“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. When ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a missionary. When I was about 7, I asked God what country He wanted me to be a missionary to. After I prayed, I saw the word MEXICO in my head as if it were typed in all caps. From then on, I was sure God was calling me to the mission field in Mexico.
My story is the story of the change from a little girl’s idea of what it meant to be a missionary, to the realization that in all of life, no matter where I am, I am called to be a missionary.
In July of 2000, I got to go on my first mission trip to a foreign country; it was a ten-day trip to Nicaragua with my dad. I had never felt as close to God before as I did on that trip. The experience only further solidified my desire to spend my life doing mission work in a foreign land.
One thing that started to shift, however, was my conviction that the country where I should live and work was Mexico. God had been opening up opportunities for my dad to go to Nicaragua every summer, and we started working with another pastor from Costa Rica as well. I thought of this verse: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) And I realized that maybe the word Mexico that I had heard from the Lord was just the Father telling me that I would go Mexico someday. Or maybe that I would work with Mexicans someday, or maybe that I just needed to learn Spanish and the word Mexico was a seed that God was planting in my heart—the beginning of a growing desire and love for a culture that would deepen as years went on.
What Proverbs 16:9 says to me is that because the Lord directs our steps, we can trust that the doors He opens are the ones He has for us to walk through. And if a door appears to be opening to us, but once we reach it, we find that it is closed, we can be sure that the path He had planned for us was not to be reached through that closed doorway.
My first solo missionary trip occurred in January of 2005. I was a senior in high school, but because I was homeschooled and could take my schoolwork with me, I was able to travel to Genval, Belgium, to help take care of a quadriplegic missionary, Rebecca Petrie. I was her caregiver for three months. Most of my duties were nursing tasks; I had no previous experience in nursing and therefore had much to learn.
I was overwhelmed at first but eventually began to get the hang of things and started to feel like part of the Petrie family. If I had to sum up the atmosphere of the Petrie home, I would use this verse from John: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) The Petries have sincere love for each other, and all who enter their home can sense their love and are recipients of it.
I was privileged to live in their household. It began to feel like a home away from home, and when I returned to the U.S., I kept in touch with the Petries and wondered if someday God would open the door for me to work with them again in Genval.
Because it was my last semester as a senior in high school, during my trip to Belgium I was praying a lot about what God wanted me to do after high school. I liked school okay but did not feel strongly about going to college. I still just wanted to be a missionary. I did not feel particularly called to Belgium, so I was not really considering staying there, but I told God that if He made it clear that I should stay in Belgium, I would be open to that. Belgium and Mexico are about as different as two countries can get, but I knew that God had me in Belgium for a reason. And now I know that one of those reasons was for me to learn that although the Petries are missionaries in Belgium, they are just living life for the Lord in Belgium like my family is living life for Jesus in Kentucky—both families doing the work the Father has called them to do, on the path He has chosen for them to walk in.
With my parents’ blessing, I decided to fill out an application to attend a local college in Kentucky and apply for a scholarship. I believed if God wanted me to go to that college, I would get the scholarship. If He did not, I would not get it and would start looking for something else to do. I got the scholarship. And I went to college.
I ended up majoring in Spanish, because my heart was still drawn to Spanish-speaking people, even though my focus had shifted more from Mexico to Nicaragua. I continued to go with my dad on his annual, summer trip to Nicaragua, almost every year.
In the fall of 2006, the Petries sent out an e-mail saying they were in need of a caregiver during January ’07. I was a sophomore in college at this time. I had been given a scholarship for eight consecutive semesters. But I felt like the Lord wanted me to go help the Petries again. So I wrote a letter to the scholarship office of my university, explaining what I would like to do and requesting a semester extension for my scholarship. My request was granted, and the Lord completely provided for me to go to Belgium and serve the Petries for another three months.
When I think about it, I am awestruck. I did not have the money for a trip to Europe. I was a poor, full-time college student, working part-time, about ten hours a week. My parents did not have the money to pay for my airplane ticket to Belgium. Honestly, I do not even remember how we purchased the ticket; I do remember that I did not worry about it. God had provided for all of my plane trips to Nicaragua, He had provided for my college tuition, and He had provided me with a car to drive to school. I knew that He would bring in the money I needed to go to Belgium, if that was where He wanted me. And it was where He wanted me, because that is what He did.
It was while I was in Belgium the second time that the Lord opened up an opportunity for me to study abroad in Morelia, Mexico. While I was applying to the study abroad program, I remembered that word in answer to my childhood prayers, MEXICO. I was skeptical that I would get to go. However, once again, God miraculously worked it out. I knew I could never afford the trip if my scholarship money could not be applied toward it, but the scholarship office came through again. Also, my parents and I did not think it wise to go without knowing anyone, and in response to that need, God directed a Godly friend who was also majoring in Spanish to go on the trip with me and be my roommate. Time and again, the Lord worked out all the details. More than once I pinched myself; is this really happening? Yes, it was real.
I got to go to Mexico for the fall semester of 2007, and I saw it as a mission trip. I was realizing, little by little, that “mission trips” took place every day at school and every day at home. Every time I saw someone on the sidewalk and smiled, I was being a missionary. Every time I cleaned up the kitchen for my mom, I was doing mission work.
In December of ’09 I graduated from college and entered another season of transition. I asked God what work He would have me do after college. He opened up the doors for me to go back to Belgium for a third time. I was there from January through March of 2010.
It was wonderful to be in the Petrie household again, sharing life with my second family, but it had its challenges. Genval, Belgium, had become a familiar place to me, and at first I was confused by the feeling of familiarity, wondering why I was not more excited about being in Europe again. Why did I miss home so much?
I asked God what He was trying to say to me, and slowly, He began to show me my heart and the heart He had for the world, the awesome precision of His perfect plan, how He had chosen my family, my hometown, and the myriad of things that make me unique—specifically. How He had orchestrated my life up to now, on purpose. That it was according to His all-encompassing plan that I had been blessed with each experience, close to home or far away. That each place He had brought me to and through was preparing me for the next place in some way.
I began to realize that no place was more glorious than any other. All that mattered was that I was fulfilling God’s plan, including being willing to stay where I was, if that was His plan for me. Could I be content in Him . . . anywhere? I longed to fully understand the Lord’s perspective about being a missionary. I did not want an inaccurate or distorted or incomplete view of what it meant to be a missionary, based on my “ideals” or desires.
And the Lord gave me peace.
Finally, I know that I can be content in any location the Lord leads me to. I am no longer looking to leave to find my mission field, because I have met the Lord here, in Kentucky. He has opened up a job for me here, a job where I speak Spanish every day. I am still living at home with my family and am part of the church I have grown up in. I have to drive only ten minutes to get to work.
I am serving the people of this city and getting to visit the homes of the poor in a way that I never would have imagined could be possible. God made it possible, because this is where He wants me.
“For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Jessica Camenisch is an interpreter and tutor for the public school system in Winchester, Kentucky. Jessica graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in December of 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She enjoyed being homeschooled from kindergarten through high school graduation and hopes to encourage others to pursue a homeschool education. Jessica is the oldest of six children. You may contact Jessica at: email@example.com
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine, Spring 2011.
Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com to view a full-length sample copy of the print magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.