TITLE: STEPPING OUT
By Rachel Spencer
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The church service had already been going on for a couple of hours and was showing no signs of winding up. I had backache from having been sat on a wooden bench since it started, and a headache from the heat in the church. I was starving. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that I was not listening to the sermon. Instead, I was thinking about what on earth I was doing there.
I was in Uganda, East Africa, and had been for about three weeks. Having qualified as a nurse in the UK, I had decided to take a year out and go to Africa, a decision which, at that moment in the church, I was regretting. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t like it there. My parents had been missionaries to the Congo during my childhood and I felt like I had come home. No, the problem was that there was there was so much need, and I was struggling to stand under the weight of it. Everywhere that I looked, I saw poverty, disease, malnutrition. My nurse’s eye caught things that others would not; the kids with scabies rashes on their skin and round bellies caused by worms, the ginger hair of vitamin deficiencies, and the hacking, diaphragm-lifting cough of tuberculosis. My God-given spiritual eyes saw the despair of the women as they went about the daily business of survival, the emptiness of the men as they sat under mango trees drinking home-made beer. And slowly but surely, I was being crushed under all of it. I wanted to do something, but I had no idea where to start. The scale of the problem was just so huge. I felt that just helping just a few people would be almost pointless, and as I couldn’t help everyone I might as well just go home again. But how could I go home, leave them all there like that, and still be able to sleep at night? I was stuck.
So as I sat in church on that Sunday morning, those were the things that were running through my head. But I knew that God had led me to Uganda, and that He must have had a reason. So I put my question to Him in a silent cry;
“What am I doing here?”
The answer came almost immediately, as clear as if it had been spoken by the person next to me.
“Start a training school for health promotion.”
Well, I nearly fell off my bench, I was so surprised. Firstly, I hadn’t really been expecting an answer. I was expecting, at most, to get a vague sense of peace, some sort of confirmation that I was in the right place even though I didn’t know why. And secondly, the answer was absurd. I had been in Uganda for three weeks, I was twenty-two years old and I had no experience in health promotion work, let alone in training other people for it. I told myself that I must have imagined that God said that. So I asked the question again;
“What am I doing here?”
I’m often blown away by the patience of God. Sure, I’m also amazed by His love, His grace and mercy, and all the other things we hear so much about. But it’s His patience that really boggles my mind. Instead of telling me that He had already answered me so why on earth was I asking again, which is what I would say if I was Him, God just told me again, ever so clearly,
“There needs to be a school training people in health promotion, and you are going to start it and lead it.”
Let me just explain something here: I’m not usually the kind of person who hears God so clearly that I can put speech marks around His words. Usually, I rely upon vague impressions, scriptures and circumstances to guide me. But that morning, God really spoke those words, so clearly that I was looking around to see if anyone else had heard them too!
At long last, the service ended, and I left the church, but I could not leave the idea that God had given me. I went around and around it in my head, trying to work it out. The school made perfect sense. I had just started working for YWAM, an organisation that runs many training schools on everything from discipleship and theology to counselling and community development. The health promotion school would slot right in. Teaching people how to live healthy lifestyles and prevent diseases was the best solution to the problems that I had seen, and if a group could be trained to then train others, it would quickly multiply, reaching many more people than I could alone. It was a great idea, but there was one problem; I was sure that I was not the one to do it. I could perhaps help someone else, someone with experience, knowledge, resources – all the things that I didn’t have.
I decided that I needed to talk to someone about all of this. I went to a British doctor who was at that time working in the YWAM clinic, and I told him everything, about how overwhelmed I was by all the needs, about what God had spoken to me, and about how God probably had the wrong person. He stared at me for a few moments, as if trying to work out whether I was actually serious about it all.
“Great,” I thought, “he thinks I’m mad. He’s wondering how I can possibly think that this might be from God. And he’s probably right.”
Then he spoke, and his words sent a shiver straight down my spine.
“God has been speaking exactly the same thing to us for about the last six years. We’ve been praying constantly for someone who would be willing to come and pioneer and lead it. God told us that He would bring the right person at the right time. It seems you’re that person.”
These last few years, since that time, have been far from easy. Overcoming my fear in order to walk in obedience to God was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I have often thought of Peter, standing in the boat, looking at the waves beneath him, and wondering if he should really step out. I wonder if he thought that maybe Jesus had the wrong person, that he was too young, too inexperienced, too human, to walk on the water. But he did it. I decided that if Peter could step out of that boat, and walk on the water, then I could step out of my fears and start a health promotion school.
But Peter sunk. And so did I, many times. But the most wonderful part of the story is that when Peter sinks, it is not the end. Jesus reaches out to him, pulls him back again, holds onto him. As I prepared for the school, there were many times when I panicked, when I did not know what to do next, when I realised again how ridiculous it was that I should be the one to lead this project. And every time, Jesus reached out His hand, and I caught hold of it, and I was pulled up again. Every time, a lifeline would appear, usually in the form of a person who just happened to be an expert in whatever I was struggling with. So, one step at a time, through some huge waves, coughing and spluttering in the spray, I walked.
As I write this article, the first students of the School of Health Promotion for Development have just graduated, right here in Uganda, where I have been living since that time. They have been trained to know how to promote healthy bodies, minds and spirits, and to be able to pass that information on to communities across Africa. It is the beginning of what I am sure is going to be a ministry that God will use to bring amazing transformation, first to Uganda and then to the world.
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