December 24, 2017

“There Is Nowhere Else I Would Rather Be”

Mary Johnson is a Seventh-day Adventist teacher of Spanish as a Second Language from Antioch, California, United States. Below is her story of mission service with Maranatha Volunteers International, a lay-led Seventh-day Adventist supporting ministry who builds churches and schools, and sponsors well-drilling and other compassionate initiatives around the world. In 2016, Johnson decided to take a year off to devote herself to short-mission trips. As of December 2017, she has participated in six mission trips in the last six months and has planned for another six before she returns to work in July 2018.—Editors

It’s September, and many of my teacher colleagues are just settling into another school year. Meanwhile, I am unpacking my bags and reflecting on the blessings and lessons learned from a recent mission trip with Maranatha Volunteers International. I am also packing my bags for an upcoming mission trip to India.

You see, although I have been teaching for 16 years, this school year I have the awesome privilege of taking a year off to participate in as many short-term mission trips as I can. What prompted me to do this?

Addicted to Mission

It all began in 1996, during my first year of college. I went on my very first mission trip with Maranatha to Guamuchil, Mexico. It was on this trip that I decided my life’s work. I had been enjoying taking Spanish classes, but my major was liberal studies. It wasn’t until I had a real conversation on the beach with a local about how great it is to work for God that I decided to major in Spanish and teach the language. The last Saturday night of the trip, a little girl said to me in Spanish, “There will always be a place for you here in Guamuchil.” Although I haven’t returned specifically to Guamuchil, there has always been a place for me in world missions.

More than a decade later, in 2013, I took on an extra job and had some extra cash. What would I do with the extra funds? Go on mission trips, of course! I took three mission trips that year, but I felt it wasn’t enough.

You can see I am addicted to mission trips. As soon as I get off the plane and see someone smiling and ready to pick me up, I feel at home. And think, “This is the life for me; there is nowhere else I would rather be!”

Moving Forward in Faith

For me, everything came full swing at the Maranatha Convention in 2016. I was sitting right there in the front row and saw a video of a lady in Africa who gave up her land so that Maranatha could build a church there. I thought, She is giving up so much. What am I giving up?

I had already decided to take time off for missions, but I wasn’t really making a sacrifice. I was still hoping that the school district would grant me a sabbatical leave, with partial pay. I wanted to hold on to the hope that God would secure my finances. However, after hearing the African lady’s testimony, I decided right away to step out on faith and apply to take the whole year off, even if it meant without pay. It was granted. They would hold my job for the school year, but I wouldn’t get any pay. That would mean that I would have to move in with my parents to save up the much-needed funds.

Even though I had prepared a budget and started saving, I witnessed how my bank account was like Gideon’s army—it kept getting reduced! I had unforeseen expenditures and had to get my car fixed!

God is Faithful

God, however, has been faithful. Friends and family have donated to my mission trips. People I hadn’t even met donated! My sister Angel and I decided to go to Guyana last summer. She raised her funds easily, but I was struggling. I had already bought my plane ticket and signed up to be the children’s ministry leader, but I hadn’t paid for the mission trip. I was confident, though, that God would provide. “If it God’s will, it’s God bill!” I would tell myself.

Angel has a friend that she sees at the gym. They would chat a bit in the locker room or on the treadmill or elliptical machine. My sister had been telling her friend about short-term mission trips, and her friend had said that she would like to donate for one. One day, my sister saw her friend working out with her purse. Who keeps their purse with them on the treadmill? A minute later, she whipped out her checkbook and proceeded to write out a check. My sister and I were pleasantly surprised to see that it was a check for $500! She said she was going to buy some furniture but then decided that she didn’t need it anyway. It is amazing to see how the Lord works things out!

There are other examples of church members randomly sending me checks and people giving donations at my garage sales. I even went selling Christian literature door to door. All I can say is that all my bills have been paid, and I have never had to cancel a mission trip due to lack of funds.

This experience has changed my life immensely! I am learning to live on faith every single day, and not on anything that I or any man can do for me. I am in better shape physically from the manual labor on these mission trips. I am also in better health because I don’t want to miss out on a trip due to illness, so I avoid unhealthy foods. I look at each day as a mission trip, in that each day is a day to serve others and tell them of God’s love.