In October of 2017, I spent some time in Uganda—a beautiful and dusty little country in Eastern Africa. Generally, when people take trips to another continent, they do quite a bit of planning a ways in advance. I found out that I would be going on September 1st… and that we would be leaving on October 4th. A month may seem like a reasonable timeline, and at first I had convinced myself of the same, however, I quickly realized that leaving my jobs, school work, and family was going to take a lot of preparation. I had to request the time off at one job, and I ended up quitting the other. After speaking to each of my professors, it became clear that my only option would be to work so far ahead in the next month, that I would have all coursework I would be missing, completed before I even left. I had to tell my family members, which was nerve wracking for me (and for them once I told them where I was going). Several of them had some serious reservations; they were only worried about my safety, of course, but it was still discouraging to not have their full support. I had to get all of my financials in order, because a fairly spontaneous trip half way around the world costs rather a lot of money. All of these things put a considerable amount of stress on me, but none of them as ruthless as the ridiculous hassle that was obtaining all of the necessary vaccinations to go. First, I had to get caught up on all of my regular vaccinations, then I had to focus on the ones that would keep me safe and healthy in Uganda. The most important one was the Yellow Fever vaccine. Before I continue, let me give you a little background on Yellow Fever.
Yellow Fever is a viral disease spread through mosquito bites in South America and Africa. Once infected, the symptoms can include fever, aches, jaundice, abdominal pain, and severe liver disease usually accompanied by internal bleeding. It can and does lead to death in many cases, and there is no treatment or cure for it. That is why it is so important to take precautionary measures such as getting vaccinated. The vaccination is also a requirement to enter the country of Uganda.
I called my regular physician and asked if she could access and administer the vaccine, the YF-Vax or Yellow Fever Vaccination, and she told me I would have to contact the county health department and request it that way. So I did. Unfortunately, that ‘solution’ was short lived. The lady on the other end of the phone working for the health department informed me that they did not have any YF-Vax left and could not request more because it was in short supply and high demand. She suggested I call a large clinic about an hour north to see if they had any left. With high hopes and an anxious heart, I made that call. Finally I got a definitive answer… but it was the exact opposite of what I had been hoping for. Instead of reassuring me they had it, she explained there was only one manufacturer of YF-Vax licensed in the United States, and they had shut down production completely to rebuild their facilities, which would not be done until the fall of 2018. Before shutting down, they had built up a huge surplus of the vaccination to be used in the between time. What they failed to account for however, was the large and ongoing outbreak of Yellow Fever in Brazil. The remainder of our stock here in the U.S. was sent to South America and used to vaccinate those living amidst the outbreak. Long story short—there was absolutely none left in America.
At this point, I was freaking out a little. Okay, I was freaking out a lot. I cried and thought that I for sure would not be able to go to Uganda. I was also running out of time; the day of my mental breakdown, I only had two weeks until I was set to leave. I kept researching though and tried tirelessly to find a solution. Finally, I came across something slightly risky, but it was the single option I had left.
There was an experimental vaccination made popular in France called Stamaril that was available upon request and only at a select few locations across the country. There were a few hesitations I had: the drug was not technically legal, I could not get it at a licensed physician’s office because of that, insurance would not cover it, and I would have to find someone to drive me to one of the locations because you cannot drive after receiving the vaccination. I also had no idea if it would qualify as a Yellow Fever vaccination in Uganda. By the grace of God, everything worked itself out. My dad was able to drive me, I pulled together the money to pay for the extra expense, and I decided that if the French were regularly dispensing this vaccine into their citizens, I probably would not die from it. In addition, I would receive the exact same certification card for Stamaril that I would have for YF-Vax.
It seemed as though all was well again. Then about a week before leaving, I got incredibly anxious. I have never been one to experience anxiety, but my nerves were kicking in at the thought of traveling alone to a new place with a war-torn history. I even had a few nightmares that I would die in a disturbing way while I was there. All of this was completely out of character for me, and honestly I was making myself sick with the fear of a worst-case scenario. My mom could see my fear, and it made her fearful too. She told me that if I was having doubts, it was probably not God’s will for me to go. Mom, if you’re reading this— I’m sorry, but you were dead wrong.
