Friday, April 4, 2014

Letters to a New Missionary: Why Not?

Dear New Missionary,

image courtesy of
“Why....why Papua New Guinea?” You glanced at me, then ducked back behind your cup of coffee, studying the Starbucks logo with the intensity of an art critic. And I could hear the real question drumming beneath your interlaced fingers—how did you know where to go?

Paul fell asleep and a Macedonian man beckoned him longingly. Peter saw a vision and was told to go to Cornelius. An angel came to Joseph and gave travel instructions for Egypt. How did you know to go to Papua New Guinea over all the others?

I didn’t.

When Wycliffe first asked me where in the world I wanted to go, I had no clue. My call into Bible translation was clear enough, but the country? I shrugged. “I’ll go somewhere high need,” I told them. “And rural. I’d rather be rural.”

 “Catherine,” my recruiter’s skype image blurred, then reformed, “that’s pretty much all of Africa, Asia or the Pacific!” I stared back, blankly, not comprehending. “You’ll need to narrow it down. And,” she paused, “we’ll need to know in the next four weeks or so.”

The world carved down to one country in four weeks? I shivered, then began the monumental task of consulting every person I had ever known to spend any length of time overseas. I had the same thought as you—perhaps I would find a clue in one of their stories to help me know. And so I talked and emailed and read and prayed and prayed—with always this nagging little thought that perhaps...perhaps it was no good. At the time, I was also struggling through one of the darkest seasons of my life, and as I fought against the depression, I wondered how I would ever be able to hear the Lord’s voice when so many other things had seemed to fall apart.

But, oddly enough, Papua New Guinea (PNG) kept reappearing on the list. You’d fit well there, they told me. I was surprised. I knew about the country, of course—my mentors had served there, another close friend was passionate about it, but it had never before caught at my heart. Sure I could go—but why?

I skyped with another friend who had chosen to go to southeast Asia. “Why did you go there?” I asked. His voice caught in the static, then cleared. “It was a fit with my gifts, and they had a need. It wasn’t a matter of why—it was a matter of why not.”

Why not? The words seemed to dance with freedom—a release from the lightning bolts, the handwriting on the wall. Permission to trust. I took a deep breath, underlined Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life. In your presence, there is fullness of joy,” and I nodded.

Why not?

I looked down at my own cup, only a few swallows of the apple cider remained. “The passion for PNG did come, of course, not long after. And now, I can look back and see how marvelous His choice fits with my gifts and needs at this time. I love it there. But, more than anything, I appreciate the way the Lord did it—taking me in one of my darkest times and guiding me precisely through that labyrinth. If He could do it then and in that way,” I shrugged, “how can I not trust Him at other times?”

You nodded, crumpling the napkin absently as the businessmen at the table next to us shook hands over a successful transaction. “Thanks for sharing with me.”

“It was my pleasure—and perhaps, one day we'll be sharing stories on the mission field. Maybe even in Papua New Guinea!”

You grinned, “Why not?”