Missions Thwarted: Letting a Dream Die
Today, in church, the pastor commissioned a small group of laypeople for a mission trip. I looked back at my own failed commissioning, with three failed attempts at ministry and the third time a charm. With OMS, thousands prayed over me to send me to Hong Kong as they commissioned me to two years of service overseas, but then a predator took that away, and OMS left me behind.
He, the pastor, then preached on Joshua 1:1-11 with a six point message that began with the past is in the past: what do you need to let go of? And led to where you stand, God has given you that land, and ended with get ready for action, what is your next step?
Phase I: Baptists for Israel
But, let me start at the beginning -- the past that has a hard time staying in the past. In 1996, what I wanted -- more than anything else – was to be a missionary. I had a heart on fire for the Lord and a desire to win lives for Christ. I was in college and active with Campus Crusade for Christ, so, the logical step was to get involved with their ministries. I wanted to be on Praise Team, but I was a junior and they told me that since they hadn’t watched me “grow in Christ”, I couldn’t be a leader in the ministry. I wanted to get involved in a Bible study, but they told me because I wasn’t living on campus, in a sorority, or involved since freshman year, that they didn’t have anywhere I could go for this. I wanted discipleship, but the only woman available told me unless I read Kay Arthur’s study Bible and outlined map routes and color coded my Bible that I would never grow as a Christian.
As a result, I became more involved in my church rather than my campus group. This involvement caused further “shunning” from Campus Crusade as they seemed to feel I should be dedicated to them; however, they had no space for me, so where else was I to go? Through my church, I found out about Baptists for Israel and began my first quest into missions work. At this time, I did attend Campus Crusade’s Thursday night community gathering and went to Fall retreats, Christmas conference, and a summer project. Unfortunately, I realized that Baptists for Israel was not for me. They didn’t allow card playing, dancing, rock and roll, and drinking, and I was unwilling to give up things I felt in moderation were not dangerous or “evil.”
Phase II: Campus Crusade for Christ
With Baptists for Israel becoming a no-go, I set aside my plans to live on a kibbutz and witness to the Jews. Summer project with Campus Crusade ignited a yearning to engage myself in helping people. I was involved in my church with the youth group, as a leader, and loving working with young people. I thought I would be an excellent candidate to work with college-aged adults as soon as I finished college. I began the application process. But, unbeknownst to me, the Kay Arthur acolyte shot down my application with the words that I was “un-teachable” because I had not bought the Kay Arthur Bible and frankly, I hate maps. In fact, if IPhones and google maps had never been invented, I would most likely be seriously lost in the wilderness at this point. Highlighting and tracing routes will never be something I conquer, nor desire to conquer.
In my interview process, I also learned that several factors raised red flags to the hiring committee. I used to be a drinker and I might fall back into drinking in the stress of ministry. I used to have an eating disorder, and I might fall back into those ways in the stress of ministry. I was also the victim of a sexual assault, and not a virgin, and was under the “stigma of sexual sin.” Apparently, the “used-to”s were not forgiven. (And I’m not sure how I need forgiveness for being attacked, but color me confused...) I still went through the process and was given some hoops to jump through, but as I slogged through each hoop, I became more convinced that I could not conform to their cookie cutter Christian image.
Maybe they have changed since I was involved, but at the time, I was told that my ministry focuses were not aligned to Campus Crusade’s. Participating in servant evangelism was not a Crusade focus, nor was leading a study on a campus without a CC4C program. Also, being invited to speak on a religious panel with the LGTB crowd was not allowed because in the campus leader’s words “gay people were icky, and that is not the direction we’re heading.” Meeting a homeless person downtown and sharing my Subway sandwich was frowned upon, serving at a soup kitchen without the Crusade umbrella, and serving at my church were taboo because they all seemed to take away from “Crusade” business. I also wasn’t a “gentle and quiet spirit.” I was rambunctious, loud, flamboyant, and I loved being with diverse people. At that time, too, thin was in and I was told I would have a hard time relating to other young people because “how could they relate to someone who isn’t fashionable and fit?” Forget seeing Jesus in me, you should see Cindy Crawford in me! Knowing I couldn’t fit in their image, nor desiring to become something I wasn’t, I changed my focus.
Phase III: OMS
Enter OMS, stage right. My family had friends who served for dozens of years in Japan with OMS, Oriental Mission Society. These family friends lived an hour or so away from my college and invited me to join them frequently for meals. As I shared my Campus Crusade woes, they mentioned I should give their mission organization a try. I still wanted, more than anything, to be a missionary. I was in school studying music performance, training to be an opera singer, but ministry was in my heart. I began the next process of applications. I was interviewed, examined, documented, and questioned by multitudes of committees and people in charge. I saw a doctor, gave blood, and received my first, second, and third round of vaccinations. I was accepted and sent out my letters requesting money.
During this process, I spent a summer semester at UC Berkeley, working in a homeless shelter and contracted an inactive strain of tuberculosis. I returned to Indianapolis for my missionary training and encountered a predator. In a five year journey towards missions, there were lives I touched, but it was the touch of a predator that overshadowed any good I could have done as the predator accused, condemned and damned me in front of the aforementioned multitudes. My trainers for three weeks were a brusque older couple whose names I will not write down. I was geared towards Hong Kong. I was signed up for Mandarin classes. I had raised almost $26,000 of the $56,000 I would need for the trip and I had met my ministry team. I even knew that I’d be teaching middle school music at an international school and would be working with domestic Filipino workers in women’s ministry. I had been commissioned in a huge ceremony with laying-on of hands and prayers. All I had left was “cross-training”, a three week course prior to my last round of fundraising.
