Each month, the ladies of the mission here in Mexico get together for a meeting in which we sing worship songs and someone shares what the Lord is teaching her. We also share prayer requests and listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of the people around us. It is a wonderfully encouraging time. Since I am the newbie here, I was asked to share my testimony and how I got here at our last meeting. Some of you know bits and pieces of this story, and some of you know it all. It's a bit lengthy. Nevertheless, here it is:
For those of you whom I haven't yet had the chance to meet; my name is Jessica Miller. I am twenty two years old, and I just graduated from the University of Georgia in May. Two days earlier, I had just been approved to come down here as an associate teacher. Wow, God is good.
Here is a little bit about me and how God brought me here. I was born and raised in a Christian home. My parents both grew up going to church, but they did not know they were in need of a Savior until after they were married. My mom accepted the Lord a year after they married, and my dad followed a year after that. My parents are both from South Carolina, and they both attended the University of South Carolina and graduated with pharmacy degrees. They lived in Atlanta for a little bit, then moved to Nashville, where both my sister and I were born. We moved to Indianapolis one month prior to me turning six, and this is where I accepted Christ. At that young age, I prayed a prayer, and I know I didn't understand the implications of my words. I know now that the childlike faith the Lord gave me then was at least a springboard for what He would do in my heart years down the road. At that age, I only knew that I wanted what my parents had, whatever that was. I knew that they were different. So I wanted to be different, too. But this desire to be different and set apart was founded in legalism as a child. I didn't understand what it meant to follow Jesus; I only saw Christianity as a dichotomy between what I did or did not do. I was often paralyzed with fear and prayed the "prayer of salvation" whenever pastors gave an invitation at the end of a service because I was deathly afraid of hell. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 years old in the youth group that I really allowed the Lord to grab hold of my heart.
I remember a friend of mine saying in fourth or fifth grade Sunday school class that she read her Bible, and I thought to myself, "Why would she do that? That is for adults. We're just kids. We can do that later. " In seventh grade, I was finally promoted to the youth group, and we were challenged and constantly told the importance of our "quiet time" with God. So I gave the whole Bible reading thing a chance, and what do you know, God used His word to really change my heart and mind! In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes that "All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Throughout middle school and high school, the Lord really used His word to illuminate the truth in my life by giving me a burden for my friends who needed Him. He also showed me my sin and asked me what I was going to do about it. In Romans 6 (my most favorite book of the New Testament. ever.), Paul writes, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (verses 1-4) I was constantly challenged to remember that I have a new life in Christ. Through the years, God's word has also showed me my need for a Savior and reiterated time and again the simple truth that I cannot do anything to save myself. He loves me because He loves me. And the only proper response is to love Him back.
When I was 15, I had the opportunity to come to Mexico with my church. We had a five-year partnership with a church outside of Mexico City, and the last year of that partnership was the first year I was eligible to come. What I saw and experienced in that short week irrevocably changed my life. I had never been outside of my little suburban bubble, and I saw poverty and joy and pain and the face of Jesus all over the Mexican believers who simply clung to Him with all of their strength. Theses people had next to nothing compared to my lavish American lifestyle, and yet they were filled with so much and hope, joy, and faith in the God of the universe. Before the week ended, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, and when I returned back home, eager to share every detail of the week with anyone who would listen, He confirmed His calling. I knew I was coming back to Mexico in one way or another.
After graduating from high school, I set off to the University of Georgia, now the number one party school in the nation. (Don't judge.) In my naiveté, I had no idea about this wonderful claim to fame and was just excited about living in Athens away from my parents. I majored in Early Childhood Education and minored in Spanish (almost) and also got an endorsement to teach ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) so that I could work with Hispanic kids or in a Spanish-speaking country (preferably Mexico!) after graduation. Fast forward to the fall semester of my senior year. It is time to start making decisions about post-graduation plans. At the nudging of my well-meaning father, I was going through the motions of applying to grad school by attempting to study for the GRE and looking at the application requirements online when it me. My heart just wasn't in it. Soon enough, the thought of attending grad school and not realizing the the dream the Lord had laid on my heart years before almost physically sickened me. It was something I knew all along and had been afraid to admit to myself. Add to that a Bible study of the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan, which confirmed so many thoughts and feelings I had had for years, and I knew that I needed to be honest with myself and with my parents about where the Lord was leading me on this next phase of my journey with Him.
At Thanksgiving I told my parents that I wasn't going to grad school, and they weren't happy. They've come a long way now and are very supportive of and happy for me, but it took a while. Around late December or January, I "stumbled across" the New Tribes Mission (NTM) website and saw that they wanted teachers here in Chihuahua, but the disclaimer was that you needed at least 2 years of experience. I thought to myself, "I haven't even graduated yet; they won't take me." But I kept coming back to the site, and I finally completed an info form. To make a long story short, after playing phone tag with a staff member at the mission's headquarters in Sanford, FL, we finally talked while I was on spring break in March (the day after I found out that I had been offered a job with Teach for America in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, which is "pretty much" Mexico...) and I found out that they still needed teachers here in Chihuahua. I knew right away that God had something big in store for me. I sent him my resumé, he forwarded it to the principal, who called me that same day, and then I turned down Teach for America that next week, not knowing whether or not this whole Mexico thing was a sure deal.
But God is faithful. I began the application process with NTM, which took me about a month or so, and I found out that I was approved the day before I graduated and the day after I turned 22. What beautiful timing our God has! This summer was a blur; I graduated, my sister graduated from high school, I went to youth camp, was in a friend's wedding, went on a cruise, went to Sanford, FL for orientation, and basically raised support in a month. I made it here on August 3, and everything here has been somewhat of a whirlwind, too. When I was a junior in college, the Lord constantly showed me just how wonderfully faithful He is. You see, that year I dealt with grief and death. (And this is where I began to ugly cry in front of about 20 women I barely know...) A couple weeks before returning back to school, while working at a camp with one of my best friends, we found out that our friend had been killed in a car accident. In September, my cousin, who was 22 at the time, died of a brain tumor. In October, my aunt died from complications with her kidneys. And on February 1, my paternal grandmother died after battling lung cancer. I was so worn-down that year; I remember thinking that I just wanted to get through each day. But then the Lord told me that He didn't create me to just get through each day. He created me to live. So that is what I want to do. I want to live each day with gratefulness in my heart for His goodness. I want to live with empathy and kindness as His Son did while He was here. I just want His name to be know. The time I have spent here so far has been an emotional roller coaster; I have gone through so many changes. But my God has stayed the same. And for that I am forever grateful.