When I was 7 years old, I accepted Jesus as my own Heavenly Daddy in Mrs. Clifton's Sunday School class at Arcade church in Sacramento, my home church.
I have always loved Christian praise music. I participated in a warehouse ministry with weekly Saturday night concerts and talks by brothers and sisters such as Andre Crouch, Keith Green, John Michael Talbot, and tons of popular groups of that day. Hearing their testimonies and watching God work in my own high school gave me the first inklings of how the Holy Spirit could work in the lives of God's children iIF you were open to having Him to totally ruin your life by scrapping every last one of your individual plans and give it all open handed right straight back to Jesus to go crazy with.
I was always the kid who could not get enough of the stories and slides that missionaries brought home from their travels to share. I wanted to get to church early and stay late on those nights when a missionary was speaking.
Somehow during the years after high school when I was in nursing school, I got it in my head that I was scared to let my hands be open and release my death grip on my own personal plans and goals in favor of God's plans and goals, with my life as a vessel He could use as needed. Somewhere I picked up some fear of trusting Him 100%. I told God I had to stay in the USA but that I would do whatever He called me to do while firmly planted. I had so many conditions to my agreement I'm sure God felt like banghing His forehead on the street.I was such a pain.
When I was the Frontier Ranch nurse at Mission Springs just before college graduation, I learned about the InterVarsity URBANA missions conference. Hilariously, it just happened to be coming up in a few months and my friends at Mission Springs asked me to go. I quickly signed up; my list of requirements for service clutched tightly in my hands.
Fast forward to the URBANA conference. Almost 20,000 of my nearest and dearest new friends blew in to the frozen prairie and it was like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose. The worship and the seminars and the talk from Billy Graham and everything else knocked me out with glory fits. One evening I was in the main hall where mission boards from around the world were set up and a guy from one of them asked me what I thought God was calling me to. I never missed a beat when I responded, "Oh God is calling me to the Ivory Coast." He said, "Oh wow, cool", and we chatted a bit more. I had to meet my group for supper after that and when we got together I said, "Well, I think there must be a special place in hell for people who tell lies to missionaries because I just told this guy that I was going to be a missionary in the Ivory Coast." I had never even heard of the Ivory Coast and had to ask someone where the heck it was. "I think it's in Africa, my friend Becky told me." I laughed and said something flippant like, "well not me, I am not leaving USA".
I never thought another thing about this experience until 3 years had passed and I was a working nurse with enough experience to start looking for full time christian service on an indian reservation in Montana since my dad was from the Blackfeet tribe . I had made several applications and was getting responses requesting interviews. One day one of the pastors from my home church called me. He said, "Jerri, the Lord has put you on my mind. There is an urgent need for a nurse at the Mission hospital in Ivory Coast West Africa. They need you to start as soon as you can. We will help you get there." My Urbana memory came roaring back and somewhere in the distance I could hear God falling on the floor laughing as He reminded me who was really in charge of my life, the life I promised was His.
Fast forward 3 months later I woke up in the bush ; a little village town on the back side of nowhere at the place any semblance of a real road stopped. This piece of Africa was made up of mostly muslim, animist, and a few christians; a dirt poor community of subsistance farmers who scratched out a living in the clay red dirt that covered everything and everyone; bodies, clothes, and mud brick huts with thatched roofs that rats loved to fall out of and on to unsuspecting sleepers in the night. It was a land filled with snakes dripping out of the trees hoping to bite me when I walked to the hospital from my house at 3am to birth a baby or give general anesthesia for an emergency surgery. It was a land filled with 20 hour work days and scorpions to step on that try to kill you and 120 degree temperatures with 100% humidity that tries to kill every ounce of joy you ever had until you think you do not need to die by snake or scorpion bite because this freaking heat is going to do the trick. I stayed flinchy and scared 24/7. I had trouble relearning the French I needed to find in the recesses of my brain in order to talk to the African hospital staff and anyone else except missionary staff. I had trouble not getting food poisoning and malaria and every other miserable sickness known to humans in the 3rd world. I got it all.
In between gnashing my teeth and shaking my fist at heaven and complaining all the live long day about everything under that blazing sun, the Holy Spirit started to sink into my heart and at times I could hear God whisper, "Lean in, I'm in this My daughter." One night as I was walking back to my house in the staff residence area behind the hospital and clinic after helping to birth the cutest little baby to a young couple who had never had a live baby born to them after 4 pregnancies until they came to our hospital for regular OB care, I looked up into the pitch dark . What did I see hanging directly over my house but the twinkling lights of the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars in the blue velvet night sky in this part of the world. Then I heard that whisper again, "See I brought you here to show you I've got you. I wasn't kidding around when I say FEAR NOT FOR I AM WITH YOU. Pay attention. You are going to have an amazing life with Me. Buckle up my beloved ." I laughed and shouted in the darkness, "OK YOU WIN. I GET IT. I KNOW YOU ARE HERE. I SURRENDER. YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY BY THE WAY. I LOVE YOU. THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME." ( I pretended not to hear God's response of "Well you drive me crazy too so we are even.")
What followed this miracle in the darkness has been a lifetime of thrill rides with an absence of fear. Its not that I am not ever afraid of things, it's that I am not held back or crippled by them.
I am a cautious person by nature but now I no longer cling to the edge of life, too afraid to savor the flavor. I have lived and worked all over this world as a medical missionary in war-torn Uganda, south and central america, and in East Oakland, perhaps the most scary mission field of all. I have been shot at, chased by pimps, held at gunpoint by Idi Amin's child soldiers, nearly stabbed, stalked, threatened inumerable times at the poverty medicine practice where I have served for many years. I have gained a family of thousands- immigrant fearful newcomers looking for a hug and someone to care for their kids, 3 generations of families who have had babies with me born and raised in Oakland who call me auntie. Junkies, whores, thieves, crazy as Hector Heathcoat street dwellers; we know each other and we argue and we hug and we laugh and we cry and they pat me on the head and say things like, "Oh Jer, don't worry about me so much. I'm not smoking that much methamphetamine".
Many of these folks are some of the closest people in my life. They bring me photos of their kids and they sing me songs of thanks in their home land languages. It's a joy to go to Safeway and recognize only by her sparkly eyes, the totally veiled and covered woman from Afghanastan who runs to me for hugs and kisses in the ice cream aisle. I am grateful to my very core for the wild ride of being a Jesus knower and follower.
It really doesn't get any better than that.