THE VOICE

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Equipped for a time like this

I remember telling my sixth grade camp counselor that, although I believed in God and I knew that heaven would be amazing, I secretly didn’t want Jesus to return because I had stuff I wanted to accomplish on this earth before being whisked away to another world.

Several Dordt College seniors lead chapel during their last semester on campus. Emily Wierenga spoke earlier this spring. Emily majored in political studies with a minor in international affairs. In her four years at Dordt she has been challenged to live Christianity not as a label but as a lifestyle, questioning the structures of this world and struggling with inconsistancies, while finding hope in persistance and joy in community. She will teach English in Korea next year.

Several Dordt College seniors lead chapel during their last semester on campus. Emily Wierenga spoke earlier this spring. Emily majored in political studies with a minor in international affairs. In her four years at Dordt she has been challenged to live Christianity not as a label but as a lifestyle, questioning the structures of this world and struggling with inconsistancies, while finding hope in persistance and joy in community. She will teach English in Korea next year.

I had big dreams for my life. God’s plans are big too, just different.

Toward the end of my freshman basketball season in high school, I tore my ACL (knee ligament), but I figured I would be back for my sophomore season. The week before tryouts, instead of just signing my sports physical, my pediatrician heard a heart murmur that he hadn’t heard before. I was devastated. I had open heart surgery on December 15, 2001. The procedure failed. A week in the hospital and dozens of specialists later, I was headed for my second open heart surgery and a new mechanical heart valve.

Still, my greatest concern was to get back on the basketball court as soon as possible. As the months went by and recovery progressed nicely, the possibility of playing in my junior year was looking bright—until, playing baseball with my brother, I tore my ACL again. Sitting in the hospital the night before my fifth surgery in one year, I was ready to quit. Basketball was out of the question. Looking back now, I know I was being melodramatic when I told my mom that I wasn’t going to live through the surgery.

It may sound a bit cheesy, but God gave me a hug. I was a bit disappointed that I woke up after surgery the next morning, yet from that point on, I have had no doubt that God exists.

A second defining time in my life was the semester I spent on the Middle East Studies Program (MESP). I learned to love Middle Eastern culture and made many friends. One in particular was my host sister Heba, who had recently graduated from Cairo University with a degree in English Literature. We had incredible conversations about politics, religion, gender roles, television shows, girl stuff—we covered it all. She asked me about the inconsistencies she has seen in Christianity, and I asked her about the differences between the Islam she described and the Islam I had encountered on the street. As I tried to answer Heba’s questions—questions that were never on any of my theology tests—I realized that just believing God exists was not the end of my spiritual journey.

In Cairo, I was able to serve at a Sisters of Charity orphanage in Mukattam or, as tourists call it, Garbage City. I will never forget the MESP program director telling us that he puts his food scraps in a sealed container and sharp objects in another container because a child likely will sort the trash. Seeing the poverty, walking the streets and seeing four, five, and six-year-olds sitting in piles of trash, sorting what could be reused and sold for food, my eyes were opened and I was left with a sense of urgency to help those children. Not just children like them, but those who are suffering and dying now.

Our main task at the orphanage was to love the children, to hold as many as we could. Many times we would lay one child on each leg, have one child curled up in one arm, while scratching another child’s back and making faces at two others on the floor. These children needed to feel a human touch. Sadly, most of them are not really orphans, but their families are too poor to feed them. Many infants go home once they are strong enough; handicapped children stay until the sisters can’t care for them anymore.

One little boy has back spasms. Every muscle in his back tenses up when his senses are overstimulated; so, if a child screams or the lights flash or even if he gets really excited, his body contorts. One day after this had happened several times, I picked him up and held him as tight as I could—purely for selfish reasons. I just wanted to make it better so I didn’t have to watch him suffer. I’d seen him wince from pain, but never cry. Even at such a young age he realized tears wouldn’t bring comfort. But after I had been holding him for a bit, his little body relaxed and instead of bending away he bent towards me and sank into my arms, looking up at me with tears in his eyes. I felt awful for the pain he felt, but it seemed as though for a time his humanity was restored and he was allowed to be a child, crying because something hurt. This broke my heart. And although it may seem like the typical “I went to an orphanage and it changed my life” story, I’m convinced that when you see what real pain, real hopelessness, real joy looks like, you begin to realize what breaks the heart of Jesus.

I spoke at my high school graduation and reflected on the story of Esther. I talked about how God had put each of us in the class of 2004 for a specific purpose, that he blessed us with Christian education so that we could flourish. My thoughts were focused only on how God was equipping me for my life. But when I read that story of Esther again, I see God’s hand at work in placing Esther in the position of queen and having Mordecai at the gate to intercept plans to murder the king. I found myself chuckling— the king forgets he owes Mordecai his life until one evening when he decides to have the records of his kingdom read to him—which happens to be the night before Haman plans to have Mordecai executed. Really? It’s not a coincidence that Esther was queen and that when she went to talk to King Xerxes about the plan to execute the Jews, he did not kill her, as he had done to his former wife in a demonstration of his power when she disobeyed him. God is not mentioned once in the book of Esther, but his hand is clearly at work.

It seems so obvious to me now that God didn’t put Esther in the place he did for her own well-being. It’s so easy to think that God has equipped us for a specific plan and that that plan is for me, my career, my relationships. But Esther’s story is not that at all. She was placed in that position for such a time as this—not to be queen, but to save the Jews. It wasn’t about Esther; it was about God’s people.

My sixth grade faith was admittedly one-dimensional—God exists. Good. And he is on my team. Even better. But MESP awakened the spiritual reality that it’s not about me, it’s not that I choose God, but that he has equipped me to be a blessing to this world and to be part of his larger plan. My challenge to you is to reflect on the very real ways God is working in your life. Perhaps it’s through trials, where he is gaining your trust or piques your interest, perhaps there are major changes in your life and you are taking a completely different path than you had intended, or maybe God just wants your attention focused back on him.

I share my story with you not for pity or comparisons sake, but as an example of how God’s hand is at work. I have no doubt that God gave me a passion for basketball so I could make it through a tough year. I have no doubt that God paved the way for me on MESP to open my heart to the marginalized. God’s plans are extravagant, and although we don’t know exactly what they are, I find it exciting to look out and see the very specific and unique gifts, talents, and even trials he is using to shape me and you and equip us for just such a time as this.

We praise you for moving mountains. For not just setting the world like a clock and letting us go. Thank you for your constant presence. Thank you making us a part of your plan. Help us, Father, to look to you for guidance, to be patient when our plans aren’t working out as we had hoped, and the logic of your plans surpasses our humanly wisdom. God, use us. We want to be a blessing to your world. Father, I lift up a special prayer for those children in Garbage City, the sisters who have dedicated their life to serving them, and the churches that faithfully support the charity. Father, give us a sense of urgency to be with those whose pain breaks the heart of Jesus. Show us these people and equip us to love them as you do. Father, in your son’s name, we lift this prayer, our goals, our lives.

Amen.