Not My Will, but Your Will Be Done
All of a sudden. I was free. I was divorced and had been for many years. (I wasn’t looking for anyone, either.) My only child was grown and living away from home. I had a good job with the board of education, a new car, and a little home in the suburbs.
What more could I want? I had a very fulfilling ministry, working in the youth department of my church. I enjoyed serving and mentoring young people—it gave me a sense of purpose and significance.
My pastor knew I served with Christians in Action and Youth for Christ in Sierra Leone, Africa. Because of my experience, I had the opportunity to be very creative in this ministry, and God grew the work in phenomenal ways. In a short time, the staff increased from four regular volunteers to 13. Programming expanded from a preteen Sunday school class, a Sunday evening meeting, and a few special events to include an annual youth retreat, college tours, exchange youth ministry programs with other churches, recreational activities, field trips, rap sessions, talent shows, special speakers, systematic Bible studies, and a fifth Sunday youth day. As I sought more specialized training, so did the staff. The church leadership is now much more open to subsidizing volunteer training costs.
What more could I want?
I wanted to spend more time being there for young people, and I wanted to help other adults enjoy the same sense of fulfillment I’d found working with this next generation.
And there was Africa.
It was one of those won’t-go-away desires. I wanted to reconnect with the youths there, to live among them as I did years before. I know God put a burden within me, but I just didn’t know what to do about it.
My Time in Africa
I was 21 when I arrived in Sierra Leone on August 23, 1971. There was much I wanted to accomplish there. I had a lot of experience in church music. I wanted to do the artwork for our culturally sensitive witnessing tracts, but themission already had someone doing that. We were still using the correspondence Bible studies brought from our mission in England, and so my self-appointed task was to rewrite the study materials.
A typical day for me? I got up at daybreak and worked in my garden. (I discovered shortly after my arrival that the Ministry of Horticulture—a government agency—was encouraging landscaping and yard beautification by offering free plants and flowers at the government nursery. So I got many beautiful tropical plants and grew them alongside our property and in the front yard.) I worked on music for the coffee shop group that soon became known as the Gospel Youth Singers of Sierra Leone.
Then I walked down the street to the compound where Kadiatu lived. She was 15 when I first met her, and she was the first person in Sierra Leone to pray with me to accept Jesus. My visits with her were my education in urban living in the capital city. Kadiatu was the youngest wife of a man who had several wives. Her place was a clean, neat little hut with a corrugated roof and a nice front porch. Kadiatu taught me things like how to make tiny braids for kids in the compound and how to carry a baby on my back (I practiced on her young son). Sometimes she read our Christian literature and listened to our gospel music.
I did a Bible study with about 20 college students. Since I was the same age as most of them, we bonded—and friendships still remain between me and most of them to this day.
With all of these choices and desires clamoring within me, the mundane job with the school board became more and more a waste of my time. I couldn’t see myself being fulfilled while pushing papers. I had attempted many times in the past to go back to school, but parenting my son was more important. So I put that aside as something to do later in my life. Now I realized it was already later.
I prayed a little but schemed a lot. For a year and half I thought about what I could do. My ultimate concern? My financial security. I toyed with the idea of establishing my own embroidery business. (That proved to be a rather foolish idea in retrospect for one wanting to be available for service.) In the midst of all this contemplation, I did manage to research undergraduate Christian colleges with youth ministry programs and discovered one right in Atlanta. I went ahead and applied—just to see if I’d be accepted.
By the time my paperwork was approved, I was gung-ho about the embroidery business! (It’s amazing how off-track we can get when God has a call upon our lives.) I told the school I’d come later—but God allowed me to exhaust myself making my plans to do his work.
One morning in early September 1996, I stopped long enough to realize I didn’t have God’s peace. That morning, I lay in bed, hesitant to get up. There was a smothering fear hovering over me. I told myself it was “new business jitters.” But I knew it was something more than that.
