It was the last leg of my first international mission trip to the Philippines on a pleasantly cool day in Cavite at the end of February 2017, less than a year after I had been baptized into the church. Alone in the small room I was calling home, I prayed with passion that the Lord would make clear where he’d like me to continue my education. I was at a major crossroads and didn’t intend to take a wrong path based on my own short-sighted judgment.
As I sat down with my Bible, I asked the Lord to reveal to me through particular words where exactly He willed for me to study. The first word I chose was “north” for Weimar Institute in northern California, only hours from my hometown in central California. “Hill” was the second for Ouachita Hills College in Arkansas. Lastly, “south” for Southern Adventist University. Though I don’t recommend this approach to getting answers from the Lord, God met me where I was at and amazingly led me to verse after verse containing the word “south” or “southern” wherever my eyes happened to land. To this day I can’t fully explain how it happened, but I believe angels were guiding my fingers as I shuffled through the gold-edged pages. I began to tear up with awe and gratitude for the Lord’s willingness to work with my small amount of faith and answer me so clearly when I felt so unsure of where I was headed after the trip. After returning to California, I submitted an application and was accepted as an incoming transfer student for the fall semester. I couldn’t wait to get on campus!
It was a muggy day at the end of July when I moved into my room almost two miles north of Southern. I planned to give myself enough time to get settled and fully prepared for the deluge of homework on the horizon and to orient myself with the nearby shopping centers and restaurants. When the day finally arrived, I joyfully waltzed onto campus eager to meet new friends and put my academic gifts to proper use. While I succeeded at the latter, I wasn’t so fortunate with the former. Despite how much I tried to put myself out there socially, my attempts were futile in breaking into the tight-knit cliques I began to notice more keenly as the semesters rolled by. I had decent conversations with a handful of fellow students, but I still felt a nagging sense that my non-SDA background and older age was hindering me from truly breaking through the acquaintance level into that of friend with many.
To add insult to injury, I had been on the receiving end of some condescending remarks for not being savvy enough on matters that I judged to be intimately linked to a higher social standing. I was less financially well-off than many and had not yet found enough connection to others in my same shoes. I felt tremendously lonely and rejected. The guy without all the right connections and influential family members. A fool (in my mind) for having thought that I would be embraced as an equal by those who I suspected had grown up overwhelmingly insulated from many of the hardships I had endured.
All of this pushed me to seriously consider bailing for a public school and at the end of last year, I began to give the Lord reason after reason why staying at Southern was not benefitting my social or emotional well-being. I clearly didn’t have the pedigree to be a student at Southern and the treatment of enough students had made that abundantly obvious to me.
I didn’t get an answer from the Lord until the beginning of this year, on my birthday actually. Andrew, my friend and fellow theology major, left a note on my door with Isaiah 41:8-10 as the most emphasized of several verses.
“But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
As my eyes passed over each line, I noticed that he had boldly underlined the word “chosen”. My heart nearly skipped a beat! Needless to say, this confirmed to me that I was on the right track. In spite of the opinion of others, He had chosen me to study theology here. I began to lean more on His approval and less on that of those around me manifesting a critical spirit. God reminded me that their opinion was from a place of too little exposure to people outside the denominational bubble and empowered me to grant me the grace they hadn’t shown me.
So today, if you’re in any way feeling like you’re not as smart, not as skilled, not as popular, or not as talented for ministry as others, I want to remind you that you are chosen by the Lord to witness for Him no matter how you feel or others have tried to make you feel about yourself. Rest assured, He has a place especially for you even if you didn’t grow up with all of the Adventist boxes checked!
I’d also like to remind others to become more aware of your blessings and remember that the church is not an exclusive country club for the saints, but an open-door hospital for the lost “Gentiles” on the outside who are spiritually starving for the special messages God has entrusted to us as His privileged people. Each of us is chosen to play our unique role in His grand plan of restoring His kingdom in the world!