I was eating lunch with a good friend at Bethel. He happened to be a good friend of Eli's as well, and Eli became the topic of conversation as we finished eating. This friend of ours wasn't particularly shy about admitting that he hoped Eli and I would end up together. But Eli and I weren't even dating yet. We wanted to, but it was complicated. This friend of ours knew the dynamics and, even though he hoped there was a future for me and Eli, he sat across from me that day and encouraged me to take our time. "The right person at the wrong time is not the right person," he said. And I realized anew how important timing can be. Something truly and deeply important was on the line - my relationship with Eli - and the timing needed to be right. That lunchtime talk with my friend cemented the notion that, while there are many things in life in which the timing is inconsequential, there are also things in which the timing is truly significant.
Eli and I began dating in the timeframe we felt like God was giving us, which meant it took us longer to start dating than most people expected us to, but it was definitely the right timing in the end. Since then we've experienced other situations in which timing was an important factor: going to Cameroon, Eli starting med school, me starting grad school. Sometimes we didn't realize until after the fact that timing played a role in God's plan. We thought we waited too long to find housing in Chicago for med school, but because of the timing we wound up in the apartment God definitely wanted us in. We thought we looked too early for a place to live in Duluth for residency, but because of the timing we wound up in the house God definitely wanted us in. God works through timing even when we don't realize it.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the heavens" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We know this to be true, especially as we've been preparing for missions for the past decade. Even as we've known that our call to be missionaries includes a place and a ministry, it also includes a time. We've known since the inception of our call that we were called to Africa, to do medical work, and to GO once our training was complete. We were not to wait around. We were not to get our life in order first. We were not to get settled in all the normal middle-class ways. We have always felt a burden on our hearts to prepare for missions and GO.
We have heard it said many times that of all the people who express interest in becoming missionaries, very few actually follow through on that inkling. This is particularly true in the medical field in which years of training are required and it's far too easy to get settled into life in America during those years. Because this is true, and because we're not so foolish to think we're immune to the temptation of staying here instead of obeying God and going to Africa, Eli and I determined from the outset to make lifestyle choices that ensured we wouldn't dawdle our way to the mission field or, worst of all, get trapped here and never go. We knew that part of our call was the timing of it all - to train and to GO - so we've spent the past decade living in such a way to ensure that we're faithful to that part of our call.
While our daily lifestyle choices have influenced our ability to stay on track (both financially and materialistically), other, bigger decisions have had influence as well. For example, we have purposely chosen not to buy a house. While it may seem like we've been throwing our money away and not preparing for the future by renting for a decade, we considered this issue before it was pertinent and ultimately made this decision for reasons that would keep us on track for missions. When we were in Cameroon we asked many questions of the missionaries, one of which was, "To buy or not to buy?" We received different answers. Some missionaries said that having a home in America was not only a wise choice financially, but also helped their kids emotionally - knowing they wouldn't be homeless when they traveled back to the States was reassuring for many missionary kids. Other missionaries said they knew far too many people who were planning to go into missions but buying a house was the death of that intent - they planted down and it became too difficult to uproot. In the end, we decided to take the advice of the latter, and we've never regretted it. (Our decision was made easier by the fact that my parents and Eli's parents each have a place where we can stay when we're in the States, which is no small factor.) We appreciate the ability to uproot easily and the lack of attachment to a place here in America. We've minimized the difficulty of living in Africa while pining for a home back here. We'd like to believe that we wouldn't struggle with that dynamic, but we decided not to find that out about ourselves. Just don't buy a house and you'll never have to face the grief of leaving it when you move across the ocean. While we understand and respect making a different decision, this approach has proven to be the right choice for us.
Another choice we made regards the cars we drive. We've spent our entire married life driving cars that were passed on to us, meaning they were used and sometimes in beat-up shape. The fact that we haven't yet had to purchase a car for ourselves is a testament to God's provision. He provided us with transportation these past ten years and we chose to be satisfied and grateful with His provision, even if it meant driving cars with more personality than flash. We have driven a few cars into the ground, but they got us from Point A to Point B. We also spent four years in Chicago with just one car. It saved us a lot of money and we grew accustomed to walking and biking where we needed to go. We're the kind of people who could care less about driving fancy cars, but our choice and contentment in vehicles has also kept us in line with the timing of our call. Decisions made a decade ago were made in light of the year ahead of us still - when we can GO.
Many of these choices were made by ourselves, but some were forced upon us by God. In His good grace, whenever He knew we wouldn't have made the better choice for ourselves, He ensured that we would. And God has faithfully provided for us to keep us on His timeline for going to Africa. He kept our beat-up cars in working order and provided the funds whenever we needed to repair them. He provided us with a place in Chicago within walking/biking distance to Eli's school and my job, as well as a place in Duluth within walking distance to the hospitals so Eli always had a way to get to work when we were down to one car again. He provided a cheap home in Duluth so we could afford to pay off my loans in a remarkably short time. God has been ever so faithful this past decade to keep us on track with His timing.
Now Eli has completed his medical training and we are in the midst of completing the required training with our mission organization. We are on track to finish the training this calendar year so we will be ready to GO by next year. We've been waiting a long time, which has been necessary and good, but we were never meant to wait longer than our training required of us. We are thankful for the training, not only because of the tangible skills and knowledge we've received, but because of the years we've had to let God prepare our hearts as well. We've grown a lot in the last ten years. We've learned, we've matured, we've struggled, we've trudged on. Throughout it all, we've been reminded that there is a time for everything, and our time to GO is nearly upon us.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for everything under the heavens:
a time not to date, and a time to date,
a time to go to Cameroon and a time to come home,
a time to not buy a house and a time to drive beat-up cars,
a time to start med school and a time to start grad school,
a time to train in medicine and a time to train in missions,
a time to wait for ten years and a time to GO.
Thanks be to God for His infinite wisdom in His timing for us, and His faithful direction and provision in keeping us on track.