On my last post I promised to share what I learned at Deer Lake this summer, and now I sit not knowing how to start. Like so many times when I’ve passed through a profound experience, I look back and wonder, “Did I learn anything? Or did I know this all before? I can’t remember.”
Learning is like that. It is not so much something added to the person you are, but something that becomes a part of you. You can no more sit back and observe what you have learned than you can sit back and observe the beating of your flesh and heart. But you feel it; you know it is there.
For me, Deer Lake was not so much a learning of new things as it was a gathering up of things I already knew, or should have known.
I think the most surprising thing I gained in Deer Lake was a deeper understanding of myself. I did not expect that. I thought I had myself pretty well figured out. But as I lived with myself, breathed and thought and feared with myself in an unfamiliar setting, away from home and family and people who thought like me, I saw things I didn’t expect.
I’m not as spiritual as I thought I was. I care about performance. I try my hardest at whatever I undertake because I want others to think well of me and because I want to think well of myself. But that’s performance, not spirituality. It is startling to me to realize that I care at least as much about making a good impression, about being able to tell stories of how I helped people and how they could see Jesus in me, as I care about actually helping those people.
Also, I found that a vibrant devotional life was no easier on the mission field than it is at home. I guess I thought that came with the territory. You’re focused on the things of God, you naturally want to spend time with Him, right? Not so. Maybe it will always be easier for me to sleep or check Facebook or write an email than to earnestly seek the face of the Lord.
Neither did talking about Jesus or sharing God’s Word become easier, as I halfway expected it to. With every year and every experience of my life, Jesus becomes more a part of me, more precious and real, but I still must make a conscious choice every time I open my mouth to mention His name. It is not easier or less scary just because I’m away from home on the mission field.
I’m a small person, and small is okay. I was scared, mostly. Every day, many times a day, I prayed for God to help and direct. I was scared–not confident, bold, witty, or wise.
Walking down a dusty Deer Lake road one day, I saw a little bird sitting on an electric line and knew a feeling of kinship. “Look, there’s me,” I told my partner Laura.
“There. Sitting on that electric line. I’m very small, and the world is way too big for me.”
But small people have to ask God to help them and He always does, and that’s why being small is okay.
I prayed very often in Deer Lake. Small prayers, breathed in each new situation. I depended on the prayers of those I knew were praying for me. It was amazing–no, not so amazing as comforting and solid–to see God work out the days and the hours when Laura and I didn’t know how to go about planning them.
I’m not as perfect as I thought I was. In an unfamiliar environment, away from the people I’ve known all my life, working closely with a young woman who was before a complete stranger? I didn’t handle it as well as I thought I would. I was more edgy, more scatterbrained, less easygoing than I knew I could be.
I learned that everybody doesn’t think the same way I do and that sometimes my thinking is flawed. I learned it pays to listen to what my partner has to say.
I learned that I enjoy leading. I was the leader of our two-person team and it felt challenging, but a good challenge. I like being in charge and trying to make things run smoothly, which is odd for a person like me, who’s always claimed to prefer blending into the woodwork.
In Deer Lake, I also learned some things about people. Or maybe reinforced some things, because it seems to me I learned the same things previously, with different people in different places.
I learned that people are basically the same the world around. No matter how many differences lie between cultures, in every individual’s heart there are basic realities that make all people in all places kin. And if you know how to look for them, you can always find key similarities between yourself and another person, or between your culture and another culture. I find that to make friends, it helps to focus on the things that are the same and to set aside the things that are different until you grow to understand those differences better.
I learned that nothing means as much as a kind word in a strange place. To all you Deer Lakers who gave us boat rides or offered us bannock or fish or transportation, who joked with us and teased us and made us feel a part of you, thank you. You can’t know, unless you’ve been in the same situation yourself, how much it meant.
I learned some things about God and His Spirit.
I learned that in all people, in all cultures, righteousness is a part of Spirit-filled people. I was moved by the testimonies of changed lives, of broken addictions and people who chose to commit to each other in marriage after they gave their hearts to the Lord.
I learned that I believe in Yahweh–Holy God, one God, God of the Bible–deep in myself, learned that His Word and the testimony of His people move me like nothing else can, move me to where I shake and cry and my heart breaks open. I do not think I can fight this belief or shove it to second place. He grows bigger and bigger in me, like the mountain Daniel prophesied of.
I learned that there is one body, many members, one Spirit, many operations. The church in Deer Lake is very different than the church I grew up in, and yet I sense the working of the self-same Spirit. I will not say one place is more Spirit-filled than the other, because in both places I see the fruit of the Spirit–which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control–and in both places I hear the words of people who speak of Christ’s saving power and of the communion with God they feel in their hearts. But I can plainly see that the Spirit does not work exactly the same in both places.
One body, many members, the Bible tells us. One Spirit, many operations. The meaning of these words became real to me in Deer Lake as they never have before.
I learned that I need to stop making my own plans and wait for the leading of God’s Spirit. I heard so many messages about this while I was in Deer Lake. Think God was trying to tell me something?
Before I went to Deer Lake, I knew I had a drive, a restlessness–something–within me that was calling me to long-term ministry. Returning home, I still feel this desire, but now it is manageable, something I can rest in God’s hands. I think the change came when I found out the people in Rusk County, the people in this big white farmhouse I call home, need me as much or more as any people in a different place. Because of that, I am content and at peace.
For this time, for this year at least, God has called me to minister here. If He ever calls me to a different place and different ministry, I want to have my ears open, listening and ready.