Step by Step
I still recall the moment, around age eight or nine, when I picked up a mission story my mom had left out on the table. A voracious reader, I read the article all the way through, and my heart connected with the story. When I finished, I knelt down to tell God that I wanted to commit my life to Him. Although I never told anyone, in my heart it was a sacred moment—the beginning of an amazing journey God has been leading me on step by step.
For a while, life continued as before. I honestly wanted to give myself to the Lord, but I don’t think I understood what true surrender and following Jesus really meant. My early to mid teen years turned out to be a real a roller coaster as I sought to gain acceptance, fit in with my friends and live up to the ideals I’d set for myself. Although I did have some sort of relationship with God, my life was a selfish mess.
Through this stormy time of life, God showed me how empty worldly ideals are, and I began to see that only He could fulfill me. Providentially, I stumbled across yet another magazine article that would change the course of my life. This article, which focused on prayer, challenged me to make communion with God a daily habit. I sent the article to a friend and asked if she would be my accountability partner. She agreed, and we took on the challenge together. At 6 am, my alarm would ring and I would get down on my knees to talk to my Maker. As I learned to pour my heart out to God and give Him my frustrations, God slowly changed my attitude and my perspective. My focus shifted from myself to God, and I encountered a peace and joy I’d never had before. God started shaping me as I submitted to Him.
When I was 16, God led me to join Youth Rush, a summer literature evangelism program. During those 10 weeks of going door to door, I was pushed out of my comfort zone, stretched and challenged. Many mornings I fought huge internal battles, vacillating between my desire to serve God and my dread of rejection. In the months that followed, I had to step back and reevaluate my beliefs—to make sure my faith was my own and not just my family’s. I thank the Lord that He faithfully brought me through that season of questioning and built my assurance in Him.
The summer I turned 17, I jumped at a chance to do three weeks of mission work in Alaska. God used that trip to give me a passion for working for the salvation of others. He also used it to plant the seeds of future service!
On the trip, I met a girl named Heidi who had taught at Sunshine Orchard, a mission school in Thailand, for 7 months. She clearly had a passion for the place! In the course of the conversation, she told me that she and her sister were planning on returning in November. Then she added, “Why don’t you come with us?”
Although I’d heard about Sunshine Orchard, I had never considered going to Thailand. Yet somehow, I took Heidi’s suggestion very seriously. I spent the next few months praying, communicating with the staff at the school, fundraising for expenses and praying more. God worked miracles on my behalf, and I felt certain He was leading.
The day our travel plans would have been confirmed, we received an urgent email from Sunshine Orchard saying that the school was facing a crisis and urgently needed funds to remain open. Plans were set aside as we prayed for the school and sent money to help. By God’s grace, Sunshine Orchard remained open. Although Heidi and Haley had donated all their funds to the school, I had reserved enough for a ticket. It looked like I would be going alone!
About a month later, I boarded a plane to Thailand. It felt so unreal! Despite obstacles, all the planning and praying had come to fruition.
Those months in Thailand changed my life. Sometimes, when I felt overwhelmed with my teaching duties, I knelt down on the bamboo floor of my hut and poured out my heart to God. Rising from my knees, I felt energized, enabled to face the day of classes before me. I’m so thankful that in my weakness, Jesus was able to shine through!
As time went on, I discovered that simply coming to the mission field hadn’t erased my poor traits of character and made me giving and loving. Instead, I began to see my selfishness and the areas in my life that still needed to be surrendered to God. Even though it was difficult, I am thankful for what the Lord taught me!
While in Thailand, I saw some of the pain the Karen students live with every day. Their lives have been marred by seeing the genocide of their people in the struggle between the Karen and the Burmese in Myanmar. One student shared with me the grief and bitterness he was battling with because of having witnessed the murder of his father by the Burmese. Although he had experienced some healing through coming to know God, he still struggled with a desire for revenge. The bitterness was eating him up inside; I could see the unhappiness in his eyes.
Through my conversations with this young man, God placed a deep burden on my heart for him and for all those suffering with similar pain. So many students had been scarred by past experiences. They needed to experience the freedom that comes only from Jesus! Seeing their pain taught me to value people more. As my burden for souls grew stronger, I started to meet with a fellow teacher to pray specifically for our bitter friend and others like him.
The new habit of intercessory prayer revolutionized my spiritual life. While I have been learning to focus my prayers upon others, God has helped me to think less of myself. Though my heart breaks for the burdens some people still choose to carry, I take joy in seeing others turning their lives over to God—including the young man I prayed for!
Because of my time in Thailand, I know I will never be the same individual. God has given me a taste of the sweetness of working for Him, and I wouldn’t choose any other life. God has put a desire in my heart to return and work among the Karen people someday so that I can help them heal physically and spiritually. Experience has taught me that living for Jesus is the most fulfilling life possible, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Right now, I am at Hartland College majoring in Bible Instruction, with a minor in health. How I got here is a story in itself involving an instantaneous friendship with Paw Ner (Jasmine) Moo, a Karen student at Hartland. After much research into the academic program and plenty of prayers, I know God led me here to go to school. I don’t know what ministry God may give me once I finish my education, but I do dream of returning to Thailand with Paw Ner Moo as a medical missionary team. God’s plans may take me on unexpected turns, but that’s OK. I choose to trust the loving guidance of my Heavenly Father, whose surprises far surpass my dreams!
By Sabrina Petersen, age 20, a second-year student of Hartland College in Rapidan, Virginia. firstname.lastname@example.org.