My earliest memories are from a little village called Githumu in Kenya. Life was good. The school compound where we lived was on a ridge surrounded by tea plantations. My African friends and I explored our little world and made our own adventures. Encounters with chameleons, goats, and pinching ants were normal.
My biggest challenge was a speech impediment that may have been the result of hearing Kikuyu, English, and German every day, combined with an overeager desire to communicate. Change would not be easy.
When our family returned to Canada, I lived in a small community in southern Ontario, where I knew all our neighbours and life was good.
Overcome by fear
But the speech impediment didn’t go away. Reading out loud in class was particularly challenging, and my Grade 3 classmates didn’t exactly start a support group for me! In Grade 5, when my stuttering contributed to a demotion from the gifted class, I was determined to prove them wrong. I worked my way back into the gifted group in Grade 6 and earned straight A’s from then on. But many years later, I realized my inner resolve to overcome had also fostered a fear of failure.
I conquered my stuttering in grade school, but continued to fear public speaking. If you had told me during those teen years that my future life would involve speaking to thousands each year as part of my vocation, I would’ve said you were crazy.
When I finally came to the point of fully surrendering my life to Christ at age 19, I already had a long track record of trying to change in my own strength. My Pietistic upbringing and tendency toward self-discipline meant that prayer, Bible reading/memorization, church involvement, and abstaining from lifestyle sins all represented the accepted path to change.
The only problem was I couldn’t pull it off. I struggled with rebellion, secret sin, fear of others, fear of failure – and no amount of willpower or self-effort could sustain change. I gave up.
I still went to church, but on the inside, I had checked out.
During a one-year backpacking trip across Europe and the Middle East at age 19, the Spirit of God continued to pursue me. He used strangers, strange conversations, and strange experiences to nudge me in the direction of surrender.
Lasting change in our lives is not possible without yielding to God’s Spirit. King Saul, who clung to fear, lost his family, his kingdom, and his mind. David surrendered, found his security and identity in God (Psalm 27:1), and became a man after God’s heart.
While there are significant points in time when surrender happens, we soon realize that surrender is the new path we’re on as we follow Jesus – it’s not a single experience. Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). A humble, teachable attitude opens us up to God’s revelation and transforming power.
One sunny summer afternoon on a friend’s deck in cottage country, God gently exposed my fear of failure. As a young mission leader, my immediate response was, “I’m not a failure.”
The Spirit gently responded that I didn’t have to be a failure to have a fear of failure. He then took me back to that painful chapter of stuttering in grade school, and showed me how my resolve to change and prove people wrong had actually opened the door to fear. I could either be a Saul or a David in his kingdom. I chose David.
Over the past 30 years, God has repeatedly initiated change in my life. He speaks to me through my morning Scripture reading and journaling, and opens up new perspectives. Frequently, God calls me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, stretch my faith, and increase my dependence on him.
As an MB Mission family, we’ve experienced significant amounts of change. We’ve seen many new teams, mission locations, training strategies, and approaches. However, our primary value has been seeking God, not change. As we follow God on his mission, change is inevitable. It’s a journey of risk-taking obedience in forward motion.
I’m reminded of the psalmist’s words: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5–7).
The Valley of Baka is a place of adversity, where our situation is challenging. In the midst of tears, we experience an oasis of God’s strength.
As we bring our challenges to God in surrender and dependency, he meets us through his Spirit and we’re changed from strength to strength. Adversity is often God’s vehicle for change, as a spiritual desert becomes an oasis of God’s presence.