Wait! This Isn’t Africa!

 In Short-Term Volunteer, Volunteer

By Merlin M. | Short Term Volunteer

An old saying goes, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get!” Well, it has certainly proved true for me and my call to serve with Ciudad Refugio.  You see, I have always felt that my purpose was to someday serve as a missionary in Africa! And the Lord and I had an understanding (or so I thought) that in five years after I had achieved all my career and life goals; I would selflessly give up my cushy job and comfortable life to go slave away for the Lord under the hot African sun.  But it turns out though it was my plan; it clearly wasn’t God’s.  And as you might have gathered by now, the Lord sent me to Colombia, not Africa.

My connection with Ciudad Refugio began in November of 2017.  I came with an awesome team (GONDOLA for life!) from Times Square Church for a ten-day, short-term missions trip.  To be honest, my life and work were super busy before departing that I was in no way spiritually ready to serve and minister.  In fact, I contemplated many times to just cancel and not go at all. But that all changed the Sunday before I left. My pastor prayed for me and said the following: “May this trip be life-changing and forever alter the course of your life!” And after that prayer, something softened in my heart and I found my sense of dread was replaced with a sense of expectation.

When I arrived at Ciudad Refugio, I was blown away by how the ministry was serving in transforming lives and providing hope. What opened my eyes the most was how they selflessly ministered to those who society so often overlooks and discards as broken.  But through their efforts, they refine and redeem a sense of loss with the hope that only Christ provides.  Moreover,  the sheer scope of all they did with the resources they had, absolutely blew me away. And gently, I felt the Lord start to speak to my heart and ask two things of me:

1. Am I willing to come back and serve in Colombia?
2. Am I willing to return not just for 10 days but longer?

Meanwhile, I was actively trying to ignore the gentle whispers as “crazy talk” or my heart’s response to the need I saw around me. But still, the whispers persisted and continued to resound in my heart. So naturally, I began to have in-depth conversations with God which consisted of me trying to teach God geography (“Remember, you said Africa and Lord, this is Colombia. I think you have the wrong continent. Now, did you mean the Congo or Cameroon?” ) and of me trying to push my five year career plan with some benefits (How about instead of me going to Colombia I will faithfully institute a 20-30% tithing habit?)

While on the trip, I told some of my team members of what the Lord was speaking and they were so supportive and in many ways not surprised by what the Lord was speaking to me.  I, on the other hand, wanted to pull a Jonah and run anywhere other than where God was leading. But my resistance began to melt when I heard the sermon preached by a visiting minister the second Sunday of my trip.  He asked the following questions: “What if God destroyed all you know and hold dear for the salvation of just one soul? Are you ready to surrender to God’s will no matter the cost?” These questions pierced my heart and forced me to take a long reflective look at myself and how much I am willing to listen, obey, and surrender! It’s easy to sing on a Sunday morning, ” I have decided to follow Jesus” but am I actually willing to actually live it out; no matter the cost? The Lord broke my will and replaced it with His perfect will for me!

A few days later, I left Colombia with the gentle assurance that one day I would return and that it would be sooner than later. And true to His promise, that’s exactly what happened. Less than a year after my short term trip to Colombia, I am now back and serving for three months with Ciudad Refugio!

So I would encourage all of you who are reading this: Trust God with your life because as it says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

And as the Lord is teaching me, He always knows best and plans the best adventures for your life. Stayed tuned for more updates from my time and adventures at Ciudad Refugio!

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