My seventh-grade teacher used to tell my class about the concept for a book he’d always wanted to write: the “what ifs” of history. What if … Columbus had actually made landfall in India? … the South had won the Civil War? … Archduke Ferdinand hadn’t been assassinated? Any number of present circumstances might differ: the side of the road on which we drive, the language in which you’re reading this, and so on.
If, if, if. My missionary story is full of this wee conjunction. One may argue that the trajectory to my dream job began at my Baptism, but scene 1 of my version opens, coincidentally, in seventh grade.
Seventh grade was my first opportunity to study a foreign language. I’m sure there were other outlets for turning out bilingual kids in a major metropolis in the nineties, but the opportunity hadn’t crossed my path until my parochial grade school announced its slate of elective classes for the coming academic year. I was dead set on French for no other discernible reason than I had a friend obsessed with Monet paintings. While visions of berets and baguettes danced in my head, I reluctantly settled for the only available offering: Spanish.
And the Rest Was … History
- If I hadn’t started taking Spanish in seventh grade, I wouldn’t have logically continued with it to fulfill my high school’s two foreign language credit requirements.
- If I hadn’t breezed through the introductory levels, my sophomore Spanish teacher wouldn’t have suggested I major in it.
- If her words hadn’t cemented Spanish as one of my favorite subjects, my interest wouldn’t have been piqued when my mom asked if I wanted to go on a church-sponsored mission trip to El Paso, Texas.
- If I hadn’t had an academic foundation for what I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt in the borderland, I wouldn’t have been captivated by the Latin vibes of the people, food, music, worship, and more.
- If I hadn’t had a transformational short-term mission experience, I wouldn’t have resolved to 1) major in Spanish and 2) spend more than a week in El Paso eventually.
- If I hadn’t majored in Spanish, I wouldn’t have spent a semester studying in Spain.
- If I hadn’t lost my gringa accent and gained confidence and wanderlust, I wouldn’t have followed through on my vow from years prior, applying to serve as a GEO missionary on the US/Mexico border upon graduation.
- If I hadn’t been so choosy when my term ended, I wouldn’t have landed a job at the LCMS’s publisher, in St. Louis, that required a bilingual candidate.
- If I hadn’t been working in marketing for multilingual theological resources, I wouldn’t have been exhibiting at a conference in January 2017.
- And if my future boss hadn’t wandered over and struck up a conversation with me, I wouldn’t be sitting at a coffee shop in Santiago, Dominican Republic, five-plus years into my appointment as a career missionary with the LCMS, tracing my path to the mission field … for the second time.
A The Man with a Plan
There is no happenstance in the kingdom of God. Seeming coincidental flukes are carefully orchestrated steps in the Creator’s divine plan. Take these biblical ifs; each shows the masterful workings of the Almighty:
- If God didn’t deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, they’d remain faithful anyway (but He did) [see Daniel 3].
- If there is any encouragement in Christ, the brotherhood of believers can live in ever-increasing harmony (and His humility sets us a daily example) [see Philippians 2].
- If we have faith as small as a mustard seed, mountains will move (and the prayer for increased faith is always answered with a yes by our gracious Father) [see Matthew 17].
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). My story is perhaps unique in that I determinedly sought out my first stint in the field, but Someone led me there, and that same Someone will “bring [His good work] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Scripture: ESV®. Copyright © Concordia Publishing House.
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