A God Who Pursues
Discouraged. Disheartened. Disqualified. That is how I felt in 2009. I was suffering the aftermath of a divorce and was, to tell the truth, hiding from the Lord. I felt so much shame, and I believed that my divorce had disqualified me in the eyes of the Lord. I had stopped going to church because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through, and I was convinced that God couldn’t or wouldn’t want to use me anymore because of what had happened. I felt hopeless.
However, our God is a God who pursues, and, even though I was doing my best to hide from Him, He found me. He led me to a godly counselor who encouraged me to reengage with the Lord, to return to church, and to refocus my perspective. She explained that when we are so absorbed in our own circumstances, we lose sight of the circumstances of those around us. She recommended that I take my eyes off of myself by serving others. Following her advice, I returned to church, reconnected with my Bible study group, and researched opportunities to serve. Again, the Lord led me and revealed an opportunity to travel on a short-term mission trip to the Philippines. Little did I know before I went what God would set in motion. I left for the Philippines still feeling far from the Lord, still questioning what He could really do with my life, still struggling and feeling dead inside. After ten days, I left for home feeling close to Him, thanking Him for opening my eyes to the world of missions, feeling alive again and excited about what He would do in my life next.
During my time in the Philippines, the Lord began His healing process in my heart. Since I was a young girl, I had known Christ as my Savior, yet I hadn’t—until this point—experienced His restoration power so strongly at work in my life. Facing my own brokenness allowed Him to begin restoring the broken places in my heart, and facing the brokenness of the world allowed Him to begin giving me a heart for all who live in it. Seeing such extreme poverty, giving food to the hungry, visiting those in prison, serving in slums—all of these experiences opened my eyes to a world that is hurting and is in need of hope, a hope that only comes through knowing Christ. A hope that He, on this very trip, reawakened within me. He used this short-term experience to draw me back to Him, to fill me with His truth, and to challenge me to use the rest of my life in His service. He made it clear to me that He could and wanted to use me, that I wasn’t disqualified! I wasn’t sure then what He meant or what He would do. I simply knew that there was something about this short-term mission experience that made me feel alive and hopeful once more.
When I returned to the United States, I resumed my full-time job teaching high school English. I planned to continue to use my spring break and summer vacations to pursue short-term mission trips, so over the next four years, I went many places, always seeking the Lord, watching for Him to reveal His next steps for me. I did not return to the Philippines; however, I served with mission teams in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, Rwanda, and South Africa. In almost every country, there was an opportunity to serve long-term, and although I was ready, willing, and able to go, the Lord never gave me peace about taking that step. Instead, it was a time of listening to the Lord and learning to wait on His timing and direction. However, each short-term trip taught me new things about myself, about others, about Him, and each trip provided experiences that—unbeknownst to me at the time—prepared me for serving long-term.
In Colombia, I was able to share the gospel for the first time. In Rwanda, I learned about resilience and hope in the face of extreme tragedy and suffering. In the Dominican Republic, I learned how to fully surrender to the Lord. In South Africa, I learned how to listen for the voice of God. And in Cuba, I learned God’s direction for my life.
Of all these countries I visited during those years, I fell in love with Cuba. People often ask me why, and I can never formulate an explanation. I truly believe that God planted a love for this country and its people in my heart. After serving there on three short-term summer trips, my church made the decision not to send teams to the island anymore. I was heartbroken. My heart for Cuba had grown so strong, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not returning. I just knew that the opportunity to serve in Cuba long-term was impossible, yet I should have known better. All things are possible with God! He knew all along the plans He had for me. He knew all along that the opportunities to serve in those other countries were not what He had for me. He knew all along that a long-term position to serve in Cuba was coming. He knew all along that I needed to go through all of the things I experienced during short-term trips because they were a part of His refining process of preparing me for a total life transformation. He knew all along that change was coming to Cuba and that new opportunities to serve alongside the Cuban Church would arise. And He knew all along that the one who once felt so disqualified would be the one He would call and equip to go.
I am so thankful that our God is a God who pursues, a God who restores, a God who gives hope. I know this first hand, and He used each short-term mission trip to reveal this truth to me. There are many people around this world who are hiding from Him, suffering in brokenness, living without hope. Yet they don’t need to. There is someone who can help them. That someone is not me. Although I have been called to serve long-term and although I have decided to go, I am not the answer. Yet I know what—Who—the answer is. So I go to those who need to know. I go to those who feel like I once did. I go to the discouraged, the disheartened, the disqualified. I go to give them hope, the very same hope He gave me. The very same hope He longs to give us all.
By: Polly Paulson, Serving Cuba