Ever since I was little, I had been told that God calls you to do things outside of your comfort zone, especially when it comes to mission work. However, I always heard student missionaries rave about their time in the mission field and, somewhere in that message, I assumed God simply took away the discomfort to fill His servants with purpose. When it came time for me to follow in the footsteps of the student missionaries who came before me, I learned a hard truth—the difficulties are still very present.
I spent two and a half months serving as an elementary school assistant teacher on the island of Saipan. During that time, I learned a lot about myself, others, and God.
As Christians, as missionaries, we may be called to positions we would never have chosen for ourselves. I don’t get along with kids, yet God led me to teach 2nd and 3rd graders for an entire summer. From the perspective of natural inclinations, I shouldn’t have accepted that call, but I forced myself to trust God.
Just because I had the faith that He brought me to Saipan didn’t mean my weaknesses were automatically erased. Many days dragged on with me wondering how I’d make it to the end of school. In the middle of the summer, I broke down in anger at everything. Why was I in Saipan? Why was I teaching? What did God want out of me? Nothing I was doing seemed to have any impact on the school, my students, or the community, and I felt so incredibly alone.
I recorded my questioning thoughts in a blog post. Over the next week, several close family and friends reached out, offering encouragement and reminders that they would always be there praying for me. One particular message from a mentor I hadn’t seen in years stood out. She texted that there are two types of “fun”: one that feels amazing in the moment and another that takes time to appreciate. I certainly didn’t feel like I was having “fun”, but I tried to take on that mindset. Everything wasn’t good at the moment, but maybe one day I could look back on it and see the beauty God intended.
Through the rest of the summer, I kept my mentor's words in mind. I knew I'd look back on this experience and appreciate it. Even with the trials, I had faith God called me to Saipan for some reason, even if He wouldn't tell me why. He brought encouragement through the occasional replies on my blog from my great-grandpa and aunt, the likes and comments on Instagram from my friends, and the frequent phone calls from the people I love most. Each was a small mercy that allowed me to push through my negative thoughts.
Now that I’m back home, I have been able to appreciate my experiences in Saipan. It’s slow, but I’ll remember a tiny moment when my students would make me smile. Sure, there are plenty of moments that still make me wonder how I survived, but God has been slowly teaching me about myself and who He is through my struggles. The Saipan school, students, and community was a lesson in failures. For each of my failures, God humbled me and gave a crash course in patience.
Every time I talk about my time in Saipan, I catch myself straying towards some of the negative parts and I always remind myself and whomever I’m talking to that it was a learning experience that I can now appreciate. And as time continues, I firmly believe I will appreciate it even more. Everything wasn’t clear in the moment, but God still used it to reveal Himself.
I didn’t fail because my student missionary experience wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows—my experience is still valid and a side of student missions that should be discussed. Everything is not going to be perfect. Missionaries are not perfect. Experiences are going to have highs and lows, but God is there, throughout it all, teaching us. We can learn from the difficulties if we take the time to reflect and process both the positive and negative.
Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ -Isaiah 41:10