When I was 19 years old, I moved onto a ship that sailed from port to port selling literature to developing countries. It was a multi-national, interdenominational crew of about 200 people. I lived on board the Logos II for almost three years and stayed in a tiny cabin with a young woman from Scotland. At various times I worked cleaning bathrooms, selling books, and organizing conferences. During my stint, we went to over 30 countries, and to this day it was one of the most formative seasons of my life.
Because we were an interdenominational community, I was exposed to different streams of the Christian faith. We worked together, majored on the most important things, and chose to disregard anything that might cause division. As a result, we had loud Pentecostals, profoundly conservative Anglicans, and everything in between. At the time, I was a hang-from-the-rafters-charismatic sort who went to a Baptist church and had been raised Presbyterian. It was there, on the ship, that I found my first real spiritual home—the place where I was granted permission to be exactly myself and didn’t need to apologize for it.
Down the hall from my cabin lived a Korean woman who spoke broken English and seemed insignificant. I was a young girl who wanted to do great things for God. I was looking for important people, searching for those with great leadership gifts I could learn from and imitate. (My youthful arrogance did not evade me!)
Now, this particular Korean woman seemed quite ordinary. She was kind and thoughtful, but she didn’t strike me as a spiritual giant. We hardly knew each other, but would end up from time to time on church teams together, and while I liked her, I hardly thought she had anything to teach me.
And then, typical of the ways of God, my life unraveled and I felt propelled, or maybe compelled, to look at God differently. For starters, I didn’t get the job I wanted and was forced to do menial work I considered trivial and pointless. My best friend got the job I really wanted, the one I believed I deserved, and for the first time in my life, I struggled with the green-eyed monster. Then, the young man I was in love with decided I wasn’t attractive enough for him and he moved onto a thinner, prettier girl. It broke my heart and I knew I’d never recover.
Around that time, the ship sailed into Acapulco, Mexico, right on the tail of a terrible hurricane and I found myself translating in a village that had lost everything. I helped people dig their lost homes out of the rubble. I walked around picking up debris and chatted with children. And I sat with women as they told me stories of how the waves rose high and washed their lives away in one swift night.
Over the weeks in that village, translating for the nurses, I began to sense God whisper things to me, a gentle nudging in my spirit. Would you be willing to live here and love me even if no one ever knew about it? Would you accept a silent and hidden life if it brought me glory?
I wish I could say I knelt before God and told him without hesitation that I would do anything for him, even live a hidden life serving and loving people no one knew about. But the stark cold truth was that I wanted to be important for God. I wanted to be significant. I wanted to be seen, of course by God, but mostly by others.
One early morning, I found the Korean woman on the floor outside her cabin. She was pouring over her Bible and tears streamed down her face. I paused and knelt beside her. The air was hushed and quiet, something sacred was happening around her. I recognized it as a holy place.
She explained to me that her two years on board the ship had been a sanctifying work. God had stripped her of absolutely everything she depended on outside of him, and through the tearing away of outside props she’d come to find him sufficient for her needs. She had discovered he was enough. He was her God and he lacked no good thing.
I later learned that my Korean friend had a PhD in theology, knew Hebrew and Greek, and was more trained in Scripture than most of the Christians I’ve known. She lived most of her two years washing dishes and reading her Bible, learning to let God be enough.
That lesson, 18 years ago has served me well. In my youth, I was aching to make my mark on the world. And that morning, as the ship rocked and swayed with the current of the sea, I began to realize, God was aching to make his mark on me.