We were sitting at the end of a rectangular table, surrounded by members of the Mission Board of a church. We were seeking encouragement in our endeavor to work in Africa, and also hoping for some financial support to help us get there. It was a bit intimidating, not only because we were the youngest people in the room by at least a couple decades, but also because some of the people at the table were former missionaries themselves and carried a quiver of experience and wisdom.
We presented our story: we felt called to be medical missionaries in Africa long-term but had never spent a significant amount of time in the developing world, which is why we also felt called to work for several months with a missionary couple in Cameroon to experience daily missionary life firsthand and confirm our long-term calling. We had already been accepted by a mission organization and we hoped to start fundraising as soon as possible and get there as soon as possible because we were on a limited timetable.
The responses around the table were mixed.
Someone deemed it necessary to inform us how long the fundraising process would take - much longer than we were allowing ourselves, he said. Someone told us we should definitely go, but not now. That person had a specific plan in mind and said exactly when we should go instead and why that would be best. Someone else said it was too late in the year to be worked into the missions budget.
At this point I was starting to feel the back of my throat tremble.
We had come for encouragement and support but it felt like sitting through a lecture on how the young and foolish should learn from the wise and learned.
Yes, we were newlyweds with excitement and vision and passion and a bucketload of inexperience. But we were also followers of Christ who knew - knew - what God was asking us to do. He was asking and inviting us to follow His lead and go to Africa, specifically to Cameroon, and discern the next step from there. God had been faithful and had already arranged the time and the place for us to go, and now we just needed the funds and the visas to get us there. And we were intent on obeying Him.
We sat at that rectangular table and I started shifting in my chair as I recalled a different conversation from a few months prior. I had just explained to someone that even though Eli had the opportunity to attend medical school that year, we made the choice to turn it down in favor of going to Africa, which meant Eli would have to reapply for med school the following year. The person was flabbergasted and quickly interjected: "Do you know how hard it is to get into medical school???" The disappointment, or perhaps disapproval, was obvious and it cut to the heart. I got off the phone and cried.
I recalled that earlier discouragement as we sat at the table with the Mission Board and felt discouraged all over again, and I wanted to cry out, "Who will believe with us that God wants to send us to Africa this year???" I felt shunned by our youth and our eagerness to go now.
But thankfully, there was another voice at that table. That voice spoke up and breathed life into our tattered spirits. That voice said, "We have to remember that it's not what we plan that matters but what God plans." And that voice spoke not only to the other, more experienced people at the table, but also to us. That voice threw a lifeline of hope toward us, encouraging us despite our inexperience and naivete. That voice offered the idea, for the first time at that table, that maybe we were the ones who had an idea of what God's plan was.
And so we held onto hope.
And maybe we repeated 1 Timothy 4:12 to ourselves for our own encouragement: "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young..."
There were more discouragements along the way (like someone indicating that, since the members of the Mission Board had been around the block and knew what they were talking about, we should listen to their concerns that our timing wasn't feasible), but more encouragements too (like receiving a check in the mail from family members who said that God had prompted them to send it to us and didn't know why but they wanted to obey His nudging).
The Mission Board had a chance to discuss our situation amongst themselves after we left the meeting and, we later learned, the pastor stood in our corner and fought for the chance to support us. In the end, the Board chose to support us and the entire church blessed us on our way. We were greatly encouraged.
And God, by His infinite grace, provided all the funds we needed (a seemingly insurmountable amount) in a shockingly short amount of time. He confirmed that yes, we were supposed to go and we were supposed to go now.
It's a difficult thing to discern a calling, and even more difficult when achieving that calling requires the support of other people who have their own opinions on the matter. But we regard the call to do missions as a blessing and an honor, in great part because it does require the support of others. Our calling invites other people to join us on the journey, to send those who are called to go, and to prayerfully invest themselves in the work of the Church around the world. Our calling invites others into a community that pursues the work of missions together.
And for that we are thankful.
And we hope that this part of our story brings encouragement to those who struggle with being affirmed in what God is calling them to do.