Story of Hope: Elizabeth S.

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As someone who likes to make plans well in advance, and who cringes at the idea of not knowing what’s next, it can be really difficult for me to wait with patience. Now, I’m not referring to making plans for Saturday night (in fact, I’d much prefer having no plans for the weekend!). I’m talking about “big life plans,” like what should I do when I graduate from college or when is it the right time to get married, look for a new job or have children. As I currently find myself in the midst of another season of waiting on the Lord, I am reminded of the goodness and faithfulness He has shown me in the past.

When I was in high school, I remember telling my dad on the way home from school one day that I thought it would be really cool to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Fast forward to my senior year in college, and I still thought that this would be a great next step. I had just had the opportunity to travel to Namibia, Africa with one of my professors, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being called to teach in Africa.

If you aren’t familiar with the Peace Corps application process, it’s quite lengthy. From writing essays and collecting letters of recommendation to getting medical clearance and traveling to conduct an in-person interview, there is a lot of preparation that goes into the application. When graduation month rolled around, I got the long-awaited-for envelope in the mail—I was selected to teach math in Africa! Exactly what I was hoping for! Seems great, right? Except my loving parents (who had been extremely supportive throughout this whole process) told me not to go. They had several safety concerns about my assigned country of service, and I couldn't disagree with them.

So there I was, with seven days to decide whether or not to take the Peace Corps position. For the past year and a half I had poured myself into this application, and I was so certain that God was calling me to volunteer in Africa. I was crushed, confused, uncertain, and frustrated with the idea that maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe Africa wasn’t the next step for me? And if not Africa, then what? But God. This was never meant to be my story. This was never meant to be about my precise planning and preparation.

God closed the door on my plans to join the Peace Corps, only to show me that following His plans would lead to even greater joy. He opened a seemingly impossible door to volunteer as a high school math teacher in Tanzania with a different organization. The application deadline for the program had been extended at the last minute; otherwise I would have missed it. Three years prior to this, a generous family member had gifted me the exact amount of funds I would need to participate. At the time, he told my mom, “Save this until the time seems right.” And the timeline for the program fit even more perfectly into my life than I could’ve imagined.

My year in Africa was as beautiful and as challenging as you might imagine. I lived in the mountains along a lone dirt road, surrounded by banana trees and without the distractions of modern conveniences. I had the privilege of teaching bright, eager, and gracious students who showed me that life is not about what you have, but rather what you can do every day to make a small difference in the lives of those around you. Maybe it’s carrying the morning’s firewood for an elderly neighbor, giving a free ride home on your bicycle to a tired classmate, or sharing a simple meal together as friends, neighbors and family. My year in Tanzania taught me to find joy in simplicity, to love and be loved by the community around you, and to have hope when plans fall apart and life gets messy.

As I look to what might be next for my life now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling anxious and worried, my mind like a rabbit hole of “what ifs” and “maybes.” While it goes against everything in me to give up control of planning my future, I know that I cannot take the next step without Him. We serve a gracious and merciful God, who calls us to have faith, to trust and to wait on Him. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). As I am learning to give up control during seasons of waiting, I feel hopeful and at peace, because I trust that my Father is weaving together a beautiful plan for my life.

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