YWAM Newcastle Staff, Ashley Willingham, shares 5 Surprising things she has discovered about Missions & YWAM (Youth With A Mission. You can read more of her story and journey on her personal website, www.ashleywillingham.com
Since I was 17 years old, I knew God was calling me to missions, but there was so much fear and doubt in the beginning. Well before the beginning actually. I had a certain idea about missions. Fear of the unknown. Fear of missing out. (FOMO – major thing in the millennial generation!) Doubts about my own capacity to handle it – handle being away from family, handle being in a foreign country, handle the whole thing.
I can definitely tell you that after 5 years in missions, many things have surprised me. Things I feared and doubted are now places of great joy and peace. It’s remarkable what God can do, and He is absolutely trustworthy with our lives and our call.
5 Surprising Things About Missions
1. This Whole Finances Things
Often before coming into YWAM, this was my line when asked about my upcoming adventure in Australia:
“I’m so excited for it…except for this whole fundraising thing.”
I cannot tell you how many times I said that in the lead up because it totally terrified me. Finances were part of that “taboo” arena, next to politics and religion – you don’t go there. (Who made this arena anyway?)
I will say that fundraising for my everyday living didn’t happen over night. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of approaching friends, family, churches and the like to ask if they would give me money…on an ongoing basis…so I can live and work in Australia. I had this fear in me…
What if they think I am a mooch?
What if they don’t think I am actually working?
Will they think I am taking the “easy” way out?
Many of these sorts of questions and ideas run through missionaries’ heads. Fortunately, God has a much more appropriate way of thinking. Like the fact that this is actually biblical (check out how the Levites or Paul lived…and no, Paul wasn’t always a tentmaker). Like the fact that living this way actually includes so many people in what is happening all over the world. Like the fact that this partnership inspires, forges deep relationships and pretty much blows our minds all of the time. God has incredible truth to overcome our uncertainties.
I still may fumble my words when I first approach someone, but I have come to learn that it’s actually a privilege. I have learned that I am not asking for money but rather inviting someone into a vision. I am repeatedly blown away by God’s provision over my life through people. It never gets old.
2. I Don’t Need As Much Stuff As I Thought
When you move halfway across the world, you suddenly realise that you don’t need nearly as much stuff as you thought. I misunderstood the “storage” situation when I first came, so I literally brought one backpack and a carry-on bag for those first 6 months. Knowing I was coming back after that, I left most of it here, traveling with only the little carry-on bag. (I need to remind myself of this time when I travel…it was so relaxing traveling that light!)
While I was home in between DTS and staff, I sold my car, and I got rid of heaps of my stuff. I took some of my favourite books and photos back with me, and for those first couple years, I lived in a dorm in community. I went from having this beautiful house that I was renting with some friends, a car, etc. to living in a dorm again…and I was more than ok with it.
Now, after transitioning into marriage, we have a bit more stuff because we are more settled, but it’s not a huge place and our stuff isn’t “extravagant” by any measure. It’s home, though, and I love it. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Being in missions made me realise that I don’t need as much stuff as I thought I did. I didn’t know if I could survive without a car, but for the first 18 months I didn’t have a car. I was totally fine. Even after that, I didn’t technically have a car…just a fabulous boyfriend who did.
I feel like I have everything I need plus so many blessings, and I am totally content. Having a home certainly changes your perspective a bit, but even that being said, I no longer feel the pressure to always have the “latest and greatest”. I feel ok giving clothes away and going through our stuff. I don’t have that same sense of holding on that I used to, and it’s incredibly freeing.
3. I Think So Much Differently About “Home” Now
Everyone knows the saying “Home is where the heart is”, but I feel I know this in a totally new way now that I am in missions. When I was at University, I only referred to my parents house as “home”. I didn’t refer to Uni as home, even when I lived in an actual house my last year.
Now it’s a bit trickier. I have where I grew up, where I went to University, where my parents lived for awhile after high school, where they live now, where my husband’s family lives and where I currently live.
So many places, and I love it!
I love that different places have been temporary homes or longer-term homes and that I have gotten to experience life in different places.
I love the home Robbie and I have made for ourselves, and I call it and Newcastle “home”. I also call Indianapolis “home”, though. As cliche as it may sound, home isn’t actually a bunch of bricks and framing. It’s people. Home is my community here, my wonderful family in the States, my friends – it’s all over the world in some ways – and that feels pretty darn cool.
4. Often The Things We Initially Don’t Want To Do End Up Being The Most Rewarding
I already said this in some ways, but it’s significant enough to be repeated.
I did not want to be a missionary.
Another funny thing I found myself often saying to God in my late teen years was “I’ll do anything, Lord, except for missions.” Funny how we have our “excepts” with the King of the Universe…
I said “yes”, though, after I felt God stirring me for it for years. A friend said in 2004, “Ashley, you are a missionary. Period.” I didn’t want to hear it then, but I kept that email. I referred to it again in 2006 after a conference at my Uni, and I was a bit amazed by how spot on she was with everything. Then again, when I finally decided to do DTS, I referred to that email. She saw something in me – something I didn’t think I wanted to do it at all – and she called me out on it.
When I finally said “yes”, her comment on my Facebook page saying “FINALLY” probably had a thousand “L’s” haha. I am so thankful for her in my life, and I am so thankful that God knows us better than we know ourselves.
He knows the deepest desires of our hearts, even before we know them or see them.
I couldn’t have imagined or foreseen myself loving missions this much, finding so much fulfilment in this “career path”. God knew though, and I am glad that I did eventually say yes!
5. Sometimes People Think You’re Crazy
People may think this whether you do missions or not. I have had people think I was crazy for being a Christian or for going to a Christian University. People think you’re crazy for leaving home, for committing to this life.
I am ok being crazy because I am so undeniably convinced this is what God wants for my life. Everything I know of Him, of His character and heart for the world and for my life, points back to the fact that He’s so worth following. I guess we are all a little bit crazy right?
It did surprise me, though. Maybe it shouldn’t have. I am glad that it surprised me, though, because it forced me to remember just how worth it it is.
So there you go – 5 things that surprised me about missions. I am sure there are others if I thought about it a bit longer, and I am totally certain I could further explain these 5.