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He Brought Me Here

It was Sabbath afternoon. I sat quietly in a near-empty convention center hall contemplating my experience of the past three days of the youth congress.  

I thought back to the first evening of the conference when each presenter had shared a short description of their seminar.  One had caught my attention:  “Miniskirts, Mothers, and Muslims.”  

It wasn’t just the catchy title that engaged me.
 

          My interest had really begun almost seven years before at the beginning of a campus ministry program.  I had expressed a desire to reach out to people from other faith backgrounds. I’m not sure where that came from because I hadn’t been exposed to many other faiths. But in that experience I learned about Islam, visited an Islamic center and a mosque, and spent time with Muslim students. The program was located in southeast Michigan, a region with one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations, so it had made sense to participate in those activities. It had been an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.  It had made a deep impression on me, even though I lost my connection to my Muslim friends after finishing the program.

Years after that I moved back to Michigan to work at an international business. About a year into my job, we had a colleague from one of the company’s overseas offices in an Islamic country come to work with us in Michigan. After a few months I had the pleasure of meeting his family and enjoying a meal with them. We shared a bit of our faith with each other and connected on a spiritual level.

Now, at the youth conference, I remembered those experiences. I decided to attend the “Miniskirts” seminar. I figured it was as good a time as ever to regain the courage to build relationships with Muslims in my community and perhaps learn something new. 

After one or two seminar sessions, I was hooked. I knew I would not be visiting any other seminars. I wanted to be inspired by the amazing testimonies I was hearing. I wanted to ponder the arguments for followers of Christ to be in places hostile to Christianity. Deep down I wanted to understand whether there was anything more than curiosity to my interest in Islam and other religions.  So, by the time I was in the convention hall translating for the main session, I had attended four seminars on “Miniskirts, Mothers and Muslims.”

To my surprise, the speaker for that main session was none other than the “Miniskirts, Mothers and Muslim” presenter. Even as I translated his message, I  felt the weight of his message on my heart. At the end, he gave an appeal for people to serve in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Those who responded were invited to walk to the front where they would be given directions for an afternoon meeting to talk about their new commitment. The morning session wasn’t completely over, so I felt I had a responsibility to stay at my station and finish translating. But in my heart I had raised my hand during the appeal and had walked to the front in response.

Now, just hours after that conviction, I sat in the cavernous quietness of the convention hall, rethinking the past three days.  I remembered the weight I had felt in my chest during the morning’s presentation and I wanted to talk to God about the things I’d heard and experienced over the last few days. I remembered that the conference organizers had set aside a place to pray.  I headed for the prayer room.

When I arrived, the door was closed and locked.  No one was inside. I was confused and disappointed; I thought a prayer room would always be open. I asked a young lady standing nearby if she knew whether the prayer room would be opened again. Her eyes locked with mine; she looked very apologetic and, as if to give me a substitute blessing, she motioned down the hall. “I don’t know about that, but there’s a meeting about MENA happening over there.”

I felt like my heart stopped. I hadn’t stood for the appeal that morning.   I hadn’t gotten any information about a  MENA group meeting.  But God was filling the gap! I thanked the young lady and made my way to the room. I had plenty of reason to think “He brought me here.”

I listened to more testimonies, more inspiration.  That evening, in the exhibition hall, I met someone who was now living in the MENA region. We spoke about tentmaking and resources for learning Arabic. She gave me a postcard with a map of MENA and some information about tentmaking. I quietly made a commitment to go to MENA as a tentmaker.

The postcard ended up on my refrigerator when I got home after the conference. I downloaded a language learning app and started to learn the Arabic alphabet and simple phrases. I thought the sign of my commitment and obedience to the Holy Spirit would be to quit my job, search for a job in MENA, and go. But I found myself wrestling with the idea that maybe I should stay in Michigan because I was building a positive relationship with my colleague.  But six months after the conference he moved away.   Within a year after the conference I thought I was almost ready to quit my job and follow through with my commitment. But one thing happened after another, then another.  I made decisions that I felt detoured God’s plan.  When I decided not to quit my job, I really felt like I was failing God.

Fast forward about two and a half years later. Although my Arabic study had not progressed, the postcard was still on my refrigerator.  When I saw it, I’d often pray for the brothers and sisters in the region.  My heart also ached a bit because I wasn’t there. But I was in a satisfying new role at my job and was doing well with the new responsibilities and challenges.

One afternoon I was invited into the conference room with my managers and the owner of the company. They were discussing the possibility of restarting operations in the Middle East. They had been active there for several years before I had joined the company, but the business now lay dormant. They went through the names of several in the company who they might send to get things started again, but none of the names seemed to fit. Then the owner of the company turned to me and asked, “Would you go to the Middle East?”

Again, just like years before at the youth congress, I felt like my heart stopped. I had been to the region two months before for a business trip. Even at the time I was amazed at how I’d ended up there, albeit for just a week.  I never imagined I would be offered the opportunity to live and work there. My mind raced.  My heart regained its beat–and began pounding!  But I played it cool.  “I would need time to think about it, but I’m open to the idea.” I didn’t want to seem too eager because I understood the company needed to make me a relocation offer that made sense. But in my heart of hearts, I was already on a plane halfway to the Middle East.

After some weeks of discussion with my managers, I agreed to review the employment contract and prepare for relocation. I wrestled with several personal decisions but I eventually decided to go. At the same time, I was plagued by guilt.

I knew I’d made a commitment to God years before. I could point to numerous distractions, delays and finally decisions that had detoured my best intentions.  

In spite of my guilt, once I accepted the company’s offer to move, I applied for the MENA tentmaking program.  My friend, who had given me the card on my refrigerator, was still working for MENA.  She listened to my story and, without hesitation, praised God and assured me that God’s hand was in all I had experienced.

It took a few more encouraging conversations and some quiet reflection for me to believe it for myself.  But as I watched the pieces of my life come together, I was sure of it:  The day after I had decided to stay in the States and not to quit my job, I had been offered the promotion that allowed me to excel in my new responsibilities and build the management’s confidence in me over the following year. That was the year that led up to the company’s offer for me to work in the Middle East.

I’ve been here for almost two years now. My time here has had its ups and downs.  I don’t always feel that I’m accomplishing what I should as a tentmaker. But on days that I feel discouraged, I remember how I got here. I am not living a coincidence. There’s a divine purpose in all of this.

By the grace of God, I want to continue to live for Him one day at a time, praying as I go that He will use me in spite of my fears and failures.  Because I know He brought me here for His reasons and I want to fulfill them for Him.  –KP