In 1994, I was a 19 year old college sophomore from Mississippi State University who went on summer missions with the Baptist Student Union. I was sent to California where I met Greg Sumii, who was the director of the summer missions program for the California State Baptist Convention. We had an orientation in the mountains at the state baptist camp called Jenness Park and two life changing events happened to me there. First: I met my future wife, Erika. She was a college student from the University of Alabama who was also a summer missionary. And, she was really hot. She still is. I remember the first time I saw her. We talked later, and while everything was very spiritual and godly in nature, a connection was formed that we nurtured throughout the summer by writing letters. When we returned to our universities, we stared dating (MSU and Alabama are only 90 miles apart). But, I digress.
Second: I was taught the mantra of the California BSU Summer Missionary: Pray. Be Flexible. Have a Good Attitude. I was so open and teachable at the time that it made an incredible difference. I digested that teaching and incorporated it into my spiritual DNA. I did Vacation Bible Schools all summer, and I prayed for the kids each and every day. I prayed for them until my heart was broken and I found myself weeping over them. I prayed for their souls, and before every presentation of the gospel with either children, youth, or adults that summer, I prayed that God would break me and anoint me with the power of His Spirit. We saw over 60 decisions for Christ that summer from our little team of myself and another girl from a community college in Mississippi. God answered prayers.
I also learned to be flexible. Plans were changed at the last minute. Things did not go as planned. Host homes fell through and supplies were not available. It didn’t matter. I was flexible, right? Along with that came a consistent practice of having a good attitude. Whatever came my way, I made it a habit to praise God and not complain. After a week in the mountains with 40 teenagers, I became deathly ill. Apparently, they meant it when they said that you were not to drink the water from the mountain streams. I developed some type of intesinal sickness that produced diarrhea that left me dehydrated. I passed out one day from it. The problem was, I had been placed in a home by my host family across the street from them. He was a pastor and he arranged for me to stay in the home of a neighbor while they were on vacation. While I was sick, neither he nor his wife came to check on me. Barefoot and delirious, I wandered over there one day and said that I was dehydrated and needed some Gatorade. This was after I had passed out on the floor of the bathroom. The pastor’s wife gave me the keys to the van and sent me to a convenience store. Still barefoot and delirious, I drove to get myself something to drink. I did not complain or even see anything wrong with the way I was being treated. I was thankful for the Gatorade and the relief that it provided. After praying for myself profusely, I recovered and was able to continue with mission work throughout the rest of the summer. I wish I still had that attitude all the time now, but I was a missionary, right? How could I see things any differently?
I only tell that story because there was something very powerful in Greg Sumii’s ministry to me that summer. I learned that when I am serving the Lord it is not about me. It is about Him and the people that He is sending me to. Problems may arise and difficulties may come, but our strength is in the Lord. My wife and I taught these three principles to the 23 from our church who went down to the Gulf Coast on the mission trip last week. We ingrained it into the children and whenever fatigue or crankiness would begin to set in, we would remind them of the 3 Rules for Missionaries. It worked great. We had a great plan of having a 4th of July Picnic for all of the people that we had met in Waveland, and when the skies opened with a deluge 5 minutes after the picnic started and we got completely rained out, no one complained. The kids had joy playing in the rain and we just changed our plans and delivered the food to the people instead. We had enough left over for a group of 15 teenagers who were helping work on a home as well. God was glorified through the food we delivered as well as through our attitudes.
Those lessons learned long ago have served me well. I am thankful to Greg Sumii and the Baptist Student Union Summer Missions Program. I am thankful that I met my wife there. I am also thankful that God taught me through all of that that we are all missionaries all the time and we need to always pray, be flexible, and have a good attitude! I confess that I often fall short of those ideals, but when I think back to that life shaping experience, I am reminded of the power of simplicity and obedience.