Growing up in a large Adventist community, I heard countless experiences from student missionaries about their journeys abroad. From little miracles to major interventions, I listened to story after story of what the mission field was like. So when I thought about becoming an SM, I thought I knew the type of journey I was in for. As you’ve probably guessed, I was very wrong.
The calling to become a student missionary continued to grow within me throughout high school. By senior year, I knew that this was something God was calling me to do, and every vespers talk, worship thought, and testimony given by a returned SM reinforced the idea in my head.
The plan was practical as well. By now, I had realized my love of teaching, and what better test for that love than an entire year at the head of a classroom. After counseling with family and mentors, I decided I would serve as a missionary in two years, just after my sophomore year at Walla Walla University.
A lot can happen in two years. When I began the paperwork for student missions in the winter and spring of 2021, the uncertainty of a global pandemic loomed over my shoulder. By the time our student missionary dedication vespers rolled around, I had yet to choose a location. I didn’t feel particularly drawn anywhere, so when the school asked us to choose a flag to carry as part of the ceremony, I asked one of the former SMs to help me pick one. I finally settled on a royal blue flag with a white boat in the center. Little did I know that in a few weeks, I would be accepted to teach at the state represented by that flag – the Yap Seventh-day Adventist School in the Federated States of Micronesia.
Because I like to feel in control when moving through life, I could finally start making plans now that I had a specific direction. Mid-June I got word that I would be leaving on July 19th to Guam where I would quarantine, then fly to Pohnpei for a second round of quarantine, before finally flying to Yap. I arranged with my family and my employer to be ready for that July date. I prepared and prayed, and repeated that again and again leading up to my flight. A week before my scheduled departure, I had everything in place. I finally felt ready.
A recurring motif in stories of mission work is that many missionaries go through an experience, or “growing opportunity,” that makes their journey to the mission field difficult. Mine began with a text and voicemail from my student missions coordinator on the afternoon of July 16th. After a day filled with tearful goodbyes to friends and coworkers at the summer camp I worked at, I checked my messages to find out that I had not made it onto the quarantine list to fly into Micronesia. Less than 72 hours before I was expecting to leave, I was told to stay home and wait.
The proceeding weeks were some of the most nerve-wracking of my life. We weren’t sure when I’d be able to get on a quarantine list next or when I should fly to Guam. So, the first week and a half at home was spent in an anxious state of stasis —unable to do anything other than sit in the discomfort of not knowing and having no control.
We then got word that there was a place I could stay on Guam to wait to get into quarantine, and on July 30th, I said a final goodbye to my family and departed on the first physical step of my journey to Yap.
Unfortunately, it had become increasingly difficult to get on the quarantine list for Pohnpei, and it was a convoluted process to figure out what to do next. With the start of the school year quickly approaching, there were talks of different processes to get to Yap, what to do in the meantime, and even discussions of alternative islands if I couldn’t serve on Yap. There were too many variables to count and so many decisions to make that I felt lost.
But, by God’s grace, I was not in it alone. There were three other SMs in the same position as myself, along with a wonderful community in Guam that welcomed us with open arms. We were able to enjoy our time in Guam together rather than in isolated anxiety, and we even helped out at Guam Adventist Academy for a couple weeks before we finally got arrangements to go to our respective islands. While it was a long and twisting process, I look back on that month with fondness because of the people God placed me with. What should have been a curse ended up a blessing.
Before beginning my SM journey, I was warned not to bring any expectations, and though I tried not to, how true those words ring to me now. My “growth opportunity” thoroughly stripped me of all expectation and all control, but in the loss of those anchors, I found myself drawn back to Isaiah 55:8 — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” God had a way of taking what I thought I wanted and giving me exactly what I needed, and that was faith and trust in Him.
As I write this, I have just finished my first week of teaching 9th grade at Yap SDA School, and I can already feel this community becoming my new home. The principal and his family have quickly become my new Yap family, and Delilah, the other SM here, and I have been settling into our new routine at the school. There are still plenty of things to work through, and I’m sure that there will be hardships up ahead, but we are here, and that alone is a blessing.