I?ve had this strange ongoing vision-thing running through my head recently. It is kind of like a movie, only with more dimension and very detailed. I?m watching it and almost participating in it, but not quite.?I?m more like a spectator?watching myself in this vision-thing. It?s a strange experience ? almost tangible.
This vision-thing, what is it?
It?s not a dream because I?m fully awake. It?s not a fantasy because I?m not consciously making it up as I go. It has more significance to it, almost like a story being told while it's simultaneously being written - but only as I live it.? And it feels as though it's stamped with the divine.
It is with some trepidation that I even share all this openly. I?m not one to flaunt spiritual things, claim spiritual gifts that I bandy about in public. But part of my personal transformation process seems to include being more vulnerable -something I just love. NOT!
What am I doing?!?! Am I going nuts? I don?t blog! I?m not a public person. This is uncomfortable. I don?t really like this, but I sense I need to be obedient to a process of personal transformation.
So I continue in these steps of faith, willingly, full of confidence.
No, not really. I'm not running up any steps. This is one step at a time, baby.
This blog post is a single step - actually, more like 100 steps.
I?m comforted in the fact that, after I hit send on the email this post is attached to, probably no one but Troy, TLI's Executive Director, or Lynn, our Operations Manager & Administrative Assistant,?will be reading this - at least for a few days until it goes public. And even then, I doubt anyone will read this. So this is kind of a safe place for me right now as I write to exercise my faith muscles, like going to the gym at midnight. I?m the only guy in here. Do I care if the people at the front desk see how weak I am as I sneak by to curl the 10 pound dumbbells alone in the middle of the night? After all, this is really between God and me. I somehow feel better knowing this.
I mentioned in my first blog post?this battle waging on all around me. The darkness. The pain and suffering. It is many battles, really, and they involve me or people I know well. Some are physical battles, but mostly these battles involve relationships. The weightiness is heavy and palpable.
Do I engage or look away?
And in my second blog post, I chose to focus on the sunshine. Peace. Relaxation. This is the experience of my July weekend camping trip. In my mind, I?m sitting out by the pool. I can face the sunshine, close my eyes and bask in the sun?s warm embrace, let my mind drift and think about all the pleasantries of summer. It sounds very tempting.
But then God startled out of my summer reverie me and brought me back to this vision I mentioned to start this post. There is too much to breakdown so I?ll hit the highlights. This all started in April of this year.
APRIL: I?m in a rowboat. In in the middle of the ocean, dead calm seas?the doldrums. Overcast and fog, no sun, total grey. I?m sitting dead in the water and don?t have a clue where I am or where to go. The color of the water and the sky are the same. God says ?start rowing.?
JUNE: The vision takes greater shape. I?m rowing. I encounter a brother clinging to a rock in the water. The water is calm but the background has changed. The sky is angry, like dark clouds gathering for an epic storm. I?m watching. He has a decision to make. He makes the right decision and disappears in quiet but heavenly glory. I keep rowing. I see him with a purpose and destination, but I still have no idea where I am going.
EARLY JULY: I haven?t received more to the vision; I'm still rowing. But, in real life, a particular African country keeps popping up: Nigeria.
Nigeria? Seriously? Where'd that come from? Who cares about Nigeria? I?m a So Cal boy raised in the country ? I didn?t grow up thinking anything global.?
But Nigeria keeps entering my consciousness all through this summer season. The year before at our Journey retreat and alumni reunion in southern California, I met the leaders from Nigeria that facilitate Journey Nigeria. They were nice guys, very different culturally, but quite enjoyable. Looking back, I think subconsciously my heart connected to them. I was impressed with the trouble it took for them to come to southern California - and yet they came. But, like often happens, life moved on.
Back to this pivotal month of July...I learned that Troy Walling and Craig Babb, our Midwest Journey Director, are going to Nigeria to lead a few Journey sessions and to honor the graduates of Journey Nigeria Generation 6. I also learned that another friend of mine is doing work in Nigeria. Tina Ramirez, Founder and CEO of Hardwired, goes around the globe training indigenous people from countries with persecuted minority groups about religious freedom and personal rights. She works in places like Iraq, Nepal and Sudan. Fantastic work.
Tina invited me to travel sometime and check out her work in-country.
Who me? You want me to travel to some desolate and possibly hostile place halfway around the globe? No thanks.
But God keeps bringing up Nigeria.
