I can still remember it vividly, the low wooden bookshelf that stood against the wall in the corner of my bedroom. I was 7 or 8 years old then, and that bookshelf meant the world to me. Or rather, the books it held did. Even then I loved books, and I had already read several abridged classics, like Oliver Twist and Around the World in Eighty Days. My bookshelf was also crammed with Nancy Drew mysteries and almost the whole Ramona series. Each book was a treasured possession, and I probably read each of them a dozen times.
But one row of books was different than all the rest, and they were the most precious of all. They were my missionary books, and I read them over and over again until I had them nearly memorized. My favorite books were those about Lottie Moon, Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael, and Mary Slessor. I can remember reading about their lives in foreign places like China, India, and Africa, and marveling at how they depended and trusted God in their daily lives for strength and protection. Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward were always two of my favorites, mainly because they both adopted children that no one else wanted or cared for. Even now as an adult, I still remember those stories about the brave but ordinary single women that God called to serve in some of the most difficult places in the world.
When I went to Africa last autumn, I couldn’t quite believe where I was. Out of all of the places I had ever imagined myself being, Africa was never on the list. And yet, Africa was where the Lord made it possible for me to go, providing all of my funding out of the blue and making all the preliminary things go smoothly. I was there for two weeks, and those were the shortest two weeks of my life. I didn’t have enough time to be in the culture, or share with the people I had met. When the plane landed back on American soil, I knew that I wanted to go back for a longer time. I knew what to expect now; how to talk to the people I met and how they preferred to do things.
One of the nights while I was still in Africa, I had a realization that would have knocked me over if I hadn’t already been sitting down! It had never occurred to me until that night, that ever since I was a little eight-year old girl reading those missionary stories, I wanted to be just like Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward. It was as if I had a little lightbulb pop over my head, and the dream that I had as a child seemed more real.
I don’t know what the next step for me is after I finish my last bit of college. I keep seeking and praying for the Lord’s guidance, and trusting Him to lead me where He wants me. But some nights, I still think about that little white bookshelf with its special row of missionary books, and about an eight-year old girl’s secret prayer that God would make her a missionary someday, too.