Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Lessons from a missionary in Guatemala.
Despite our best efforts, despite our good intentions, despite the fact that we may have even done things correctly. They…just…don’t…turn…out.
Missionaries are the same as regular people, like you. We want to do well. We all want there to be fruit from our labors. We want those that we give our lives in service to, to appreciate our efforts and, even more so, we want the work we do for them to impact their lives for the better.
Yet it doesn’t always turn out the way that we had hoped. Sometimes the things we have taught are ignored; sometimes the truths we share are forgotten; sometimes, yes, sometimes people just want to do things their own way.
And when they do so, how are we called to respond and react? Sharie and I were faced with one such situation recently.
"Hannah" (name changed for privacy), one of the girls we had worked with for years, decided to leave the orphanage about two years ago. She was of age, had finished her studies, and a relative offered to get her a place to stay. The directive staff at the orphanage was opposed to the decision and did their best to encourage her to stay, but, despite their best efforts she chose to leave.
For a while, other than an occasional photo on Facebook, where she seemed to be doing well, we didn’t see or hear much from her. After about a year we felt led to reach out to her and it turned out her life was not as rosy as she would have had people believe. She had gotten a short term job, squandered her money, and, after ending up homeless and hungry, was staying with a friend, .
We immediately had her over to our house to pray, counsel, and encourage her. Over the course of a few months we got her a place to stay as well as a job, she did well, until she didn’t. At some point she became familiar and ungrateful with her situation and ended up losing both her job and housing.
After that, she went off the radar and we didn’t hear anything until one of the other girls we work with told us why; she had gotten pregnant.
Finding out that news was difficult. I was both frustrated with her and discouraged with myself. Where had I gone wrong? In what way had I failed her? Was there anything I could have done to avert this outcome?
I spent a lot of time in prayer, searching my heart. We love the “kids” we work with; we want the best for them. We know how hard it is for them to make their way in life as it is, much more so as single mother.
There were times when I cried, wishing I had done better. Wishing I had more to give her, wishing somehow, someway, that I could have done…something.
Sharie and I have been serving in Guatemala for 13 years, we have six children, yet, at times, due to the bonds forged over many years serving these children, it seems like we have more.
Julia, our oldest daugther is 17 years old. Even though we understand from a theoretical point of view that she is becoming an adult, is her own person and needs to make her own choices, we are finding the practical application of accepting that hard to deal with.
Realizing that our job is to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4, and trusting that if we “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6, is a hard to do when it finally comes time to letting go of them.
Yet it is a lesson we are learning.
We kept in contact with H., and when she had her daughter, we called her up to congratulate her. Even though the circumstances through which this came about are not ideal, we still believe in celebrating every life as the beautiful gift of God, which it is, something precious to be treasured and appreciated.
Sharie spent many hours in phone calls and messaging with her on Facebook, letting her know we loved her, cared for her and were happy that God had blessed her with a beautiful, healthy daughter.
We found someone who was traveling out to the small town where she was staying and prepared a gift package of baby clothes, toys, and necessities.
The reality of what our relationship is to these girls whom we have spent a lifetime pouring into, struck home the other day when she told Sharie that we were the only people to call her to see how she was doing, congratulate her pray with her.
It was at that moment that I got a greater sense of clarity, “The best-laid plans of mice and men, go oft awry”. We can plan, strategize and do our best to help these girls make the best of their lives, yet ultimately, they will go their own way, do their own thing, and have to learn from their mistakes.
Our job is not to make their decisions FOR them, but to BE there for them, a constant in their lives, so that when they fail, they will fail forward. When they fall, they will have someone to pick them up, and when they feel that no one cares for them or loves them, we will be there, just as our heavenly Father is for us.
We recently arranged for Hannah to come visit us. We celebrated her birthday and got to see her beautiful baby girl. We had cake and presents but, most importantly, we prayed for her and the responsibility she has as a mother to this child.
When I took her home that night, she thanked me for being there for her, for not judging her, for not condemning her, for caring for her and not giving up on her even though she knows she made some choices that we might disagree with. As we hugged and said goodbye I told her we love her because God loves her with an everlasting love and that He is always there for her, no matter what.
We are still in contact with her and will see where things go from here.