These are the necessities for the adventures in my life. Greeting new cultures with a smile and knowing there will be times I must choose my attitude in order to gain every ounce of opportunity from my travels. There have certainly been times of laughter, times of tears, times of listening to people’s stories, and times of observing and taking in the culture. These experiences have allowed me to learn more about the world I live in, the cultures I’m surrounded by, and the person I’m meant to be. They have also left me with countless stories, sharing the things I’ve learned about our world and about my life.
Several years ago, I completed a Discipleship Training School through Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Oxford, New Zealand. YWAM is an organization made up of adventure-seeking Christians from around the world who are willing to travel and share their life experiences with others. After completing discipleship training, I had the opportunity to staff the same type of school. I went back to New Zealand working in the office of YWAM in Oxford – but I passed up the opportunity to staff the school. After a few brief months I was on a plane back home. I’m not sure if I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of leading a team around the world or if I was simply feeling restricted by ‘rules,’ but I left. Immediately I knew it was a mistake, and the second my plane was in the air, I was in tears knowing I had given up the opportunity of a lifetime. I had grown to love the life of spontaneity, adventure, and travel, and I was heading back to my monotonous life of work and school in Michigan.
I was home for many months in agony, living with my decision to live a stationary life. My passion was buried along with my dreams of traveling the world again. I wanted nothing more than to teach others what it meant to dive into another culture and experience a different part of the world. I had no problem living out of a suitcase and adjusting to time differences. I didn’t mind eating exotic foods or speaking through a translator. It was difficult at times, but worth it when you were able to impact the life of another, sharing your story or listening to theirs. After returning home, I had difficulty connecting with this God I had such a close relationship with in New Zealand. I felt abandoned by Him when I returned home and didn’t know where to turn. I had given up my dream in New Zealand and felt I had lost my passion for God.
In the summer of 2007, I had been back in Michigan for five months. I finally began adjusting to life at home and had come to terms with the fact that I would just have to wait until I finished school before I was able to travel again. I found a church and my relationship with God was on the mend – it wasn’t perfect, but I was on my way. One fateful Tuesday afternoon, I received an email from the director of a YWAM base in Auckland, New Zealand saying I had been recommended by staff in Oxford and was being asked to staff a Discipleship Training School in Auckland. The only catch was school started in nine days. My faith had certainly shrunk since I had returned home and my first instinct was to disregard the email and go about my life. But there was a spark somewhere in the back of my mind that connected with this buried passion in my heart, and I knew that although the chances were slim, I had to go after this opportunity. The chance I had thrown away was being thrown right back at me.
I was working at a restaurant, I was supposed to start school the following week, and I had no money to buy a plane ticket, no travel insurance, and no way to pay the school fees in New Zealand. Logistically, staffing this school was impossible. I emailed a few close friends asking them to pray. Even though my faith had shrunk, I was being reminded of the miracles I had seen traveling in previous years and knew I had to try. In the following days, I was getting phone calls and emails from friends encouraging me to go to New Zealand. My parents, although reluctant, supported me going back to fulfill my dream. Then I received a phone call from a close friend who also worked with the YWAM base in New Zealand. She was planning to go back and staff later that fall. The previous Monday, before I had received the email asking me to staff, she had a dream. In the dream she was at the YWAM base in New Zealand sometime just after the beginning of the year. She was sitting in the office, and out of nowhere, I walked in to say hello. I was back in New Zealand, but she said in the dream I wasn’t living in Oxford anymore. I was doing something new in New Zealand and just stopped by for a visit. She awoke from the dream and checked her email and that’s when she received the email from me asking her to pray about this new opportunity of mine. She prayed for several days and was constantly reminded of her dream, which she then called to tell me about.
Before I knew it, I had quit my job, withdrawn from classes, and had the money I needed for a plane ticket to New Zealand. So one week after receiving the email, I was on a plane preparing to fulfill my dream of traveling to staff a Discipleship Training School. It was an amazing season of my life. I was given a lot of responsibility and had the honor of co-leading a team of nine students from eight countries from Guam to Saipan. After staffing the school, I was able to go back to Oxford for a visit. As I walked into the office to say hello to my good friend a few short weeks after the new year, I realized it was quite similar to the dream she had before I left. My passion for God was restored, my love for travel was rooted even more deeply in my heart, and my zeal for life was insurmountable. We can make wrong choices in life, but we can’t let those choices define us. I serve a God who is a lot bigger than a wrong decision. It simply took me a few trips around the world to realize it.
Photo: Kristen Wilkes