I had just finished talking on the phone with some family in the States when a text message buzzed on my screen from my pastor’s wife. She was planning the next ladies’ meeting for the women in our church. Even though we’ve been meeting on Zoom, new women have been coming. And we have been so encouraged by the mix of believers and nonbelievers we have in attendance twice a month. As she was planning, she wanted to know if I would be willing to share my testimony and call to missions with the group, saying that it would encourage those who hear it.
I certainly had no issue with that and agreed to it, though admittedly, I was not eager about speaking in front of a group in Arabic. Get me one-on-one with a good friend, and I have no problem speaking the local dialect. But put me in front of a group of people and tell me to speak this foreign language? You’ve got yourself an awkward American girl who is all of a sudden tongue-tied and stumbling over the basics.
However, the reminder that it would be an encouragement to others pushed me forward. Testimonies should be an encouragement. It is the story of God’s work in your life; it is the story of his salvation being a gift; it is a story of following after him. As I prepared what I wanted to say, I made sure to include the gospel message for those who do not yet know the Lord personally, taking the opportunity to share this hope with some women who are searching. And I kept thinking about how I wanted to encourage those who are believers with my testimony. How does my story of faith and following God’s call encourage them in their journey of faith?
A big part of my testimony is about God teaching me to surrender. I had lots of hopes and dreams for what my life would look like when I was younger, and it had nothing to do with raising a family overseas. Instead, I wanted a comfortable life with my neat house surrounded by a white picket fence. I wanted to raise kids near to our extended family and have that constant support system nearby. For many years I felt God calling me to live overseas, but I was unwilling to surrender my ideals and dreams.
During my college years, God showed me how refusing to surrender to his call was a sin. I wasn’t necessarily like Jonah, who ran the other way, but I was sinning just as much when I refused to obey him. So I finally surrendered and was willing to obey God and follow where he led. I didn’t want to leave my home. I didn’t want to learn a new language. I didn’t want to live or raise my kids far away from family. But I did want to obey God and surrender my whole life to him.
I did feel a bit self-conscious sharing about my struggles to come here. I know that the people in this region have faced so many more hardships and tragedies than I have. The sacrifices that I made by choice are nothing compared to the sacrifices that they have been forced into. So I wanted to encourage these sisters in the faith with a truth that I have held onto strongly this entire time: God promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. In the most challenging and even devastating points in my life, God has shown me his presence and his love. His promise to stay with me continues to encourage me in my walk with him.
I spoke that night in the ladies’ meeting and prayed that my testimony would encourage all who heard it. Two days later, I got a text from one of the older believers in the church. It said, “God bless you. Your testimony was an encouragement to me. I love your faith and the courage it took you to come to Lebanon.” I was thankful to hear that, to know that God used some of my story to encourage others. But something I wasn’t expecting was also to be encouraged by it. The text from her ended with telling me, “We are your family here.” What a blessing those words were to me. She knows that we miss our family greatly, that we have felt the distance between us and them, especially during hard points in life and ministry overseas. I felt those words as a continuation of my testimony of how God never leaves us nor forsakes us. He has called me and my family to this place, and he has provided for us. He has blessed us with his presence and encouragement in our lives, and he has also blessed us through his people, who I know love and care for us and are in this ministry.
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