"I don't understand," I thought to myself while having a conversation with a humanitarian worker in Ethiopia, a couple of years ago. "But it's true, and oh so dangerous," he replied. hmmm. As he continued to speak, I felt my mind slowly taking in his words and accepting them...but I also recognized myself to be a bit frightened... that it was hitting a little too close to home. But as I know well, my personal squirming with discomfort didn't change the fact that he was onto something.
What determines how we make decisions? Obviously, several factors play a key role, so let me narrow it down a bit. What determines how Christians choose their lines of work? their ministries? maybe even if called abroad, their countries?
I always knew I wanted to spend my adulthood living abroad. Since I was a small girl, foreign cultures, languages, and people would grab my attention quicker than anything...and suddenly I would catch myself in a dream world of the far off places I would one day call home. Mostly, I was intrigued with the idea of village life...simple yet exotic I guess...the opposite to my privileged life in the States. Of all the countries I have traveled to, I would still say that Peru snagged my attention the quickest by grabbing my number spot of "my favorite". Anyone who has been to Peru understands the charm and mystery held in the windy turns of the Andes Mountains...the exotic flare in the secrets of the Amazon jungle...and the connections you can't help but fall into with the locals. I adore that country...and living away from it has not changed how much I love being there. The more times I visited, the more I craved returning. So this might lead one to wonder why I am here in the grand city of Cairo, Egypt, rather than the village life of Peru, which brings me back to the conversation with the man in Ethiopia.
A sunny day just over two years ago, I was sitting on the train as it was taking me through quaint Egyptian villages in the Delta. As I was observing the sites, I was smiling. I paused, and turned to I look at my daddy and asked him what I should do...or more specifically, what choice I should make. I was giving him a lot of power in that moment. I had three job offers in three very contrasting cultures...and I was at a loss of how to narrow them down and make a choice. All three were jobs in my field of experience and education, all three would require the equal raising of funds, and prep time. All three had great needs that I was asked to help serve with.
The majority of people who knew me during that time were certain I was going to choose Peru. My connection to that country was obvious based on how I couldn't stop speaking of it after each summer working there. Ethiopia and Egypt were more foreign to me. I was not comfortable or familiar with their cultures and languages. I felt strange and out of place...awkward about my inexperience with their ways of life. "I am not taking the responsibility on this one," daddy said. "All are good choices with ups and downs tied to them, but it's definitely a choice that you have to make for yourself." Sheesh.
As I worked through my list, I found myself deeply struggling. I realized it was necessary to ask myself a very important lingering question. Why did I love Peru? Was my interest in this country at all linked to the way it made me feel when I was there? YES. In Peru, I could communicate in Spanish very comfortably. It only took a moment for the brain to switch gears, and English would take the back burner. And having lived in Mexico, studied in Costa Rica, and many other travels, Latin America was never a cultural issue for me. Simply put, being there, wasn't hard...it felt natural...sometimes, more natural than adjusting to certain areas of the States. Plus, I have people there that I adore, and make me feel like family. Anyone who has a "Latino family" abroad knows what I am talking about...it's a secure sense of belonging. Did I feel needed there? YES. Both the school that I interviewed with as well as the non-profit organization I work with there had needs they asked me to work with. Hey, everyone wants to feel needed.
I was always on such a high when returning to the States leaving behind a summer in Peru. I had fond memories of the connections I was forming with the kids, that I knew the language, found great joy working with the local teachers, and that I could just rest and take in the natural beauty of the village life. Simply put, I was happy...a peace and joy I was attached to. Plus, I was there serving, the fact that I loved it was just a bonus.
Okay...so now, why is my blog called "Captions of Cairo" instead of something like "Pieces of Peru"...right? Well...I decided my life was too valuable of a gift to make decisions based on how I felt, or what made me smile and feel content or important. I am not saying happiness in a job is wrong...or that joy in a place means you shouldn't be there. But I do have a difficult time allowing these factors to determine how I make a choice like this.
I knew that God had something different for me, so uniquely separate from what I had experienced prior. He wanted to take me down into new depths, show me new sins, teach me a new world perspective, walk me through new lows as well as new highs, and teach me to love Him in a new way. He made it very clear to me that it was going to require me to trust Him differently than I ever had before. He wanted to take me out of the familiar.
I did not know what Egypt had for me. All I knew was that there were needs I was asked to fill. I knew I didn't know the language, the culture, or the religion there. I knew what many Americans thought of the Middle East, and that several would not support my decision. I knew it was FAR. But I knew I was ready, more than ever before to see what was ahead, on different map, leading me to a scary new world on a continent far away.
I remember blogging two years ago about how difficult it was to push the "send" button and turn down the job offers in Peru. I remember the negative feedback I got from people who thought I was making a huge mistake. I remember turning away, hoping they were wrong.
That man in Ethiopia was talking to me about people who choose certain places to serve abroad for the "rush" of the job...the adventure, the drama...the uncertainty that keeps them from being bored. There are also those that choose work because it makes them feel important, needed, and they find their identity in that.
There is nothing wrong with loving your work, enjoying the adventures it can bring...craving the rush. But if we allow our "call" to be manipulated by these factors, thus closing out new roads God wants to take us down, we are losing out on a special opportunity. Egypt has been my most chaotic whirlwind experience thus far...it's been the most difficult test, the most strenuous emotional journey, and the most challenging for my personality and internal struggles. But it also has been the vessel God used to bring me the most truth.
Peru would not have been the wrong choice, but my reasons for choosing it would have been. I am not surprised a bit that I have grown to adore my jobs here in Egypt. I am truly fulfilled in my work and am so thankful for that and my friendships here. And although my emotional relationship with Egypt is very different than Peru, it has captivated me in a different sort of way. I wouldn't dare compare the two. I have learned that the joy we receive from obedience, far outweighs the peace of comfort. Sometimes God calls us to walk into the desires of our hearts, and sometimes He calls us away from them. I have been on both sides of this. And I have also experienced the consequences of choosing a path based on my selfish motives.
I truly believe that sometimes God plants desires to draw us to certain choices, but I don't believe desire always leads us to the right place. We need to learn to check ourselves, our motives, our passions. Sometimes our hearts lead us away from what is best...but sometimes God uses the heart as a tool in leading us to where we want to be, which sometimes matches what He wants.
Once again I am coming to a place where big decisions await, and honestly, I am not as frightened of the unknown as I was two years ago. But I have learned to TRUST, and if He ends up showing me that what I desire and He desires are different, that's okay. On the flip side, maybe what we want will match up. Who knows? Oh wait!! He does, Whew.