Two summers ago, I was in Indonesia for a five-week teaching volunteer internship stint. I was miserable. Just days before departing, I had walked past a girl who looked extremely stoned, whose shirt was unbuttoned to reveal her bra, and a boy who was calling a friend for help over the phone in urgent tones. A thought hit me: why am I going overseas to volunteer, when needs abound right here? I arrived, unprepared and unmotivated, to thirteen volunteers and barely any students because it was Ramadan; the fan broken; the little house steaming in the humidity.
The other volunteers were very different from me, and I couldn't care less for their conversation topics, which comprised little other than sitcoms, parties, alcohol, weed and sex. I was bored out of my wits. I had just come from two incredible church camps, in which I had felt so inspired and rejuvenated spiritually. I was all ready to take a deeper step in worship, spend more time in communion with Him alone in my room, and meet with ministry partners and mentees to edify them. Instead I was whisked off to a centre whose fellow volunteers I couldn't connect with, in a culture so foreign, prayers blaring in a language I didn't understand every dawn and dusk. It just wasn't the right time for me, and I wasn't ready for it. I felt like an alien longing for home.
One Sunday afternoon, I sat in Classroom One, the air bathed in yellow sunlight, listening to Christian music and writing in my diary about how homesick and lonely I was.
I've been waiting 11 days for this morning - the day I get to go to church, where I am free to worship and pray, be with God and His people. But alas - 2.5 out of the 3 songs were in Indonesian, and the Chinese lyrics were in 繁体字. And the translator's Chinese pronunciation was so different, completely unintelligible to me. I couldn't understand anything of the sermon, except that the main text was from Ezekiel 37, the passage about dry bones. Relevant to how I was feeling right then, sitting in the pew all frustrated.
But I was reading "Jesus Among Other Gods" yesterday, and there's a quote:
"Abraham saw his home as temporary but his worship is permanent. Now, on the run, Jacob was homeless and altarless. When he reached a place called Luz, he slept with a stone for a pillow. Even for a desert dweller, that was rough. // And while he slept, the Lord came to him in a dream...he thought to himself, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of Heaven.' Jacob took the stone pillow and left it as a marker in the place he was now going to call Bethel - meaning, 'the house of God.'"
Even as I feel homeless and altarless, this place is where God is, too. Bethel is within me. Even when a church cannot meet my needs, Bethel is here.
I'll have to work out Bethel for myself now. Today I discovered that mornings in the centre are peaceful and empty, and I can utilise them. Find my own way to worship here, listen to sermons online, feed myself. Bethel is within me.
I really miss God, the freedom of worshipping and being with Him. Isaac sent me this song quote yesterday: "Don't turn away from me, for My love won't be undone / Don't hide your face from me, for My light has surely come / Lift up your eyes and see, Heaven is closer than you know / Lift up your voice and sing, know that My love won't let you go, and I won't forsake you."
As I was writing this, Your Presence Is Heaven started playing on YouTube and for some reason I truly felt the presence of Heaven come upon me at that moment. I felt a divine peace embrace me. True tranquility, and the world seemed different. Still.
There was one other girl, Denise, sitting at the table behind me. I had just found out that morning that she was Catholic, but hadn't gone to church since coming to the centre. The peace of God blossoming in my heart, I decided to turn around and ask if I could pray for her. And she said "sure", and I did, led by the Holy Spirit: I thanked God for blessing her with her family (and I felt God in me point out her sister in particular, but I thought, "What? What if she doesn't have a sister? That'd be a weird thing to say, I don't dare say it" - but I later found out that she did indeed have a sister!! Don't doubt your prophecies! Speak in faith!!!), and I prayed that God would show her beautiful things of Him, and draw her closer to Himself in Thailand where she was headed the following week*. By the end of it I was the one in tears.
"Oh- you're crying!!"
It was simply so precious to be able to pray for another Christian at last. Some semblance of Christian community, some spirit of communion. Finally, what was within me had an outlet. I had been texting and Skyping my friends back home the whole time, though, so why was this different? Perhaps it was the feeling of being a channel through which God was flowing. Finally, new anointing, new oil running through me. Finally being able to do ministry, being able to speak the word of God. Once, Evannia got me to write down all the moments where I felt that God's presence had been undeniable in my life, and I realised it was always when I was praying for other people that God showed me what was on His heart, whether through an absurd yet accurate prophecy or through an image of sheer love and purity.
I was reminded of all this today as I sat in church. It wasn't related to what was being preached at all, but God reminded me of this in relation to something that was prophesied over me in my new cell group two days ago. My leader had said that now was the time for me to make a decision about being God's bondservant, dedicating my life entirely to Him; it was time to stop having one foot out the door. It has been hard. Following a friend's death last year, I've been having a hard time trusting in God's tenderness and goodness; I've been fearing the next heartache He would bring. What more might He lead me through, if I surrender all to Him as I did before? Today I remember that Sunday afternoon two years ago, how liberating it was to release God's spirit in community, in ministry. The taste of God, the sweetness of ministry is something I cannot do without. I feel homesick and utterly alone without it. I must be bound to Christ. I cannot live any other way.
* This, too, was a prophecy! The Thailand volunteering stint that she had planned was extremely unfulfilling for her, so she decided to leave the place prematurely, and she went instead to a Catholic charity home for children with disabilities, run by nuns. She was able to go to Mass every week and teach catechism classes. When she was there, she texted me sounding all happy and grateful, and declared that my prayer had worked.