Only the Perfect Need Apply
He failed to mention it was a phone interview.
I was walking with my friend Julia near the mouth of the James River when his call came. I would graduate in two months, and needed to escape for a few hours. As we had done every week for months, Julia and I laid in the sun, talked about what the future would look like, and then went for a stroll. Walking and chatting kept me calm in the face of my looming commencement.
Commencement. To begin. To start. Start what? Barring any horrendous misstep on my part, I was graduating a year early with honors.That seemed like a good place from which to commence. We were in the middle of a recession, but no one on college campuses talks about bad job markets. It’s horrible for morale. We chose to believe the possibilities were infinite. So, I prayed about what to do, and I talked about what to do, and then I prayed some more.
I knew I wanted to be in ministry and I loved working with the international community. The dream was (and has always been) to work in the justice and mercy field, in foreign countries if possible, but maybe I could start by ministering in other ways. Hey, I speak Italian, am familiar with Italian culture, and have family in Italy. I also knew the spiritual need in Italy is great, and human trafficking is running rampant through the major cities. It seemed like a logical place to start exploring those limitless possibilities that were printed on my commencement packet. Yeah, I could see myself teaching English, fighting trafficking, and church planting in Italy. Why not? God is awesome!
A Google search brought me to one site whose name I cannot remember now. I emailed their director and asked if I could schedule a time to just ask some questions. He seemed enthusiastic and we set a time to chat. Walking by the river on a sunny April afternoon, Julia and I said a quick prayer that my questions would be answered and maybe doors would open; then I waited for the ring.
His voice had a twang to it like a guitar string plucked. He said he was a southern man, and retired military, some sort of army captain turned missions director. He struck me as sarcastic and biting, rough and rude, but I was so curious and excited I didn’t mind…at first. I only had a few questions, but it wasn’t my turn to ask anything yet.
First, he asked me for my testimony. I gave him the story of my faith, my journey with Christ up until this point. It seemed to satisfy him. I assumed that it was now my turn to ask something, but his interrogation wasn’t over.
“So miss, have you abused drugs or alcohol?”
“We would have to do a background check on you before we took you on, do you understand that?”
“Are you married?”
“Are you a pedophile or have a history of pedophilia?”
“Have you remained sexually pure?”
I watched Julia’s face she listened to me answer this man’s questions; she shot me a concerned frown. My hand pinning the phone to my ear started to shake a bit, as did my voice with each “no sir,” “yes sir.” The man grunted a short “good” to each of my responses. So far, I’d passed the test. At last, he wanted to know if I had any questions.
“Uh…well, I am a little concerned because I have some college debt that will start in November and…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, little lady! How much debt are we talking here?”
I told him my first two years were already paid and I just had to pay for the last two.
“Well,” he chuckled. “How did you let something like that happen? You should have thought about that before you decided to become a missionary, missy. We can’t use you until you have all of your debt paid off. And you’ll need to get your Master’s in Divinity before we’d consider you. Columbia University has a great program that we recommend. So, pay off those loans, get your Masters. Until then, we can’t really use you.”
I asked him how I could pray for his church, thanked him and hung up. My phone almost took a short flight into the James River, but I shoved it in my back pocket instead. Why did I need a graduate degree from Columbia to serve in a church as a parishioner? I didn’t want to be a preacher! How was I supposed to pay for a degree from Columbia when I apparently needed to be debt free before I could serve? And hypothetically, what if I was a new believer who had lived a crazy life of sin before coming to Christ? Would someone with a past like that have any hope of serving the kingdom even if Christ had redeemed them? It took a while before I stopped shaking.
“What was that?” Julia asked.
“A closed door.”
Do you know something? I’ve carried that conversation for three years and didn’t even realize it. This past week, I met with two missionaries on their way to Peru. They asked if I had ever thought about even short term missions. I told them that I had felt a call to serve internationally since I was a little girl, but the timing was always off. The woman cocked an eyebrow and frowned, mulling over my excuses. That evening, as I was meditating on what they had shared and what I had said, God revealed another shadowy partition of my heart. I am wounded and afraid. The timing isn’t off; I live in God’s timing and He can send me whenever He wants! I live in God’s mercy, so I don’t have to be perfect to serve!
That day by the James, I had one of my greatest fears echoed back to me: God can’t use me. I’m too mired in crud to be used by God. My debt is too much, I didn’t plan well enough. Maybe God wanted to use me, but I messed it all up. I’m not smart or educated enough. I need another degree, even though I can’t afford one. God can’t use me because I have a wicked human heart, or there’s past sin, or…or…
Lies. They’re all lies, and I’ve carried them for years.
Throughout the Bible, who did God use to bring glory to His name? He used prostitutes, murderers, debt collectors (and those in debt), men and women with tarnished pasts and hearts rotten with pride. He used rednecks and blue collar workers, adulterers, formerly demon possessed men and women. He used Paul, the predator of His people; He used Rahab, a foreigner and a prostitute; He used uneducated fisherman, con men, Samaritan women with chronic relationship issues; He uses me. He uses whom He wants because He’s God and there is glory in making wrecks into instruments of love and mercy. There has been only one perfect ministry, and that belonged to Jesus. I’m called to be like Him, to serve as He did, while comprehending that I will never be perfect on this side of eternity. Our humanity doesn’t change our call, and the grace and will of God can supersede anything that man says makes us unworthy.
For the first time in three years, I’ve started looking at ways to serve overseas. It may just be adopting a church, a family, a country to pray for, but I’m not using my debt (spiritual or financial) as an excuse to sit back. If you feel led, please pray that doors would open in God’s timing, and that He would refine me in the months to come. I think the time is approaching soon.