July 13, 2011

It’s All About Attitude

When someone asks me (as often happens) how my missionary experience is going so far, I have a hard time giving a straightforward answer. My answer most often is “Good” or “OK,” even though I usually feel like saying, “Awful,” “Exhausting,” or “More than I can handle.”

I was supposed to go to Africa. In my mind I had a little hut picked out near a remote hospital, complete with a high malaria risk and a “real” missionary experience. But God closed that door and opened the window to Palau. I haven’t figured out why just yet, but I’m learning many things.
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My first discovery was that teaching is a lot different from how I thought it would be. Scratch that off my possible career list. Along with that realization came the thought that I would be doing this for a whole 10 months! (I beg you, be kind to your professors. Teaching is a lot harder than it looks.) After the first two weeks I wondered if I had misunderstood God’s leading. Parent conflicts, exhaustion, and a talkative class full of boys who are unaffected by punishments made me want to throw in the towel. Since then, however, I have clearly seen God’s hand at work. God placed me with this class, as difficult as they sometimes are, and I’m so grateful that He knew exactly where to put me.

My second discovery has come only recently. I had been taking each day as it came and counting down the days until I could head home. But I now realize that the success of this year will depend on one thing: my attitude. Not the attitude of my rebellious students (the you-can’t-make-me look) or the attitude of the parents (the you’re-too-young-to-know-what-you’re-doing look). In the end it all comes down to my attitude.

I’m tired, my mood changes more frequently than Michigan weather, and I cry out to God nightly for strength and wisdom. But I still can make a choice to do my best and to give my all to my kids, or to simply survive, making little impact on the children’s lives and  missing out on the reason God called me here. I can punish and threaten, resenting my students for my numerous headaches and for never remembering that my name is not Teacher. Or I can love them, despite their faults, and show them a small glimpse of Jesus’ love and justice.

God has called each of us to a place or to a person, and if we open ourselves to Him, He will use us. He may not take us exactly where we want to go. The experience may be difficult and use up a lot of energy. But God promises strength for the weary and comfort for the brokenhearted (see Isa. 40:29-31). We may feel inadequate, but in 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul says that he would rather boast about his infirmities so that the power of God might be revealed in him. I’m clinging to that promise.

Already I can see evidence of God working on my students. I’m learning as much as they are, and each week brings new challenges and new joys. I can honestly say that although I have a cold shower every morning, cockroaches in my classroom cupboard, piles of grading to do, and am being stretched far beyond my comfort zone, there is nowhere else I would rather be right now. I’m not in the remote African village that I had imagined, but I’m right where God wants me, and it’s a great place to be.
Courtney Tait is a junior biochemistry major at Andrews University. She was serving as a student missionary in Palau when she wrote this article.

Courtney Tait is a junior biochemistry major at Andrews Univeristy. She was serving as a student missionary in Palau when she wrote this article. This article was published July 14, 2011.