Longing for Significance

(Note from Sue Reeve: Anne of Green Gables expressed her desire to find a ‘bosom friend.’ Such friendships are rare. Anne found Diana, and Jackie has been that kind of friend to me. We are really quite different in most ways. But, we each share a passionate love for God, our families, learning, and watching women grow in faith. We both desire to live lives of significance that will leave lasting legacies of faith. I introduced you to Jackie in the blog post: A Life-Altering Knock. Jackie is the first guest blogger to Listening on the Journey. I’m honored to have my dear friend share some of her insights on significance with you.)

Reflections on Significance from the Mission Field

by Jackie Anderson

     Three oxen, two sheep and multiple chickens were prepared for the ten-year anniversary celebration of Soddo Christian Hospital in Ethiopia. My husband prepared multiple speeches, videos and PowerPoint presentations for the big day. We had been serving the hospital for nine and one-half years so were the longest serving foreign missionary staff.

     As the ten-year memories flew by in photos, I surveyed my own changes.

     I wasn’t new to missions when we arrived in Soddo. Duane and I had first served for one-month stints for eight years. We knew we wanted more. We didn’t know how much more we were getting. Our mentors left after nine months and we were alone as foreigners for several months. Then one family came to work with us; then another, until after ten years there were a dozen.

     I had worked hard at being a missionary, at battling with the emotional upheaval of losing one identity as mom and embracing the new role. I threw myself into teaching English to 70 nursing students, starting Bible studies with Ethiopian staff and students, learning to cook with what was available, and adjusting to Duane’s new schedule.

     I offered a Bible study, and the room overflowed the first week. It shrank to three the second. My enthusiastic joy at teaching hit walls of confusion because I didn’t use a translator! Failure? Perhaps, but God kept those three and me going to become a core for a study with leaders that has endured many years.

     The second year a family moved in next door. A friend! Within a month she had a significant ministry at an orphanage. I watched it grow for the next five years, listened to the success and acclaims. I don’t know why I was left out, why I was never asked for help. The struggle of comparison began.

     If I was going to sacrifice so much to be in Ethiopia, I deeply desired to have meaning and significance in ministry. That second year I stayed home for 6 months caring for a young boy and twin newborns whose mother died in the hospital. When they left I struggled to find other significant work. I started teaching English to my house worker’s sons. The days seemed empty with only an occasional spark of meaningful interaction.

     The third year hovers in my mind as one of the worst in my life. A third family came and created another upheaval.

     The wife I once hoped would be my friend quickly became best friends with the other missionary woman. Many days I watched from my window as they went off to work at whatever they had found to do. I felt alone and useless even though I was still teaching my Bible study group and praying with patients. It didn’t fill my days enough.

     My friend knew something was wrong. I had conflicts with Susie (not her name). Early on, I grasped I was experiencing fear of failure. I wanted what she had. It seemed so easy. People pointed to what she could do. Blah blah blah. This cycle of comparison may sound familiar to you. I hated how I was feeling, but couldn’t stop the churning in my stomach. I tried serving her, praying for her. I offered to be an assistant and was set to scrub floors. I cried, “Oh, Lord, what are you doing to me? Am I set on a shelf like an unused kitchen appliance without a cord?”

     I started building a learning center at the hospital, expanding my idea of teaching English—but meanwhile I waited in my house, crippled, alone, longing.I battered the door of Heaven for answers, peace, and hope. Sue Reeve had given a book called 31 Days of Praise

by Ruth Meyers to me years before. The truths in this book and the act of praise became my lifeline.

     Fast forward to today. I can list my significant ministry, but today I ask deeper questions.

  • Am I significant because I have a title?
  • Am I significant because my days are full?
  • Am I significant because I am content to rejoice with others’ success while focusing on what God has given me?
  • Am I significant because my work is spreading?

     Missionaries are asked to give regular reports to supporting churches. Sometimes this encourages focusing on great stories like a mission-minded Indiana Jones. Yet, like a farmer cultivating his crops, I must keep on—keep on doing the daily work that brings fruit.

     What I have learned about significance these past ten years serving as a missionary in Ethiopia:

My significance is grounded in being a child of God!

     We long for lasting work, a heritage we can be pleased to pass on. I still want a work that makes my present sacrifice seem worthwhile. I have left children, grandchildren, my own culture and my own comforts. I want my sacrifices to matter.

     God created us like this. Psalm 90:17 echoes in my heart: May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”

     Missionary life can give those serving an unbalanced view of self. The small man in the States can be a big man in Africa. Our white skin gives us privileges as well as attention. My prayer is that I have the character and spirit of John the Baptist. His ministry was short, maybe only one year. Yet, He drew large crowds and saw repentance spreading. But, he pointed to Jesus. He released his disciples, John and Andrew, to follow Jesus. His words in John 3:23-36 about his reaction to Jesus’s growing popularity are humble and realistic.

     Some said, John, that man you testified about is baptizing and many people are now coming to him.’ John answered, A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from heaven….He must become greater; I must become less.’”

John was so realistic and so humble. Like John, I want to remember:

This is God’s ministry, and it is all to his glory.

Lessons I’ve learned and would like to pass on:

  • Know who you are!
  • Discover your place in God’s plan to build His kingdom.
  • Rejoice with others who are doing their part even if they are more dramatic, more successful, and seemingly more impressive.
  • Always remember: it is Christ who is the true center.

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(Top) Jackie and her husband, Duane.

(Bottom) Jackie making memories with four of her seven grandkids. She shares her love of books and reading with them whenever she is in the States.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:17

2 thoughts on “Longing for Significance

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