So I make a deal with God?if TLI and Hardwired will be in Nigeria at the same time, I will be open to going - not for sure going, but open to the idea of going.
So, I call Troy and ask him, ?When are you going to Journey Nigeria??
?Last week in August,? Troy replies.
I hang up and call Tina and ask her, ?When are you going to Nigeria??
?Last week in August,? Tina replies. I blurt out, ?August this year, like, next month?!???Yes.?
This is less than 6 weeks away! And the kicker?not only will both TLI and Hardwired be in Nigeria the same week, they will both be in the same city!
No way, this is not happening.
Well, it doesn?t get more clear than that. I know in my heart what I am supposed to do?God is bringing me to Nigeria and I have absolutely no idea why.
But will I do it? Will I obey His voice? I mean, Nigeria? In my mind, this is not your typical vacation destination.
Now we are caught up to the topic of my second blog post: the July weekend camping trip. My wife doesn?t know any of this Nigeria foolishness from God yet.
She is going to freak out.
Our idea of personal missionary work is going to church on a Sunday while on vacation in Maui...second service, of course.
So we go camping. It is a wonderful weekend of rest (see the second blog post). And I make another deal with God, kind of a hedge-my-bet thing?God, if my wife guesses the country you are sending me to, THEN I will go for sure.
No really. I will go, God.
?Honey, I think God wants me to go to a foreign country. Let me know if God is telling you a particular country.?
?You are not going to Africa, are you?? She says.
Well that was pretty fast.
Africa, Nigeria, they are all the same to me at this point. I respond, ?Yes, Nigeria specifically.?
She says calmly, ?Well, if God is calling you to Nigeria then you better go. At least it?s not Iraq.?
Wait! No fuss, no resistance, no argument??No way, does God really make it this clear?
So, I am resigned to go, decision made, I have no excuses left at this point.
Or do I?
LATE JULY: To make a long story shorter, I have about 4 weeks to renew my passport, obtain a travel visa, book tickets, get immunizations and coordinate everything. And I have no idea what I am doing. So again I think, "Here is my way out." (I know, right? I'm a giant of the faith.)?I reason, if this is not really God?s plan, then all of these details that normally take months won?t happen and I'll have my excuse not to go. You know, a good ol' "I tried, but I just couldn't get all the details handled in time" kind of thing. Then I could comfort myself by thinking, "Oh well, I guess that wasn?t God after all; it was probably just my wild imagination."
AUGUST: I'm sure you can guess that, unbelievably, this all came together seamlessly. The pieces fell together in a fashion and timeline that can only be described as divine appointments. I applied to renew my passport, and bam!, received it back in record time - 4 days; I applied to the Nigerian embassy, and bam!, I received my visa back in about 3 days. 3 days? Holy cow! I?m energized by the confirmation of it all. I am so confident that this is God?s doing that I leave all the travel details to other people, which if you've known me for any length of time, you'd know this is not my normal operational approach. It's just not how I do things. I am a detail freak. I plan, I analyze, I scrutinize, and then I create contingency plans. I usually have backup plans to my backup plan. Notice I said 'backup plans' plural.
Not this time. I decided that if I?m going to do this, I am doing it by faith. God is clearly bringing me to Nigeria, so either I am going there to die or He is bringing me back home. I have no idea why I am going, He must want to show me something, so I will have to trust Him. It was as simple as that and I had a great peace about it.
Before I knew it, the day was here. It was time to board the plane and fly to Nigeria.
Is this really happening?
I must confess, I was pretty excited. I don?t do stuff like this. This is so out of my character ? I?m a risk avoider. But I had faith and it was growing. And so the adventure began?
I will continue my faith trip to Nigeria in the next blog post.
In the meantime, are you being asked to do something that tests your faith? I encourage you to lean into it. Take one step at a time. And then share your story. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
What a helpful read! Thank you, Mike: for your authenticity and authority. My very favorite section is: “It has more significance to it, almost like a story being told while it?s simultaneously being written ? but only as I live it. And it feels as though it?s stamped with the divine.” I can feel the truth of that in my own life, and it is profound and powerful.
Fantastic journey story. I can’t wait for the follow up. I very much enjoyed getting to know you during the October 2017 retreat. Looking forward to our next conversations. From one ex-pat. So. Cal-ian to a San Diego brother…chill and follow! Keep it up.