I had prepared for months. I had sent the application, wrote the essay and interviewed with the Regional Director. I had packed my bags and said my good-byes. The only thing left to do was board the plane. The time had come.
I was 21-years-old, newly graduated from college and about to spend three months in Tokyo, Japan as a short-term missionary teaching English and sharing my testimony. I would be staying with an American missionary family I had never met. I was working with a non-profit organization I found on the Internet. I had not met a single person who had ever done this before. It didn’t seem so crazy months before when I was sitting in the comfort of my home brainstorming this idea with family and friends. It seemed like an exciting once in a lifetime experience.
Sitting in the airport, waiting for my plane to board, it seemed like the most ridiculous idea I had ever had. I thought of a thousand reasons I should call my parents to pick me up. What if this was some crazy Christian cult group? I don’t know anything about this organization. And what about my new serious boyfriend, Tim, I was leaving at home? What if he bails on me while I’m off in Japan? And shouldn’t I be looking for a job? What are future employers going to think when they see this three-month gap between when I finished school and when I started sending out resumes?
And so, as I boarded to plane to Tokyo, I started to cry. This was a bit awkward because I was in the front row and the flight attendant was doing her safety presentation and had to reach in front of me to demonstrate where the oxygen mask would come down in the event of a cabin pressure emergency. Both of us tried to pretend this was no big deal.
That was nine years ago. Often in our Christian lives we experience peaks and valleys in our faith. To this day, that trip remains the Mt. Everest of my faith journey. It took being alone in a foreign country to discover how fully reliant on God I could be. I can remember being on a crowded city street in Tokyo, surrounded by bright lights and loud noises, and feeling like I was standing hand in hand with God. In that moment, on that street, I was a foreigner. I did not belong. The people pushing past me on the streets did not care about me. At that moment I was surrounded by hundreds of strangers. The huge billboard ads were not for me. They were written in a language I did not fully understand. The sounds being played from the shops were advertising jingles that didn’t make sense to me. I did not belong to that world and because of that I was able to connect with God in a way I have never been able to connect in my home country.
And I almost missed it. I almost chickened out. I almost missed my Mt. Everest faith experience. Moments come into our lives and we have opportunities, as Tom said yesterday, to “Choose the Now.” I’m reminded of the passage in Esther when she is queen and has the opportunity to save the Jews by speaking up to the king but risks her own death because the king doesn’t know she is a Jew (these were before the days of premarital counseling, clearly). Her cousin Mordecai is sending her messages and is disheartened because she is not trying to stop the king. He says this:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.For if you remain silentat this time, reliefand deliverancefor the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
-Esther 4:13-14 (NIV)
I love that last part: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” I think I can sometimes be Esther. I don’t see that I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do something because I’m too scared the risks are too great. Maybe you can be like Esther too. Maybe there are moments in your life when you feel that nudge to do something but you are scared because the risks are just too great. I can tell you from experience that the opportunity to climb to the top of a mountain does not come to you without its risks: you might hear a “no” when you wanted to hear a “yes” or the money that you thought would be there isn’t. Those experiences make the climb steeper; they don’t mean you fall. But there is a moment when you reach the top and you are standing hand in hand with God that you are so grateful you made the decision to climb.