Santa, Minivans, & Other Vocational Signs

A while back, Molly wrote an amazing post called “I Am Not Called to Be a Missionary (And That’s Okay).” Today, my post offers the other side of the same coin. I’ve dreamt of going into missions for years, but have had to learn to hold that calling loosely and to walk in faith. This summer, I’ll be in Ethiopia for a couple of months witnessing the very work I hope to do after med school. I’ll be keeping another blog to send out updates and prayer requests; the post below was my first introductory post on that blog. Check it out and subscribe if you want to stay updated on the adventure!

“How did you know you wanted to become a missionary?” ​I get this question a lot, and it’s a good one. I’m a firm believer that all Christians must think critically about their reasons for pursuing their callings. Human motivations, when mixed with the difficulty of discerning God’s voice, make vocational conviction tricky.

If you were to ask seven-year-old Ana what she wanted to be as a grown-up, she would have proudly declared that she was going to be “a pediatric orthopedic surgeon!” Of course, I had no clue what that meant. All I knew was that I loved the idea of medicine and was fascinated by the technical aspects of orthopedics. For several childhood Christmases, crutches, braces, and air casts featured prominently on my wish list because I loved pretending that I could heal. Santa must have been pretty confused. While orthopedic surgery is no longer my goal, medicine has always been one of my life’s great loves. ​

Likewise, my parents have always encouraged my siblings and I to consider ministry. I remember one car ride in elementary school, when my three siblings and I were packed into the family minivan. My mom told us from the driver’s seat, “You know, I’d love it if one of my kids became a missionary or pastor.” I remember distinctly thinking, “Nah, not for me. Nathan, Caleb, or Frances can be that person.”​

So I guess I didn’t always see myself as a missionary. But as I entered middle school and began to really consider my future, I grew deeply convicted of a couple fundamental truths. The first was that my life on earth is minuscule in light of eternity. The second was that the most significant experience ever would be to enter God’s presence at the end of that life and to hear Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Taken together, these truths galvanized me to use my short life to serve God’s Kingdom, even if it meant sacrifice and discomfort. All of these thoughts, combined with my desire to do medicine, seemed to point to medical missions. As I dove into short-term opportunities with my family, Joni and Friends, and my church, my passion for missions bloomed.​

Since middle school, God has led me on a journey of discerning and refining this calling. My understanding of God-honoring vocation, sustainable ministry, the steps I’ll have to take to get there have changed a lot since I was 13. I’ve come to realize that any vocation– even those that seem most selfless– can be a source of idolatry and can stoke self-centered desires for significance and self-actualization. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to discern my own motives for doing missions and have tried to be aware of the ways that they aren’t truly selfless. I’ve realized that doing medical ministry right– teaching national doctors and contributing to the long-term development of a nation’s health system– will require going all the way with medical school, residency, and whatever else God wants. I’ve learned that faithfulness in missions means quietly, steadily, consistently taking up my cross, whether at Harvard or overseas, even if no one notices. Although I come from a prestigious college, I have very little to offer in and of myself.

Amidst all of these realizations, my original convictions about radical sacrifice and service have stuck around, albeit much more nuanced. The more I come to terms with my strengths and weaknesses, the more I see that I really do delight in taking care of others’ physical needs, and I still can’t see myself living in the States long-term. The more I watch my peers pursuing their unique callings, the more I understand that all kinds of jobs can have eternal consequences; vocational ministry is no holier than vocational art or business or research (Colossians 3:23). The more I think about my motives, the more I see that God can do great things through the selfish who desire Christ-like selflessness (Philippians 2:13). The more I understand my insufficiency, the more I know that God works through the weak and undeserving (2 Corinthians 3:5-6, 4:7-12). The more I explore ministry and pre-med studies, the more I see that the Holy Spirit is the only one who can make my work fruitful (John 15:1-8).​

I’ve also realized that if I’m serious about pursuing long-term missions, I need to gain experience. The college schedule doesn’t accommodate much time overseas, but I can use my breaks to immerse myself in medical ministry. That was the rationale for this summer. Since shadowing an OB/GYN in high school, I’ve loved obstetrics and maternal health, and I was elated when Dr. Ross said he was willing to be my supervisor at Soddo Christian Hospital. Over the course of this school year, I’ve spent months studying Ethiopia’s health system, learning anatomy and physiology, and reading about sustainable ministry. God has opened up doors to funding, SIM, and so much more. Everything about my summer at Soddo points to what I hope to do after school, and I couldn’t be more excited. It isn’t really a missions trip (I have so little to offer as an unlicensed undergraduate student), but it is a major stepping stone to what I hope will be a lifelong ministry.

Who knows, maybe God doesn’t want me to be a medical missionary. When people ask, “How did you know you wanted to become a missionary?” the truthful answer is that I still don’t know, even years after I first fell in love with missions. I suppose I won’t know for a while, and I certainly hope that this summer lends clarity. For now, the least I can do is prayerfully seek Him, serve Soddo and it’s patients however possible, and submit every desire to Jesus.

Faith is knowing that while I cannot see but a few steps in front of me, Jesus is my guide and He is good. For all of the ways that those childhood Christmas lists, minivan conversations, and middle school convictions have led me to pursue medical ministry, I know that His will is the best place to be, even if it ends up contradicting every intuition I’ve had about my calling. Proverbs 3:5-6 has never felt more true: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” I tend to fall back on the false security of my own understanding and I fail at trusting God all the time. But praise God that even when I lack trust, He never fails to be trustworthy.

I now have less than two weeks until I leave for cross-cultural training at SIM USA’s headquarters in North Carolina. While final papers and exams consume most of my headspace, I want to be intentional about praying for the summer. I would be so grateful if you’d join me in praying for a few requests:

  1. -That God would grant strength and stamina to finish Sophomore year well
  2. -That preparations for the trip would continue smoothly
  3. -That the Lord would equip me emotionally and spiritually for the intensity of serving in an environment where there are profound health needs
  4. -That I would have safe travels and a smooth adjustment to Ethiopian culture in June

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