I remember going on my first “mission trip” when I was between my junior and senior year of college at Sterling College in Sterling, KS. There were lots of big lessons to learn that summer in Stony River Village, AK. Practical lessons like how to cook for myself on a camping stove for three months, and how to stay clean without use of a shower. Personal lessons like trusting that God could use me, and being at peace with quiet times alone. Cultural lessons about the Alaska Native way of life. Perhaps my most important lesson from my summer missions experience had nothing to do with my experiences in Stony River, and had everything to do with my preparation for and return from the trip.
Growing up, we were always provided for, but we did not have very much money. Whether or not we would have enough money was always a concern for us. When I went to college, my parents sent me a little spending money each month, but neither were able to help fund my education. So, I patched together a partial football scholarship, some academic scholarships, some student loans, as well as money I would make over the summer, through work study, and working in the cafeteria. Amazingly, even though I am still paying on the loans, God provided in amazing ways.
Still, I was nervous. I needed to have an internship of some sort, and I needed to be able to afford to come to school the next year. With the change in football coaches scholarships were frozen or reduced (mine was frozen) for most upperclassmen. At the same time I felt led to do my internship as some sort of cross-cultural mission. I struggled with my decision, but finally decided to take a step of faith and go with InterAct Ministries to spend a summer in a native village in Alaska on the Kuskokwim River. I reluctantly registered for a larger college loan and started my fundraising. The fundraising said that we could raise up to $1500 above our costs to help fund our schooling the next year. I worried I would even be able to raise enough money to cover the costs of the mission trip. I was wrong.
God provided beyond what I imagined. I received financial support from unlikely places—even from people who opposed the work I was doing, and the mother of my ex-fiancé. And when the project came to an end, I had over $1000 for school the next year. Furthermore, when I got to school, a couple I had met once had been led by the Spirit while they were praying to send me $500 for school as well. Classes worked out where I could cut back in the springtime to part-time at school and send my school loan back.
Here is the lesson I have learned from that situation and many after. God rewards us when we step out in faith. He doesn’t leave us alone when we have the courage to trust him with a risky, stepping-out-on-a ledge kind of faith. In fact, it is when we have the courage to risk enough that we are dependant on God in very real ways that God becomes most real to us. It is also often in those times when God chooses to use us the most.