he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
The second verse gets some press, but it was the fourth verse that made an impression on me. When I read it, I experienced one of those moments when I KNEW that God was speaking clearly to me. What he was saying was simply that it was my choice and he would bless either decision but he had some yet unrevealed stuff up his sleeve for me outside of the USA… If I chose to go overseas, there would be “people in exchange for my life.” It felt like a promise that my “yes” would matter, and I hung onto that hope for the years that it took to actually make it to Peru.
Four years ago, we had left Peru and were about to head to Bali. I was completely convinced that it was the right next step, but I had a lot of anxiety about it. I decided to spend a couple of days in solitude praying and wrestling with God about my emotions. I had a crew of friends praying for me that weekend. One of these friends emailed the verse Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us. She wrote, “What are the things that He has revealed to you?” I knew in my gut that this was exactly the direction I was to go that weekend, so I spent hours reading old journals and praying through the things that I knew God had spoken over the years. The things that had come to pass already and the things still in motion. The Isaiah verse was one that God highlighted, and I felt that God was making a promise on top of the one he had already made. In contrast to Peru where I struggled, Bali would be a place where I would serve in a way that felt natural and joyful and would be a season of much fruit. My challenge was simply to believe it would be so. Later that day I met with a spiritual director who had an image that she wanted to share with me. Her image was a barren desert with a single pool of water that started out shallow and but got very deep in the middle. She had the idea of fear to enter the deeper parts, and that there was a choice to stay in the shallows. I kind of laughed because the song Oceans by Hillsong had been on repeat for most of the day. One of the lyrics that was stuck in my head is, “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.” It seemed to fit.
Later that night as I got ready for bed, I saw that another friend had sent me an email saying, “I’ve been praying for you today and I keep getting “when you walk through the waters I will be with you.” I looked it up and included the text around it below (Isaiah 43:1-4). I get an image of the culture you are about to enter being oppressive, kind of like struggling to breath underwater. The only hope to cling to is that Jesus will be with you and is for you. I love in the text below that it says “I give men in return for you; peoples in exchange for your life.” This friend had no idea about the significance of this verse to me or what had already been going on between God and me that day. It was just a sweet and incredible confirmation to believe what God was revealing was true.
And it has been all of that. Bali has been… the happiest place I’ve ever lived. It has been the best of fits in so many ways for our family and for me personally. And true to his promise, it has been a time of incredible and nearly effortless productivity. It seems that everywhere I set my hand, God had already gone before and made a way for things to just work. Our Indonesian friendships are authentic and mutual, and the anti-trafficking community is a group of people I am excited to work with every single day. The work itself is demanding, but I have been in my sweet spot for sure. I am so grateful.
But Bali has also been a place of deep, scary waters. When my friend mentioned the culture would be like struggling to breathe underwater, I assumed Indonesian culture or even working with Muslims would be hard. But neither have been difficult at all. Missionary organizational culture on the other hand has felt a little like dying sometimes. We have had to very deliberately (and repeatedly) choose the courage to go into the deep and address what we couldn’t in our integrity pretend we didn’t see. And yes, we were able to breathe as we discovered that Jesus was indeed with us and for us.
Perhaps these are the reasons it has been so hard to say goodbye to Bali. I can’t imagine that whatever is next could compare to this. To be honest, I am afraid of moving back to California. For many reasons, I anticipate that it is going to be extraordinarily hard.
A few days ago, Dan and I met up with a new friend whom we were connected with several months ago as he and his wife are anticipating returning to missions work possibly in Bali after a long break and needed some networking help. He was here to follow up on some leads, and we got to meet in real life. Our conversation turned to some deeper and harder things. He was a comfort because he has a similar story in some ways and has already walked through the process of healing and forgiveness. At the end of the night, he grabbed his phone because he wanted to read a verse to us… Yeah, it was Isaiah 43:2-4. I almost laughed out loud when he started reading. Of course it was this verse. God has never been terribly subtle with me. Our friend also prayed for us, and as he did so I just felt… a sense of closure. I am done living in Bali. But that thought didn’t bring the tragic feeling I’ve had for months, but peace. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. This has been exactly what I was promised. I am still grateful.
I’ve been thinking and praying a lot the last couple of days as we finish packing the last few boxes before we leave next Friday. When my friend read these verses, he actually stopped right before the “I will give people for you” part. He instead emphasized “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.” And I don’t think that was an accident. I don’t think God wants me to ever believe that all of this was simply for ministry’s sake. That I was “just a tool for him to use.” That’s gross theology. We are far more than that to God. We are his beloved sons and daughters. We are precious and honored and loved. My time in Bali as been every bit a gift to me and my family as I believe we have been a gift that he’s given to our friends here for these past few years.
As I prayed today and sensed again a feeling of satisfaction and “job well done,” I thought of something else that is pretty cool. That passage goes on to say:
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”