*Originally published on leahvansomeren.theworldrace.org, 10/26/2016
Hello one, hello all!
Here are to the first words of a journey that I’m sure will often leave me speechless. But before we go forward, proper preamble is due.
I was raised in two Christian homes (parents divorced at age two). Blessed to have faith-filled family, they spoon fed me all the right things to believe, serving my faith to me on a silver platter. “Cradle Christian,” as I like to lovingly call it. I’m blessed to have the foundation but it’s not until three years ago that my faith took flight. After traversing five of the most difficult and dark years of my life, I sat in a pew of a church and heard the gospel for the first time and three years later; I’m head over heels.
Now, 24 years old, it’s slipped out of my mouth more than once, “I don’t want to go to Asia.” Don’t ask me why but my hardened heart wanted nothing to do with the outskirts of my comfort zone. Then, sleeping soundly at 4 a.m., three weeks prior to graduating from Regis University in 2014, I was jolted awake by the thought, “I want to go to Thailand.”
Perplexed yet intrigued, I proceeded to invite anyone I could think of to join me. Whether it was because asking people to fly across the world at 4 a.m. is never a good idea, or because God’s timing is perfect (probably both), I didn’t land a travel buddy. The dream was eventually set aside to make way for my budding career, but followed me ever since. I didn’t know then, but thus began God’s preparation, crafting a porous mind eager for exploration, a thirsty spirit craving other cultures and a broken heart desperate for Christ and His gospel.
Two years later and God’s mighty hand is stirring my heart. Since April, I’ve been voraciously praying, begging God to employ me for His Kingdom in the most uncomfortable way. Would you believe God listens? On a camping trip with my church small group on September 9, I shared a tent with a woman I’d just met. She spoke of the gospel in a foreign way. ”The World Race,” she called it. Spirit, ministry, smells, dirt, culture, wreckage, 11 months, critters, work, miracles, community, love, tears, 11 countries, submission, Jesus. After the hour download, she looked into my eyes and said, “I think you should apply.” On September 10, that’s just what I did. I applied and was accepted on October 4.
Folks, if you know me, you know I like a good plan that comes together (I am my father’s daughter!). My plan: To leave on the race in three months, launching in January. God’s plan: Stay at my current job for nine months and launch in August 2017. Now, I’m not the most passionate about my current job. To be clear, I’m INCREDIBLY blessed to have a consistent income, wonderful co-workers, a fantastic manager and team but my heartbeat is as slow as a snail sitting at a desk. But as desperate as I was for a change, I’d also been doing my very best to serve God by submitting to His timing.
It went something like this…“Jesus, if you want me to stay at my job then I’ll do it…but please don’t make me.” That’s how I saw it – black & white, either or. But y’all, God is not a binary and is surely not boxed shaped. Just to prove it (yet again), He took me up on BOTH prayers. “You’ll wait, be refined in the discomfort of your discontentment until you ultimately find your contentment in Me. That way, when you’re sleeping on a dirt floor or are lonely wandering outside your comfort zone, you’ll be prepared to find contentment in Me once more.”
But here is the honest truth. When the August launch date came through, I was bitter. Angry and frustrated, I squirmed thinking about nine months at my job. My inner child threw a tantrum, “I want out now!” That night, sitting across from my dad and step mom in the local pizza joint, I sniffled and sobbed hysterically, wailing, “I’m just so overwhelmed!” I played out scenario after scenario, shouting demands, rather than listening for direction.
Flash forward, two days after my acceptance and I asked every person with a brainstem what they thought I shoulddo. Go on the Race, stay at my job? Look for another job and say no to the Race? Lost and spiritually numb, I called my aunt who said she’d pray. My counselor helped me process much of my confusion and even convinced me about the potential of nine months. “God can make a baby in nine months, think of what He can do with you!” That got me curious about the routes and I was drawn to one with the Philippines.
Later that afternoon, I spoke with Nicole (who first told me about the Race). She suggested praying for a sign. I think this whole season is going to be more charismatic than I’ve even been exposed to but I’m open to it so I took her up on the suggestion. (I promise I’m getting to the meat of the story now. Hang with me!) Directly after hanging up the phone, I went to the gym. Each week I go, there is this lady on the Stair Master next to the one I use. We’ve exchanged niceties one time but nothing ever substantial. She is probably late thirties, Asian and very sweet. I thought back to Nicole’s suggestion and climbing on the Stair Master, I faintly prayed, “God, I’m going to ask her where she is from. If she says the Philippines, that will be my sign I should go.” But the moment I made the prayer known (even faintly in my mind), a whole host of LOUD, mean voices beat me down. “Are you crazy? She could be from anywhere! What a stupid thing to ask. I bet she is from South Korea! What if you get the wrong answer and can’t go on the Race!” These voices wanted me to believe one thing: God won’t meet you here.
Afraid and concerned, I consciously ‘withdrew’ my prayer. “Never mind!” I thought. Starting my ascent up the stairs, she immediately turned and began talking to me. Before I knew it, the dreaded question came out of my mouth, almost against my will.
“Where are you from?” I mumbled.
Lady loo looked directly in my eyes, smiled a beautiful, joyful smile and said, “The Philippines.”
Jaw dropped, my feet suddenly felt like they weighed two tons. I stumbled up the stairs, shaking my head and asked, “Oh? How long have you been here?”
“Thirty some years, but it’s by the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ that I’m hear right now.”
Guys, I almost fell off the back of the Stair Master! I couldn’t take my eyes of her. She smiled and then began telling me her testimony and rattling off scripture. I told her I was discerning whether to go on this mission trip and before I could explain she cut me off, “Pray! Pray as hard as you can. You can ask advice from anyone you want but the only one that can tell you is Jesus Christ.” Just like that, her cardio was over. She stopped, said it’s good to see a young lady love Jesus and then climbed down and left.
I felt a flood of relief, of decision, of surrender. The Holy Spirit met me on the Stair Master…The Stairway to Heaven, if you will. (Sorry – couldn’t help it!)
I called my aunt who said she’d pray, hoping she’d give the same confirmation and she did one even better. “I didn’t pray for a yes or no, Leah. I prayed for clarity and it sounds like that’s what you got.”
SO! With hope and expectation, I am working hard at my job for the next nine months, preparing for a journey of a lifetime, abandoning numbing comforts and discovering His Kingdom in the homes of His children. A call to action and the harsh reminder: This is not about me. Yes, I will be changed but this is about His Kingdom. I’ve committed to The World Race and will launch in August 2017.
Nothing about the next two years will be easy, but I’ve received the call and must answer. I can’t ask this enough. Please, please, PLEASE pray. I’ll be coming out with specific prayer requests as events unfold, but those that will span the next two years…
Wisdom to listen
Courage to speak
Soft-heartedness to act
God’s blessing – for without this, all is nothing
To my team: I can’t freaking wait to meet you all. Each of you is in my prayers and my hope is God will begin weaving our stories and hearts together even now. Here is to brothers and sisters in Christ. Cheers!