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An Open Hand

Giving up control and trusting God

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Not going to the Middle East? Not just now, but never? My mind struggled to understand what the members of the pre-appointment interview committee were saying to me and my husband, Craig. Moments earlier they expressed their sense that it was not time for us to be appointed as missionaries and that we would benefit from more training. The committee members went on to say that due to reservations about our language acquisition, learning Arabic would be too challenging, so it would be best to consider other options.

Even though we nodded our heads in agreement, we didn’t realize the scope of their announcement. My ears heard their explanation, but my mind reeled. What are they saying? They’re not going to send us to the Middle East? As my thoughts cleared and the news began to settle in, I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of loss. My tears flowed uncontrollably as I realized that all my plans were crumbling.

What’s Next?

I’m a planner by nature. I love structure. I love calendars. I love adding already completed tasks to my to-do list simply for the satisfaction of checking them off. I approached my call as a missionary with the same systematic planning. Early in my journey, I hammered the director for Missionary Candidates with questions about when and how each step to becoming a missionary with the C&MA would happen. Then I carefully added each of those steps to my multi-year calendar and looked forward to the day when I would cross each item off my list.

A year before our pre-appointment interview, Craig and I began talking with Alliance workers in the Middle East about the possibility of joining their team. True to form, I meticulously researched the country we discussed and began to imagine my life and ministry among its people. For more than a year, my entire focus was on serving in the Middle East.

During a visit to the region, I went to a local department store and took stock of the availability and cost of everything from clothes hangers to yogurt. Perhaps the Boy Scouts would have been proud of my “be prepared” attitude, but the reality behind all of my planning was that it gave me a sense of control. In fact, I felt so in control of my future that I didn’t even realize I had stopped seeking God for the plans He had for me.

In His gracious loving-kindness, God intervened. In just a few short minutes at the end of our four-hour interview with the committee, all of my planning became meaningless. Before our meeting, Craig and I had agreed that we would trust God to speak through the interview committee and that if we weren’t appointed at that time, we would accept that decision as being from the Lord. However, it had never occurred to me that the C&MA would decide not to send us to the Middle East.

I left our interview somewhat bewildered. For the first time in a while, I had no idea what to do next. Should we stay in Indiana and continue serving at our church? Should we go to graduate school? Should we look for some kind of on-the-job training for a future tentmaking ministry? I fought to come up with a plan, to regain my sense of control.

Trying to Control

After six months of uncertainty and lack of direction, Craig was accepted into a master’s program at Columbia International University (Columbia, S.C.). As I began rigorously planning for our move, I discovered that South Carolina had an alternative licensing program that would allow someone without a degree in education to teach in the public schools. It was perfect! I had been a substitute teacher for a little over two years and had often thought that I would enjoy teaching full time. I could work at a job I loved, receive credentials and be able to pay for Craig’s education.

I gladly filled out the application, and a short time later, I called to follow up. My excitement quickly dissipated when the woman informed me that I wasn’t eligible for the program because I didn’t meet certain requirements. Under normal circumstances, her announcement would have been disappointing at most. But the last six months had been anything but normal.

I hung up the phone and wept before the Lord. I told Him that I felt as if He were taking away everything I had wanted. But in that moment of grieving the loss of all the straws I had been grasping at, He filled me with a sense of peace and trust. Looking back, I realize that this moment of surrender was a significant step toward yielding to God’s plans for me.

Changing My Approach

About a year ago, Craig and I attended the Candidate Development Weekend organized by the Missionary Candidate’s Office. We were told that candidates would share an update on where we were in our journey. Craig and I dreaded coming up with something. What would we say? “We’re the missionary candidates who didn’t get appointed”?

The moment came for us to discuss our experience, and there was no getting out of it. As I shared with the group all God had brought me through during our journey, my mind was filled with the imagery of an open hand.

For years I had thought of little else but serving as a C&MA missionary, particularly in the Middle East. Somewhere in the midst of that, I began to approach God with a tightly clenched fist, gripping the security of my well-thought-out plans. Amazingly, God didn’t pry my fingers open. Instead, He helped me see that inside my fist, my hand was empty. I realized that only when I was willing to trust Him and open my hand would He be able to fill it with all the blessings He had in store.

A Settled Heart

The verse that echoes in my mind as I reflect on the last two and a half years is Isaiah 55:8–9: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” So many times, I have thanked my Father in heaven for not following my plans. God has used every aspect of this time to draw Craig and me closer to one another and closer to Him.

Craig and I recently resumed discussions with the Missionary Candidates Office about our next step toward service. During the next few months, we’ll consider God’s timing for going overseas and the possible ministries in which we could become involved. This time, my heart is settled. I am open to whatever God has planned for us.

I spoke with my parents about future ministry possibilities, and my mom said, “Kate, we want you to do what you want to do.” In the background, I heard my dad correct her and say, “No, we want you to do what God wants you to do.” And I agree.

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