A year ago, I thought I knew who Poetice was. I had followed Abby’s journey since she joined this team because I had the privilege of being her softball coach when she was at Hope College and knew then that she was going to go on to do big things. I was always excited for her updates regarding how God was weaving His story with hers through this ministry. How Poetice’s desire for lasting impact through the local church shaped how they wanted to do ministry differently than many other NGO’s. E-mails, blogs, and Galas helped me gather information and knowledge about lives that were being changed and the global impact happening through Poetice, but last August I was presented with the opportunity to experience Poetice and the transformational work they’re doing in this world firsthand.
That opportunity was to lead a group of Hope student-athletes to Choma to do sports ministry with the Armour’s soccer teams and to bring Sawyer water filters that we could distribute to families to allow them to have clean drinking water and minimize water-borne diseases and illnesses. We were able to connect with kids through things like yoga, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, whiffle ball, strength and conditioning, and discussions on topics like leadership and nutrition. We were able to do all that while also sharing our love of Jesus through songs, testimonies, and sharing a word from scripture each day. We were also able to use the filters as a tangible, visible metaphor for Jesus role in our lives. To share that HE is the filter through which the crud and gunk of our lives before knowing Him is made clean and pure; that the filter is the power of the cross. It was an unforgettable week for our students and leaders, and it was such a sweet blessing from the Lord to be able to come alongside Poetice’s work in Zambia for a short time and to see what is at the heart of what they do. It was also such a gift to see how the passions and talents God has given to Abby are being used to advance His Kingdom in the world. And it led to this whirlwind of emotions for me personally that I didn’t expect. In my preparation for this trip, I think I had detached somewhat from what God had in store for me, thinking it would be our students who would have the lasting impact from this trip. I was just a leader.
But what I discovered was that God had something deeply personal for me to discover in Zambia last summer, as well. That yes, it was about joining in with Poetice to come alongside their work, and that it was about facilitating our students’ experiences and helping them maximize and process through all that God had for them on this trip, but that it was also about my heart. God had plans for me and work he wanted to do in me through this experience.
The Sunday before we left last August at my home church a member of our body had a word, “He comes in a whisper, He comes in a wave.” I heard those words and wrote them down. I was hopeful that both would happen in the coming days in Zambia, and that became my prayer. I think looking back my focus may have been solely on the waves. I hoped to see the Holy Spirit at work in power, to experience the unity of God’s global church, and to see transformation in lives, and I can TRULY say that the Lord showed me each of those things. I was able to experience the incredible ways that He shows up in those beautiful waves that overwhelm us, and show us who He is. Those mountaintop experiences, like creating space each morning to be in His presence worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ halfway around the world that moved me to tears. Those moments when you hear a 19-year-old experience a vocational shift where they start to look at life through a different set of lenses, realizing that because of their time in Zambia that they no longer want to become a doctor to serve themselves in pursuit of the American Dream but to serve others and be used by the Lord. I was overcome on more than one occasion at the irony of God choosing to do His work on this earth through people when He could do it all Himself. So the waves of His Spirit were there, and they were powerful. But what about the whispers?
In the few years prior to this trip, I had been in a phase of my life where I was questioning if I was where God wanted me to be, and if his plan for me was a good one? Was the career I chose maximizing the gifts He has given me? Have I missed His calling in my life? Is there something more God wants from me? Our time in Zambia even had me asking ‘Should I be coaching a different age group? In a different part of the country or world?’ I had an unsettled spirit within me that found a home in my soul and it became the default mode any time the current road was hard. And those feelings could quickly morph into questions of ‘Am I enough?’, and ‘Is what I’m doing even having an impact?’ I had no idea God was going to help me wrestle with some of those questions playing sports with kids in Zambia. That the sweet whisper of His voice would help me feel confident in the where and the what that He has so graciously led me to. The numerous opportunities to teach sports that week helped me see that the joy of the Lord is most fully experienced in my life when I’m coaching. That it is in those moments when I feel I’m my best self for the Lord. That if I’m doing it for Him, some of the details that weigh heavily on my mind seem to be less burdensome. That He wants to lighten that load. That in my situation, it honestly doesn’t matter what the age, or language, or even country, He came in a whisper to say ‘what you’re doing and where you’re doing it matters.’ I left Zambia feeling the Lord affirm and encourage the road He has brought me to, and that He asks me to keep taking steps of obedience.
Before leaving for Zambia a good friend had given me a verse to start each day, and on the final day before heading back to the States, as I was at the pinnacle of the whispers and the waves, wondering if I was returning to the life I was meant for, the verse that day was Colossians 2:6-7. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Continue to live your lives in Him, or as another verse puts it, PRESS ON! It doesn’t require a huge change at the age of 37! It’s living a life of obedience and joy and gratitude. For the grace He extends to me daily, for the role He has uniquely equipped me for and led me to, and for the people He has brought into my life to walk alongside on the journey. He came in a whisper, and He came in a wave last summer in my life, and I am forever changed because of it.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Vande Hoef is the head softball coach, intramural director, and assistant Dow Center director at Hope College in Holland, MI.