We are sorry to inform you that we have filled all of our summer missionary vacancies for this year. Please feel free to reapply for next year’s program.
I was devastated by the words on the paper. I was preparing to graduate from the university in May and my summer plans were simple. I would serve as a summer missionary somewhere in the Southeast USA. But this letter changed everything. Now what would I do after college?
Finally, graduation week arrived. In the midst of studying for my final exams and packing up to move back home, the phone in my room rang. Confident that it must be Mom checking in on me, I yanked the receiver off the hook. “Howdy, what’s up?”
“This is the Home Missions Board. Are you still available to serve this summer?”
“Yes! Yes, I am.” This was so much better than a call from home. I wondered where I would be spending my summer. Near the North Carolina beaches? In historic Savannah, Georgia? In small rural towns across Florida? Growing up in a solid Christian home, I could not imagine anything better than serving my Lord in this way.
“We have an opening in the Northern Plains Baptist Convention.”
Okay, I don’t know where that is but it sure doesn’t sound like the South!
“Great! Do you know what I’ll be doing?”
“Not exactly. Not yet. We think you’ll spend the summer in Mandan, North Dakota, but that may change. You report to Rapid City, South Dakota for Orientation, and you’ll get confirmation of your assignment upon your arrival.”
Oh my! I wasn’t prepared for that. I had never been west of the Mississippi River. I was a Southern girl. I knew southern ways. Where exactly were the Dakotas anyway? I began to wonder if God got this one right.
“Hello, I’m Dub Hughes. We’ve been expecting you. You are not going to Mandan, and I don’t know where you are going, but welcome to the Northern Plains!” And that was how I was greeted when I got off the airplane in Rapid City. I quickly learned that I could possibly serve in Montana, Wyoming, or North or South Dakota.
I took inventory. First I was rejected. Then I was accepted, but not for where I wanted to be. Then I flew all the way from Florida, only to be told that they had no idea what they were going to do with me.
There were about twenty college-aged kids gathered in the conference center as the rules were explained. I remember just one line that we heard that day. “The eleventh commandment for summer missionaries is ‘Thou shalt not date.’”
A handful of us were soon off to Montana. I would be working as a youth director in a small church. One of the guys that would also work in Montana was, as we said back home, a long tall drink of water. This Texas fellow was six foot-four, slender and, in my opinion, quite cute. Our paths would cross during three of the ten weeks we served in this area. He caught my eye and I caught his, but we obeyed the rules…no dating. One week that we worked together, we did spend an afternoon chatting about his ex-girlfriend and what he could do to get her back. He was tired of working so hard on the relationship. I reminded him “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength”.
The summer quickly came to an end. My Texan headed home to resume his life and, presumably, to get back with his ex-girlfriend. I enjoyed my time with the people of Billings, Montana, but I wasn’t sure I had any measurable impact on their lives. Perhaps I had wasted my summer after all.
The Texan’s plans didn’t work out as he expected. One year later, we tied the knot. Since this was before the days of the internet, without serving in the Northern Plains, this Florida girl probably would not have ever met that man from Texas.
Over a quarter of a century later, we are still married. Our favorite verse is still Isaiah 40:31. I’d hate to think what would have happened in my life if I had said “No, thank you” when the call came in for my second chance placement.
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