My Journey So Far
Looking back is the surest way to have confidence in God’s leading.
FAMILY: Fiona and her mom at Miami International.ears ago, a friend said to me, “When God shuts the door, don’t jump through the windows.” I’m sure he meant to impart profound wisdom; but his statement led only to more questions: How do I know that it’s God who’s shut the door, and not the enemy? And if God indeed shut the door, how do I know that He isn’t testing me to see whether I really want what I am pursuing? How do I know that He isn’t testing my perseverance before He chooses to act on my behalf?
These words about “doors” and “windows” have stayed with me through subsequent years. I’ve experienced uncertainties, disappointments, apparently wrong turns, and “what ifs.” My experiences sometimes mocked the implication that I could actually discern God’s activity in my life. There have been “doors” at various junctures in my life and, I confess, I have not always known which ones to open, let alone walk through.
Knowing God’s will and being able to discern His leading is seldom easy. Yet it must be possible, for didn’t Jesus teach us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10, KJV)?
I don’t presume for a moment to suggest that I have “cracked the code,” or that I have finally realized all that my heavenly Father desires for me. But I do know there is a commonality in the human story that begs to be told, if only to assure us that we are not alone in this journey of spiritual growth—as well as to encourage and strengthen each other.
God Never Forgets
As a young child I believed God took a personal interest in me. I was probably around 6 or 7 when I went to my mother with a tummy ache. She suggested that we pray and ask Jesus to take the pain away. Right there and then He did, and I made up my mind that God must be real; He had heard and answered my prayer, and I just knew He loved me.
Born in Sheffield, England, I moved with my mother to Jamaica at the age of 5 where I spent the rest of my childhood. After my baptism at 12 I had an inexplicable burden to tell others about Jesus. While other 13-year-old girls in my class aspired to be lawyers, dentists, pilots, or teachers, I wanted to be a missionary doctor. I thought one had to become a doctor in order to be a missionary, a dream quickly quelled by my chemistry teacher, who reminded me of my aptitude for the subject.
FELLOW TRAVELERS: Student missionary Steve Connell (far left) and Japan Union Conference Adventist language school director Mark Duarte flank students Masahiro and Jiro at a summer Bible camp.But God never forgot; and He never let me forget. Years later, at camp meetings in Scarborough, England, I sat and listened with rapt attention to sermons by Henry Wright, Dick Barron, Stafford Byers, and Melvyn Hadyn. In my mind’s eye I can still see Elder Wright preaching on the seven churches of Revelation and speaking to my heart when he said, “No matter how rough it gets, stay in the church!”
I didn’t realize it then, but God was building my faith and convicting me that serving Him was the best decision I could make. I listened enthralled to returning student missionaries as they shared their adventures. I pored over the Adventist Youth Society “call book,” dreaming of the work I would do in these places.
We often read Psalm 37:4 (KJV)—“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart”—as God giving us whatever our hearts desire. But I believe He often gives us what we desire by placing in us a particular passion or burden. I vividly remember one hot, humid, August night while visiting my mother, who was then living in Florida, United States. I was about to start university the following month and I was filled with a sense of excitement: I was on the threshold of life. Lying there on my mother’s bed, with my eyes wide open, I began to talk out loud to God in a way that stays with me still. I sensed I was not alone, and that God was taking note of everything I said.
I promised Him that if He would place His hand on me and guide me, I would do what He asked me to do, go where He sent me, and say what He told me to say. I told Him that sometimes in the future I would probably make mistakes but to keep the sentiments of this prayer on file and to save me in spite of myself.
My experience that night has stayed with me for many reasons. That night the Holy Spirit visited me and gave me what God needed most from me: a willing heart.
God kept that passion for mission burning in my heart. Finally, in August 1995 I left England for my mission adventure. The adventure was to start long before I arrived in Seoul for orientation: I missed my flight from England to Paris, then my connecting flight to Seoul, and had to spend the night in Paris. Returning to Charles de Gaulle Airport, I spent the next day with Yumi, a young Japanese woman living in France. After we were both bumped from our flight, she invited me to spend my second night with her in her friend’s apartment.
NOT ALL WORK: The coming of the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival saw Fiona practicing her ceremonial moves with a Sakura teacher.I learned by that experience that God has a sense of adventure, and if I didn’t get too hung up on having to be in control, I just might have fun. I recognized God in that situation and decided to go with the flow and see what happened. The next morning, as I ate freshly baked French bread on a balcony overlooking the cobbled streets of Paris, I understood that if we let Him, God likes to surprise us with more than we bargain for.
Yield to God’s Right of Way
Japan captured my imagination more than any other country, and I planned to give God one year of service before returning to England. The “five-year plan” I had devised for myself after my stay in Japan involved returning home, getting a job, building a career in IT, getting married, buying a house and a car, and having children.
I enjoyed my year in Tokyo. There were challenges, mostly from people with whom I served, but I loved teaching my students. Still, I was determined to go home at the end of the year. I had a five-year plan!
