, I have been confronted by almost every weakness in me. Insecurity. Fear. Selfishness. I’ve seen them rising to the surface like refining gold. All of the ugliness of my heart is being revealed on this trip – and while I could so easily find this discouraging, I am choosing to look at it a bit differently. God must have something really important for me to do to need to so deeply purify my failing heart. The lessons are hard, but I feel their eternal weight already.
The first stint of volunteer work has just ended. I worked as a camp counselor at a camp in Klavdievo, Ukraine. Going into this 10-day camp, I thought I would be working with orphans and at-risk children. It wasn’t long before I realized there were few, if any, orphans, and the camp’s focus would be far different from my supposed calling. I sat in training wondering if I maybe missed a signal. Then I realized how selfish I was being. There I was, coming to Ukraine to bless children without parents, and I was essentially debating whether children from broken and otherwise destitute families were as worthy of my time.
God convicted me pretty quickly.
These kids’ stories left me speechless. There was Daniela*—a strong and breathtakingly beautiful girl with more confidence and courage than I’ll ever have. One day during our Bible study she told us about her father’s drinking. She recalled the times he hit her. God had worked a miracle in her family and things had improved, but pain that deep rarely goes away completely. These kids had orphaned hearts.
On the last night of the camp I wrote personalized notes for each of our 11 kids—I took extra care to tell Daniela how much her strength had inspired me. When she read this she literally sprang off her bed and threw her arms around me. Despite our only knowing a few words of the other’s language, we somehow connected. When I saw her on the bus, about to pull away, I called for her. She came down and we held each other for quite a while. When I let go she had tears streaming down her face. I realized God was teaching me something every missionary and every Christian must learn. Serving is worthless if the heart is not pure … and a pure heart has no agenda. Daniela was on God’s heart before I even set foot at that camp—and I am so grateful He redirected mine.
I doubt I am the first to learn this lesson—selfishness is like a disease we are born with and spend our whole lives misdiagnosing.
I find myself replaying the week in my head over and over again—did I make the most of my time with those kids? How many minutes did I waste? Thank God for His mercy and extreme grace—in these moments of weakness He proves Himself strong. He works in spite of me. He rejoices in the chance to teach me, to bring me one step closer to the woman I was born to become. He worked in spite of me with Daniela. He worked in spite of me with all 11 of my kids. His love pushes me past myself and sets my heart on the tangible, glaring need my eyes miss.
I move forward today with no agenda. I move forward with confidence in God’s glorious unpredictability.
* name has been changed