August 6, 2015

A heart for God's people in God's perfect place

Written by  Sean FitzGerald

“God, what am I going to do? I trust you completely but I thought I was where you wanted me ...”

I remember this all clearly. I had felt called to go to Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, but I had to return to the U.S. from my assignment for what was supposed to be a short medical break. However the doctors told me that the medication I needed wasn’t available in West Africa and it would need refrigeration. Instantly I thought about the friends I might never get to see again in Catel. I remembered projects left unfinished.

Most of my time in Guinea-Bissau I had approached my assignment as a task-oriented person. There wasn’t much room for relationships, either by choice or circumstance. Having been one of the two "doctors," as the villagers called us, we were always on call and always being asked for medical treatment. I was always cringing, waiting for that request from friends for unneeded medicine over a casual conversation or meal, and then feeling guilty when I gave them a non-medicine related solution, something I knew wasn't accepted there. I had not allowed myself to love the people, only conquer the tasks one at a time.

Back in the U.S., I realized my errors. I didn't "have a heart" for the people in Guinea-Bissau. This by no means implies I wasn't missing my friends very much and longing to return; but just that maybe Guinea-Bissau wasn't where God wanted me. I remember hearing missionaries say, "I have a heart for these people." I loved people there but I didn't feel I had a "heart" for them as a whole, not like the passion I saw in many of the others that were with me serving our Lord.

Then two things happened simultaneously. My home chapel sent out an email asking for drivers willing to teach Karen people from Burma how to drive. I also received an email from EMM the next day asking if I would be willing to work with Karen refugees at Habecker Mennonite Church, near Lancaster, Pa., while I was stateside.

"Sure,” I thought. “No problem.” I had no idea where Burma was, or anything about the Karen people, but I could try to teach some folks how to drive. It was just a matter of time before I would be back on assignment, preferably in a nice cool place.

Having spent two years at the time as an EMT and emergency vehicle operator instructor, I quickly found out my niche was not teaching new drivers the basics! I was too aggressive for people who were still trying to grasp the concept of a steering wheel. I did, however, very quickly find out that God was working in my heart. I had found the people that I loved (the Karen) in the place I least expected it (Lancaster)! I no longer wanted to run off to another location.

"God, this is not what I planned, I don't want to be ‘home’ and do missions, where is the challenge?" I quickly felt the answer. "You love these children of Mine because they first showed love to you. You will have many challenges here, and they need people to help them; this is My calling for you."

As always, God was right. I loved them so much that it hurt, and every day my love grows more. I felt and still feel pain as I hear stories, or look at their pictures and videos from Burma. I cry when I watch videos and documentaries about the Karen. I feel like a parent; my heart breaks when I see our friends fall into alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or pornography.

I get protective when I see others take advantage of, or try to hurt, my friends. I have friends, and now family, still in Burma and Thailand. God literally let me fall in love with my Karen friends; He even gave me a wonderful, lovely, very patient Karen wife.

Since almost the beginning of my assignment, I felt called to go to Burma or Thailand in the future. I had the awesome opportunity to visit Southeast Asia to work with, and train, ethnic humanitarian teams. God also used this time to make connections with family members of some of my close Karen friends here in the States.

I remember one day while in a hidden jungle village, deep into the Karen state, a man walked up to me and asked me if I was from the U.S. "Yes,” I said. “I live in Pennsylvania." He responded, "My sister and her family are in the U.S. as refugees. They are in New York. I haven't been able to speak to them since long before they left the refugee camps." I asked him where in New York. After all, I have been blessed to travel with my Karen friends to Karen communities all over the United States. "I don’t know," he responded. "What is her name?" I asked. "Mary Paw (name changed for security/privacy reasons). This is her sponsor’s Skype address, but it doesn't work." Immediately I recognized the name and the Skype address of the sponsor. "Your sister is not in New York. She is in Pennsylvania. She often comes to our church with her family." God arranged several of these meetings and conversations with others while I was there. And even today, as I am back in the States, I am making connections that only can be from God; offering comfort to others, and relief to broken hearts.

On my wedding day, my wife and I received an amazing blessing. Some of the great friends I made in the hidden jungle villages had an opportunity to travel to the U.S. and join us. Among them was one of the brothers of Mary Paw that I had met. Until that day, they had not seen each other in over ten years.

As I write this, I have finished my term with EMM. Having gotten married earlier this year, I need to give my attention to my new wife. We still are very active in working with the Karen community on almost a daily basis, and also with others from different areas of Burma as the needs are still great.

One of the first things that attracted me to my new wife was our mutual calling by God for both of us to work in Southeast Asia. As I sit here, I think about my friends locally, as well as in Burma and Thailand. I think about the many positions we have been offered to work as missionaries. I pray to God that we not only follow His true calling for us, but also that we can go soon, as we can both barely contain our excitement.

I dream about what God has in store for us. I have asked myself on a few occasions, "God, I love these brothers and sisters, but why can't you send me to a cooler climate? Why always a hot or tropical place?” Personally I think He likes to see me sweat physically and spiritually.

But that’s okay, I guess that’s how I like it …

In 2011 Sean served with EMM as a GO! participant in West Africa. After returning to the States, he accepted an assignment working with Habecker Mennonite Church and the refugees from Burma/Myanmar.

 

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