I considered myself a world traveler. I’d been there, done that, and got the t-shirt from Australia and New Zealand as a high school freshman. I’d flown solo around the world to Vietnam at seventeen. I’d circled the globe again as a college freshman to China, flown south to Mexico, and even walked the shores of beautiful Belize. So in the spring of 2012, when I was invited to go to India on a mission trip, I was ready. (You know what’s coming next.)
Say it with me: “I – was – not – ready.”
I was a mess. I AM a mess. Or as Mandi Mapes sings, “I’m a high-class, screwed up mess.”
Maybe in seasons prior, I felt less like a screwed up mess, like somehow I deserved to travel the world sharing the love of Jesus. Not this time. I had just relocated to Alabama two months prior. I didn’t have a job; I was afraid of the future. But there I sat, on a plane the size of the Titanic, squirting hand sanitizer on my hands, hoping it would rub off not only the unwelcome microorganisms, but also the fear and weariness I was feeling.
It was November. I’d begun preparations for the trip in May. Six months. Six crazy months of wondering why I was even alive on planet Earth, much less traveling her hemispheres talking about a Love that alters everything.
I was traveling 8,000 miles with E3 Partners, a ministry organization dedicated to equipping God’s people in evangelizing and establishing His church by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the globe. We were spending eight days in the country sharing the Gospel, paired with an American teammate and a national ministry partner. We would walk the streets of our assigned area, led by the Spirit to spark conversations and pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus. If people accepted Christ, we started a Bible Study right then and there. It sounded simple enough.
When you call on the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities, He gives you opportunities.
On the first day, I found myself sitting in a modest home — no paint or pictures, just a rug and a plastic chair. We were sharing the story of Jesus. Eight women were my captive audience while barefoot children scurried in and out. It was hot. The door was open, and sunshine was spilling in. Eight women accepted Christ that day. Eight women held a Bible in their hands for the first time. My spirit was in awe. I’d grown up singing about the wonder working power, and now I’d witnessed it.
Chaya, one of the women there, invited us to come to her house the next day. We told them we’d return.
I woke up the second day filled with anxiety. Even though I had witnessed God’s wonder-working power the day before, I woke up still dwelling on little ole me. Fear and weariness lingered like an old habit. I’d packed a suitcase weighing 50 pounds that sat on the floor of my hotel room, but the baggage in my heart weighed heavier.
I grabbed a leader that morning and pleaded, “I can’t do this. I don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t make me go out today.”
I was hoping my fear would invoke a cocktail of pity and empathy, just enough to let me stay behind. I felt like a coward: weak, pathetic and afraid. I looked around the room at breakfast and felt the joy of my teammates. But then I heard the voices in my head saying, “How’d you get here you fool? Look at them; they really love Jesus. You? You’re just a scared little coward.”
Remember how I said I was invited to India? Maybe you thought it was a weird way to say, “I was called to go.” Well, I was invited — by my boyfriend. Truth be told, I’m not sure I was ever really called to go. I pretty much told the Lord I wanted to go, and if He wanted to stop me, He could.
“I love you Jesus, and people in India need to know about you. I care about this man, and I like this invitation…you cool with this?” I asked Him. But my question was met with silence.
Great way to enter a mission trip, right? Hold your applause.
I snapped back to reality when my leader called me by name, looked me in the eye, and then hugged me. She saw me for who I was, and she loved me anyway. “Rebecca, you love them the way you’ve been loved; trust Jesus with the rest,” she said.
Her words spilled over my heavy heart like healing oil: Love them the way you’ve been loved. God didn’t see me as a coward, weak, pathetic or afraid. He looked at me, and all He could see was His daughter, a daughter who didn’t believe who she belonged to.
“You don’t save people, your Father does,” she reminded me.
When we returned to Chaya’s house, four teenage girls were in attendance. To squeeze us all into the tiny room, the girls and I all sat on the makeshift bed, a table with thin blankets on top. If I reached out to touch them, they would giggle — my porcelain-like skin glowing on their beautiful, brown complexions. One of the girls, Yogita, spoke broken English, taught to her in school but certainly never put into practice with a native English speaker. She asked questions, and her friends rolled their eyes as if they were jealous, but uninterested at the same time.
We had been studying for some time when the Yogita’s timid voice turned brave. As if she couldn’t contain it any longer, she exclaimed, “Learn our names!”
Even though I had asked their names at our initial encounter, my poor memory failed me. Timidly, I practiced the little Marathi I knew, pointing to each girl saying “Tuje nau?” (What is your name?).
My palms began to sweat. I’ve never been an auditory learner. I knew that if these names were going to stick, I needed to see them written.
I pulled out my journal and pen and handed it to Yogita and asked, “Can you write your names for me?” They scripted their names in Marathi, a language so visually stunning it looked like ancient Hebrew. They looked up and smiled, knowing this wouldn’t cut it either. So Yogita grabbed the pen and wrote on the top of the page the phonetic spelling of their names: Yogita, Gauri, Prenali, Prajakta.
I looked up and touched each one as I repeated their names, “Yo-Gee-Ta” and the girls erupted in laughter. I kept going. “Gauw-ree. Pray-nall-ee.” I turned to Prajakta, and asked with a smile, “Can I call you Praj?”
That was all it took. Pure elation erupted as the girls threw back their heads and laughed at this funny white girl.
My laid-out plans for sharing the Gospel had been interrupted by a simple request to learn names. “Learn our names.” It reverberated in my mind. It touched my soul just as tangibly as my friend had touched me that morning, “Rebecca, you love them the way you’ve been love; trust Jesus with the rest.”
We were studying Matthew 6:9, which states, “Our Father in Heaven...” He asks us to call upon Him with confidence: Abba, Father, Jesus. We are His children! He adopts us into His family. I looked around at the women and realized I was sitting with new family members, fellow children of our Father.
When I left Chaya’s house that day, they looked at me and asked, “Can we call you Dede?” I smiled and looked curiously at my translator.
He tilted his head and said, “It means big sister.”
He changes our names. He changes us.
Learn My Name
I spent the rest of my week discipling new believers and sharing the love of Jesus with many others, including my four teenage sisters. By the grace of God, we were able to see 709 people come to Christ (1128 heard the Gospel), and 33 new fellowships started while we were still on our trip. They have been multiplying ever since.
Who am I? How could I ever claim any of the work I participated in as my own? I’m the high-class, screwed up mess, remember?
God let me go to India because He loves me deeply.
Remember my boyfriend who invited me to go to India? I’m sad to say that relationship is over, and I am currently in the throes of heartbreak. Remember the feelings of cowardice and unbelief I experienced while there? Still struggling with that at times; however, I wake up each morning knowing I am loved with the deep, unfathomably wide and rich love of my Father as I cling to the new name He’s given me: daughter.
I am loved by a God who reaches down and stoops to sit on a makeshift bed with me. If I listen closely, I can hear Him with excitement, “Learn My name!”