But in the space of several weeks, Masaki Shoji, then pastor of the Amanuma Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Erisa, director of the Ogikubo School where I served, and countless students began suggesting I stay another year. I felt sure there was a conspiracy; even more so after Mark Duarte, Language Institute director in Japan, called to ask if I would consider staying another year.
I wrestled with the idea for weeks and had no peace. To tell the truth I was afraid to ask what God wanted, because I just knew I’d get an answer I didn’t want to hear. Then I wouldn’t have an excuse for not doing it! I had a plan and I wanted to stick with it. No more tiring long days and sleepless nights for me. No more being misunderstood and misjudged by those I served with. I was going home.
I finally had a conversation with God in which I told Him what I wanted. I can still remember the still, small voice asking, “What about what I want?”
“I don’t want to ask You what You want,” I replied, “because You’ll ask me to do something I don’t want!”
I realized then that I still didn’t truly trust God. Deep in my heart, I believed God would make me do things that would make my life miserable and unbearable. But fighting against Him had already made life unbearable, so what did I have to lose? The moment I decided to stay in Japan another year I had peace. In my experience, when there is doubt, there is no peace, and that is usually a warning to me that I’m venturing out on my own.
LITTLE ANCHOR: “Pint-sized dynamo” folk at the language school called Fukishima-san their “Japanese grandmother.” She was always there for them.That second year in Japan was one of the happiest years of my life. Some of my family warned, “You’re taking yourself out of circulation,” and “You’ll never find a husband.” But in that year my students opened up to me in ways I never thought possible, and my friendship with God really blossomed. As I developed friendships with my students they developed an interest in Jesus, and attendance at Bible classes and vespers grew. God blessed me in my ministry and I learned that surrender and willingness are not “one time” events, but that we consciously have to keep our hearts tender and submitted to God all the time in order to be susceptible to His leading.
Coaching experts say that fear—fear of pain, failure, or change—prevents us from making the steps necessary to go through the door. Satan often uses fear to cripple us and prevent us from taking the necessary steps to experience the abundant life Christ wants to give. Rather than step into the unknown, which requires faith, we prefer to stay with what we know and have, even though that may be killing us spiritually, physically, or emotionally. The call to step outside ourselves, into the unknown, requires a leap of faith and is really a call to give up on ourselves.
What the apostle Paul called the carnal man (Rom. 7) is simply that petulant part of me that prefers to do things my way. Before, I figured that if I let God take the reins it was going to hurt. And I figured I could handle the pain if I was in control.
After Japan, I traveled back to England via California, where I visited my friend, Heather, at Weimar Institute. While I was there Heather said, “You know, Weimar is always looking for people to serve; and there’s a vacancy.”
As in Japan, I immediately recognized God using Heather to get my attention. I had no desire to work at Weimar Institute, but I knew by now it was pointless to kick back. I had an interview, and several weeks later when I was back in England a letter offering me a job dropped through the mail slot in my door. One problem: They wanted me to start the second week in February, and I wanted to tour Spain with my local church choir in April.
THESE ALSO: A busy workweek often ended in Sabbath afternoon ministry at a local orphanage. And summer brought vacation Bible school activities, involving kids like this precious twosome posing with the author.I was determined to go to Spain, so I delayed filing my visa application in a bid to buy time. I imagine that God looked upon this little charade with bemusement. When I returned to work after the Christmas holidays, my employer informed me that all contracts were ending sooner than expected. Mine was to end the second week in February. I realized that my arms are much too short to box with God, and was astute enough to recognize His voice saying, “Enough already!”
The Holding Pattern
There is something about going around the same mountain. When I get tired of the unchanging scenery I finally ask God to show me what lesson I am missing and learn it. Some people make changes only after they understand what God is doing in their lives, and why. These people take longer to learn and accept change than individuals who see what needs to change, make the change, and move on.
When I was recently in a “holding pattern,” it dawned on me that perhaps I am not meant to have things always figured out. The most important thing is not what, where, or how, but simply Who. If my driving ambition in life is, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done,” I can trust God to make it happen. My focus shifts from trying to read the signs to simply trusting and waiting on God.
This doesn’t always sit easily with my “type A” personality. But God often uses uncertainty to crucify our carnal need to be in control.
I have learned that God is on my side, and that He is more than able to work out all things together for my good. In fact, Paul wrote that Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, my mess-ups or apparent wrong turns are just opportunities for Jesus to show Himself strong on my behalf. And when He demonstrates His power, all kinds of exciting things happen.
As I have understood more about how God leads me, I have learned more about who my Father really is. His name is God for a reason—He really is God. As long as He keeps being God, I know that I am in good hands, whichever direction He leads. My job is to remain in a relationship with Him and trust Him; not whine, become petulant, or complain when He doesn’t reveal what I think He should when I think He should. I may not even read the signs correctly when He does. But He’s big enough to work it all out for my ultimate purpose—salvation.
I can trust Him to do that.
Fiona Peart lives in Manchester, England, where she works for the United Kingdom’s largest transportation company. In ministry she enjoys using her spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, and singing.