I went to Uganda, and as soon as I got there I was overwhelmed by the joyful welcome I received. My heart was peaceful as I stepped onto the red dirt soil for the first time. The feeling did not wear off, either. One day, as we were driving through the Ugandan countryside, I looked out the window, felt the sunshine on my face, and recalled all of the doubts I had before leaving. I told myself to remember this moment, to tuck it away for whenever I had returned home and felt like I did not have a purpose in life, or when I was faced with a situation that made me fearful again. This was purpose—God driven purpose. He needed me to go to Uganda, and I needed Him to help me go.
I learned later in the trip that several other people attending had similar experiences to mine: their families did not offer their support, they had monetary issues, and they had immense nerves and fear cling to them as they tried to prepare for what lie ahead.
After I returned, I thought a lot about fear, and about how I could not let it hold me back if I wanted to live a full life in service to God—because, here’s the thing: a life in full service to God is one of fear. We have to fear him, and revere him enough to do what he tells us to do.
That realization made me think back to a few months earlier when I had had a major conflict with one of my best friends. This was the kind of fight that completely ends friendships, and neither of us was completely at fault, or completely willing to admit that. I will spare you the details, but in short, the fight ended with us cancelling our plans for the summer and not speaking for three months. It was awful, but because of our cancelled plans, I was able to move away for a while and do the work and will of the Lord in Alaska. I knew within a day of being there that the Lord needed me in that place at that specific time for a reason, and I was overcome with guilt when I thought of how I selfishly had planned to do what I wanted instead of what God wanted. As always, God won, but it was because of my conceit that a friendship was sacrificed as the cost.
Just a few weeks ago, I took a giant leap of faith for the first time in too long. I signed myself up for another experience that would ultimately lead to me strengthening my relationship with Jesus in preparation, and hopefully strengthening others’ in the outcome. After officially registering for the event, I walked outside and got in my car to go to work; it was completely dead. My knowledge of cars is very little, so after a few times of trying to get the ignition to turn over, I gave up and decided to just take my brother’s truck. I went back inside and his keys were nowhere to be found. I ran back and forth tirelessly from the shed to the house, grabbing every single key we had to try and start the truck; none of them worked and I was going to be late. Finally, I decided my only other option was to take my dad’s truck. This was a very daunting realization for me: No one is allowed to drive his truck; it is basically his baby—he barely drives the thing himself for fear that something will happen to it. With that being said, I understand why he would not want me specifically driving his truck—I do not have a great track record when it comes to driving; accidents just seem to find me wherever I am. Thankfully, my day did not entail any accidents, but the annoyances kept coming like pitches from a machine. I had a customer yell at me extensively over something that was out of my hands and not a big deal. I realized later in the day on my way to the gym that I had forgotten deodorant that morning (yuck). Then, I had one penny less than I needed to give exact change for my coffee and had to break another dollar. The final straw, though, was when I got to Aldi and realized I was completely quarter less. (You may be thinking that is not that big of a deal, but if you have ever been to an Aldi, you know it’s the worst.)
In my frustration, I shook my fist at heaven and thought “God, how come every time I try to do something for you, every bad thing that can happen, does?!” Then I got my answer clear as day. Because I was living for God, the devil was working twice as hard to make sure I failed or gave up before I could carry His work to completion. Satan did not want me to go to Uganda and be opened to the miraculous truths of the Lord tucked into every breath there, so he put every obstacle he could think of in my way. He did not want me to go to Alaska at the time I did, because he did not want me to be a servant of the Lord to the people in need there. Satan is evil and his ways are evil, but the goodness of the Lord will always overcome.
James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Being put to the test for the Lord is the greatest honor He can bestow upon us. The next time you feel pressure or stress in life, I encourage you to take a moment and evaluate why your faith is being tested—and then praise God. Honor him and trust him instead of shaking your fist and questioning him. Become a modern day Job and show Satan that the trials and frustrations of this world are no measure for the holy love and treasure that consumes God’s people. Take the advice of James and turn that frown upside down when things aren’t quite going your way. Naturally, it is not going to be easy to do, but that is exactly the point: good and perfect things must take the time to grow and mature before they become perfect, and if you wish to be perfect and complete, so must you.