As these various people are taking these first steps, I, on the other hand am thinking back 20 years! Believe it or not, for those who knew me then, it will be 20 years at the end of this month since I left full time employment in office work and entered Bible College. It has gone in a flash. As our friends look forward to what the future holds, I remember those thoughts so well. The nerves; excitement; the feelings of missing home even though I got back every weekend; the challenge and blessings of stepping out in a life of faith and dependence on God for every penny. The lessons learnt when I put petrol in my wee Ford Fiesta; with beeping reverse light; and paid by cheque trusting God to provide money to be lodged into the account before the cheque would clear!
I have had many experiences since then. Two years at Bible College where I learnt much and asked many silly questions. Helping on Children's Camps where I pointed children to the Lord for the first time. Chugging round housing estates in that same wee Fiesta with speakers on the roof; with a couple of others; advertising a Holiday Bible School, only to discover the volume was turned down. The open airs at the coast and the joy of sharing the Gospel with those we met.
Then I spent 16 weeks in West Africa. What an experience that was. It was a time for seeking God's will for the future and it was probably when that little seed of a love for Africa was planted in my heart. I will never forget standing in a remote village late at night and praying for rain along with other missionaries. The people had trusted the witchdoctors and nothing had happened. I remember the praise when the clouds burst on the way home that night and we had to stop the car as it rained so hard. I remember sitting in a pick up as a passenger with the body of a young man in the back. He had died of AIDS on the same day that Princess Diana died...but he had trusted the Lord a few weeks previously. I remember returning to that same country a few years later and sitting in a cell with prisoners, who didn't eat if their families didn't bring food and then visiting a man who spent his days chained to a tree trunk because he was too violent to be let loose....probably demon possessed. I remember the joy when a crushed packet of crisps arrived in the post, when I got to phone dad once every 3 weeks and looking at the calendar counting the days until I got home and only realising when I left just how much that time with a special missionary actually meant to me and just how much she taught me....and looked after me when I had Malaria and thought I would almost certainly die!
After that I worked for a few years with our fellowship of Churches. I enjoyed the children's meetings, the ladies Bible Studies, the tent campaigns and the many other aspects of that time. It was a happy time.
But then things changed. Various circumstances meant I was back home and out of full time ministry. My heart broke and I had itchy feet. I started to look after my nephew who was only a few months old at the time and I loved him so much but it was supposed to be only for a few weeks and I didn't know what God was going to open up for me. I remember the discouragement when someone said I should get a proper job if I wasn't going back into the work....and then, God spoke very clearly to me through Exodus 2 v 9 "Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages." I knew then that I was as called to look after that child, and later his brother, as much as I was called to Bible College or Christian ministry. For that time in their lives, my ministry was to them and I count that a privilege. Am just sorry it has gone so fast and now aged 16 he doesn't need a childminder anymore. His younger brother is catching up fast. But I have had a special time with them and looking back I can see it was all part of God's plan that I was home with my dad when he had his heart attack and when he needed me. That time of unsettling, that time when others lost confidence in me, was part of God's plan.
Of course, God was still leading and preparing me for the future. My youngest nephew is 11....but Feed my Lambs is now 9 years old. Feed my Lambs is the reason I never took on any other children in more recent years. Because God had another plan. I remember those early days in 2005 when I knew God was speaking to me and I didn't quite know what He was saying. I remember those times of praying and reading when one nephew was school and the other was sleeping. I remember the day it all came together and I knew God was leading me to Kenya. I thought it was just for 2 weeks! I remember the day in Birmingham when at dad's graduation, the Lord spoke to me through verses and a song and I began to realise that maybe Kenya was going to be a bigger part of my life than just 2 weeks.
I remember the night in 2007 I shared in a prayer meeting in what is now my Church. I remember sharing about bringing a practical team out to Kenya. I remember the young man who shook my hand at the door and said he may be interested. He came out on that team in July 2008 and the Lord spoke to him about the work of FML. He prayed about it over the next few months. I remember that night that he shared in a phone call that he believed the Lord was calling him into the work. I remember the churning in my stomach because this was the first time someone from home had wanted to become so involved....but also I remember the churning because I knew I was then forced to pray about a possibility I had dismissed....the fact that I quite liked this young man but had totally laughed it off because I knew whoever I would marry needed to be called to Kenya also. Now I was hearing that he was! God makes no mistakes. He called William into the ministry and then it was a few months later that he brought us together as a couple and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kenya and Uganda have been wonderful experiences. We have so many good friends out there. The blessings of sharing the Gospel with children. The morning I cried with nerves as I set off to train teachers for the first time. The humility and welcome received by people who live in small homes with no running water and still have a smile on their faces. The worries when dad wasn't well when we were in Uganda. The desperation when William and I had to start walking up stairs to the 10th floor to get his insulin because the lift in the hotel wasn't working because there was no electric! The laughs...afterwards....when the locals instantly increased the charge for the local convenience because they knew how desperate this white face was! lol. The exhaustion when we were stuck bumper to bumper for hours in a car with no air conditioning, when I was sick and then seeing our wing mirror stolen as we sat there helpless! The quiet prayers as Dad, William and I headed to Kenya for 3 weeks with only £50 between us and only we knew....the thankfulness when we ate, paid around £800 for car hire and the same for accommodation, carried out ministry, paid office rent, ate, bought souvenirs and didn't go short. God provided. We arrived in Amsterdam en route home. All bank accounts were empty. We had £20 in Ulster Bank money. They normally refused to change it....but this day, they did change it. God knew that Dad needed food along with his insulin. God provided again. The joy of knowing that you're in the centre of God's will being there.....yet still praying that He would give you peace and grace on those terrible roads!
Well, this is a long post. Memories and experiences coming back to me because of the 20 year anniversary and the joy of seeing our friends taking the same step that I did all those years ago. 20 years ago I had my ideas and plans. Not everything worked out as I thought it would. I have experienced so many wonderful things that I never imagined would happen me and met some great people along the way and made many friends. But then I would also say the discouragements and opposition have been greater than I ever expected. I never thought the work of God would bring me into contact with someone who would physically hurt me and leave me feeling frightened in my own home for quite a while. But then God had the perfect person in William to help me through all of that. I never thought Dad and I would go through such financial difficulties as a result that we would almost loose our home. I never thought we would loose friends at our lowest point. I never thought 8 years after our first stay in a Guest House in Kenya, that I would be back there, in my wedding dress, celebrating our wedding...but without dad who had been with me on that very first trip.
But what I do know, is that through all of these experiences, the good and the not so good, God was with me and is still with me. God had a plan, God knew what was best...and well, when things went really wrong, it was because I took my eyes off Him.
God is still speaking. God is still leading FML. God is still guiding William and I as a couple and piece by piece the jigsaw for our lives is shaping up for the future. His way is perfect. I do more FML work....but I still fulfil the calling of looking after one nephew for just a couple of hours each day. William still works in secular work and will do so as the Lord leads and until He redirects in one day, in one week, in one year or in ten years.
Looking back over 20 years, I am thankful for the storms as well as the good times. They are tough when you're going through them but they make us the people we are today. We love the Lord and want to serve Him and we are looking forward to the next 20 years of serving our Saviour!