Somehow in the course of those three weeks, I offended the female half of the training team, who nicknamed me “flower child”. I had made an impact on the teens earlier in the summer when I served with OMS’ summer camp and I felt I could be honest and share my story. My testimony. One morning, I shared with the adults, and the cross training leaders. Although I focused on forgiveness, they heard sexual assault, pregnancy, miscarriage and deducted that I was unclean. The male half of the training team approached me one evening when the facility was dark and shut down. I had gone back to get some papers I had left behind and he was waiting in the darkened room. He told me that I was a whore who would derail the entire ministry, that someone who had “tasted the fruits” will always thirst for more and that I had caused him to fall into sin because he lusted after me and couldn’t stop thinking about me. He said some filthy things. I didn’t know how to respond, so I fled and kept this secret from my fellow trainees and trainers. I examined my actions and behaviors of those three weeks and thought I had dressed and behaved appropriately, so I thought it was his problem, the lust, but I was too naïve, young, inexperienced to know how to rebut the propositions of a 60-something “grown up”.
At the end of the training, he personally came and washed my feet, told me how I had matured, and handed me my certificate saying I had passed the training. He showed up later at a ladies lunch to tell me he was disarmed by my charms and smile. My skin crawled, but I asked him why he thought I would be a lousy missionary. I was told that I was too honest. Too charming. Too passionate. And that he knew I would sleep with every man I encountered. Months later, I was called in front of the board of directors and accused of sexual misconduct. He accused me of saying suggestive and inappropriate things to him in private and via email that threatened his marriage and made him uncomfortable. I was accused of being a temptress and a whore, yet again. My panel of judges was all men and I was intimidated by their demeanors and allegations. My accuser was not present for these proceedings. And although I brought up his actions of the summer, I was told that older Christian men who are leaders in the church do not proposition young whores; and men are to be believed over women because remember, it was Eve who was the weaker one. She sinned in the garden, not Adam.
My accuser never accepted responsibility for the filthy truth in his soul. He never admitted he lusted, he lied, and he came on to me. I never went to Hong Kong. I never learned Chinese, and the twenty eight thousand dollars raised was re-allocated to others more worthy than I was deemed. I was found at fault, unacceptable of the ministry and was asked to take a leave of absence to ponder my actions and get counseling. Amongst the allegations, several things came to light. One, the tuberculosis strain needed treatment, so six months should give me a time of healing. Two, I admitted the truth in sharing my testimony and was labeled a whore because a predator saw a non-virgin as open game season. I need sexual counseling to heal my lustful heart. Third, I still didn’t fit into the mold – although this time, it was quiet, demure, virginal, and wearing silk blouses and long polyester skirts. And lastly, I still hung out with the “wrong” people. I loved the Bohemians, artists, homeless, gays, soup kitchen servers, and the diverse people I met throughout Indianapolis. I was labeled a bleeding heart, hippie flower child because of my unusual friendships, my holistic herbs, my anti-cruelty makeup, and my peace activism. I needed the six months to conform myself into the mold OMS was asking me to fit into.
Side Trip: Counseling & Haiti
In those six months, I began my counseling for my sexual sins – ironically, I didn’t even get to enjoy any sex, but had to be counseled about it. At least, let me sin before you tell me to stop! The woman OMS paired me with was also a victim of sexual assault and she was the only highlight in the experience as she used gentle encouragement and wisdom to help me heal, but more from the experience of the panel of adjudicators who had pronounced me unfit for service than from past hurts. Sadly, she would not, or could not, speak on my behalf to the jury of men and seemed resigned to the fate of women as weaker vessels who have no say and disenfranchised voices.
In the course of those six months, an OMS missionary was taking a team to Haiti for a short term mission trip over the summer and asked me to go along. I had decided that I did not want to be an OMS missionary, but there was still $28,000 in an account my donors had sent in to fund my ministries. OMS agreed to let me use $3,000 of it for a summer trip to Haiti. The week in Haiti was an amazingly uplifting experience and I went back the following summer with OMS, using another $3,000. After that, OMS told me it was allocating the remainder of my account to other missionaries who were actual “real” missionaries.
Should the author have continued pursuing missions?
Detour: Middle School
In the midst of this journey, in 2001, I took a detour when I was asked to rescue a middle school choir whose teacher had taken off for China, as a missionary. No irony there. She gets China. I get middle school. With the first trip to Haiti behind me, I began teaching middle school choir in the inner city. Though challenging, and completely unprepared to lesson plan and manage a classroom, I fell in love with the students. This takes me to the mid-portion of today’s sermon. Joshua 1:3 "I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses." I set my foot in a middle school classroom. I believe the Lord fully gave me that classroom and reflecting upon this calling, He commissioned me to be a teacher, though it seemed a random series of events led me to this classroom.
At the end of that first year teaching, I returned to Haiti with OMS and realized just how unsuited I was to missions. My team complained constantly of the heat, bugs, smells, food, language barriers, and the Haitians. They also complained that I was always missing (because I was with the Haitians in their homes or singing in a hut with strangers.) I loved the Haitians, but resented working with the American missionaries. I returned to the States with the team, we went our separate ways and I walked back into a classroom. I’ve been in the classroom for the past thirteen years.
Where the Journey Leads
“Get your provisions ready” (Joshua 1:11) ended the sermon as the pastor told us to get ready for action and plan our next step. So, what is my next step? Missionary? I can say a resounding “no” to that. But, the Lord has planted my feet in a classroom and I seem to be successful at teaching. I can only conclude that my first step is to follow the pastor’s, Joshua’s, and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen’s advice to “Let it Go!” I recognize that missions is not my call, teaching is. My next step is to grow where I’m planted and focus on being the best teacher I can be as I work with this generation, and the next, of middle school students.