You may have heard the Holy Spirit described as being found in the still, small voice. Other times he’s a booming presence that stuns people to silence. Either way, he makes known what he is doing specifically and uniquely.
When people say, “I remember it like it was yesterday,” what they’re really recalling is explicit episodic memory. Psychologists describe these memories as particular moments from personal history. To some, it’s as close as your next sentence. Here’s my recount of a distant episodic memory.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
Sitting in the fifth row at Wednesday night service at my home church in Minnesota on summer break between my junior and senior years of college. Hoping. Praying. Desperate for any sense of direction as my graduation date approached and I was left to begin the climb of a corporate ladder.
I was sitting next to Tahlia.
Flashback to many episodic explicit memories before this, Tahlia and I met on a mission trip to Zacatecas, Mexico. We both loved missions, Jesus, Spanish, and tacos. Instant besties. But Tahlia really loved Zacatecas. So much so that she was set to move there in the not-so-distant future. I loved Zacatecas too but didn’t feel drawn to uproot and move.
I started thinking about this in the fifth row at church that night.
God, Tahlia loves Mexico. She loves Zacatecas. Her people are there. She’s moving to be with her people. I want that. I want to be with my people, and I really do love Zacatecas, but Lord, that’s Tahlia’s zone right now – not mine.
Meanwhile, as I’m pondering my life’s purpose, the guest speaker finishes his message and asks us to turn our attention to the screens since he is a missionary from Peru and would like to share what ministry is on that side of the world. Two videos proceed to dance across the massive displays: transport teams setting up church in a movie theater starting at midnight on Saturday and not stopping until all campuses had their equipment for a Sunday encounter; a grace house as a refuge for women and girls struggling with addiction, dismal self-worth, and in agonizing need of a heart made new by Jesus.
I was floored and timid when I barely whispered my next question…
Are my people in Peru?
An immediate flame was lit at the core of my soul as I made my way to the back of the auditorium to meet the missionary that introduced me to purpose. Before I could utter my name, instant, and admittedly, ugly tears poured from my face as the patient guest speaker kindly stated, “awe, you have a heart for missions.”
I felt like two doors swung open that night:
Door A – a “hindsight is 20/20” view of all the ways the Holy Spirit had been dropping this in my heart since I was a little girl. Flashes of intrigue toward the Spanish language, crying seeing infomercials of non-profits sharing stories of restored families in other countries, being drawn to global missions on my first mission trip at 15…
Door B – a flurry of “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts,” seeing the world as ripe for the harvest, a path to discover a need and having the tools to fulfill it, and face after face of new and incredible people I aim to meet…
Upon further discussion, I discover there is a five-month missionary internship happening in the fall after my senior year of college in Peru where this missionary lives. I am struck by what I thought at the time was a long duration away from home, and by the relief of my post-graduation anxieties diminishing. What a juxtaposition.
I remember walking into the parking lot feeling warm, excited, nervous, expectant, and ready. I didn’t know then what I know now, but 21-year-old Elana was about to encounter purpose, heartache, triumph, and failure like she’d never seen before. What a joy. What a journey.
Episodic memories feel like mile markers in my life. What I whispered to the Holy Spirit that Wednesday night shot me into a rollercoaster of an adventure I could have never imagined on my own (and believe me, my imagination is a wild one). God has specifically and uniquely ordered each step and episode since that moment and has produced in me a constant question: God where are my people, and when do you want me to go? Either way, here I am, send me.
Whether you are a missionary, a family member of a missionary, or a fellow missions enthusiast, I leave you with this challenge: ask God where your people are.
If they’re right in front of you, challenge yourself to step up to the risk that you’ve been avoiding in seeing breakthroughs in your relationships. If you don’t have a solid response, continue to plod where you are while you draw near to God and discover whom he’s highlighting in your life. And if a name, place, or face pops up that is nowhere near where your two feet are standing, I encourage you to be brave. Say “here I am, send me.” Whisper it if you have to. Odds are good that the Holy Spirit may whisper back, or even burst open doors of direction for what to do next.