I had the same feeling at least twice before. I recognized it right away. It was God saying, “You’ve been ignoring my still small voice, Dorris. I’ve been trying to stop you because I have a better plan—but you aren’t listening.” I got out of bed and fell on my knees, crying out to God. I said I couldn’t go on without assurance from him that I was doing the right thing and that he was going to bless it. I confessed my self-sufficient attitude, my pride. I told God that I was in a mess now. My business phone and fax line were already installed. The flyers were already out. My first clients were waiting. I was scheduled to pick up about $2,000 worth of equipment later in the day. Instead I spent that whole day fasting, praying, confessing…and waiting. Eventually I told God I was no longer my own, that I’d let him run my life. I had nothing else of any importance that was greater than letting him use my life however he saw fit: “Not my will, but your will be done.” And this time I meant it.
So, five days after I quit my school board job to start my embroidery business, I called Atlanta Christian College back and asked if there was any way I could start school now instead of waiting for the spring semester, as I’d just previously requested. The dean of admissions told me classes started “yesterday. But it appears all of your documents are in, and all of the members of the board are on campus today. Maybe, just maybe, we can walk your application through.”
I started classes the next day.
But how does a 46-year-old adjust to full-time college life after a quarter century out of the classroom? I wasn’t sure—but I knew enough to take things slow and easy. I took only 13 credit hours the first semester. Then 16, then 18, and last semester, I took 19 hours. I have two semesters to go, and I expect to graduate in May 1999.
Field service and an internship are part of the graduation requirements, so I sought God’s guidance about what ministry—in addition to what I was already doing at my church—to add to my experience. A good friend of mine with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship urged me to consider a summer urban ministry project, but I really hadn’t considered doing something stateside in an urban setting (my thoughts still drifted back to Africa). But I decided that if God was leading this way, I was certainly going to go.
The Atlanta Urban Project became a pivotal point in my personal ministry pilgrimage. My six-week mission project as a day-school director was in the Summerhill neighborhood of downtown Atlanta. If you ever watch the Braves play baseball at Turner Field, you’re looking at Summerhill. It’s an historical, quaint neighborhood that had it’s heyday, then declined. But in the last 15 years, it’s rebounded and has been the center of tremendous restoration and remodeling.
But at the same time, many people still live in run-down buildings and subsidized housing. There are many vacant lots and buildings that shelter vagrants and the homeless. It’s the seat of many historical black businesses and service companies. Some families have been in the neighborhood for three or four generations. (It was heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield’s home; some of his family members still live in the area.) It is the classic regentrification community. Black churches in the neighborhood are mostly populated by suburbanites, and only a few white churches remain. Various ministries have targeted the area for both social and spiritual services.
Some of the ministries include an all-ages, weekly Bible study, a mentorship program, a learning center, day care, various sports programs, an adult literacy program, a computer training center, a mission/ministry house, an apprentice program for home repair, carpentry and roofing services, to name a few.
Right now, I’m working with experienced volunteers of mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds and am learning a lot. Some of my current responsibilities are praise team leader, caring for a small group for older teen girls, and assistant teacher for the weekly Bible class for girls aged 10 to 12. God has given me good rapport with these young women, and I want to be available to them for friendship, guidance, and understanding.
A group of five girls and I hit it off quite well. After several weeks of meeting at the church in Summerhill, I asked them if they’d like to come to my campus apartment. They were excited. After seeing pictures of my family and hearing my descriptions of them, they learned that I had a godchild who was, in fact, my son’s sister. I brought her to Bible study with me on several occasions, but they didn’t know the connection. This revelation led to a lengthy discussion that went from single-parenting, to attitudes about men, and finally to the question of forgiveness. When the evening was done, they had confessed to harboring bitterness, resentment, and a host of other things. There were tears and prayers.
Then one of the girls, Vera, said this: “I don’t know how you can do that. But when I grow up, I hope I can be like you.”
What about my desire to work overseas with young people in other lands? After all I learned, it was easier to decide to let God lead. I’m convinced God has me in training for something. I’m also sure he has all my past interests, experiences, and passions in mind. I’m excited and content to watch him lead.
Could I have experienced such an exciting two years while doing embroidery? No way.
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