Esta, RI worker to the Mediterranean, recently retired after 20 years of service. While in the Mediterranean, she wrote and directed dramas and trained believers in the art of theater. She also worked with a group of young people to create video projects that were broadcast on social media and a Christian television station that reaches millions. As she completed her time with RI, she visited the Rosedale International Center (RIC) to share her story. Below is an excerpt from her conversation with us.
Since I’m retiring after twenty years of doing this ministry, it makes sense to ask myself, what is the most important thing you’ve learned during this time?
The easiest way to talk about this is to remember when I was on sabbatical a few years ago. I met a professor who taught in a very small Bible college, and he asked me to come share about spirituality on the field. I thought, okay—that’s a really broad topic. I wonder what he means. I started meditating on it, and I prayed about it of course—and God showed me images that gave me a way of talking about it. He gave me the picture of opening your eyes in the desert and seeing Jesus.
There are phases when we open our eyes in the desert and we see Jesus, and of course we’re very relieved to see him. But we’re also looking around, asking, but where are my friends? Where’s the community I’m used to? Where’s that thing I do that makes me feel good about myself? We see Jesus, but we’re not focused on him.
Other times when we open our eyes in the desert, we see Jesus and are comforted—but at the same time, we don’t really want him to see us. We think, don’t look at me, I’m a failure. I can’t get the language; I culturally offended someone today; I can’t do this, I’m not enough. We’re relieved that he’s there, but we don’t want him to see us.
And then there are times when we open our eyes in the desert and see Jesus, but it doesn’t feel good. We wonder, where are you? I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you’re doing. It’s not a good feeling. We ask, how many times do I have to have that conversation with my neighbor? Or, I did all this, but nothing came of it. Why aren’t you doing your part?
Some Christian writers call this the dark night of the soul. Like Jacob, we wrestle with God through a very long and dark night, and it ends with us clinging to him for dear life in the morning.
“First came a blood-curdling scream, which brought his mother back into the room.”
I remember being at a friend’s house when her youngest was about three years old. He was playing with LEGOs on the floor until she moved him to the table to eat lunch. He was trapped at the table while his LEGO creation sat vulnerable on the floor—and then one of his brothers “borrowed” from it, which was the worst thing that could happen.
First came a blood-curdling scream, which brought his mother back into the room. She crouched down and just looked him in the face. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t have a particular look on her face; she was just right there, calm and loving. Over a period of about five seconds, I watched his face go, bit by bit, from contortion to calm. He simply wiped the tear off his face, turned, and started eating his sandwich. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Sometimes, just like that little boy, we open our eyes in the desert and we see Jesus—and we see him, seeing us. And like Hagar, we can say, you are the God who sees. Now I have seen the One who sees me (Genesis 16:13).
And I feel that it’s in being seen that were healed. It’s in being seen that we feel the love, the trust, the understanding. When we see the God who sees us, we stop looking around. We stop looking for anything else. It is that face that we will see every single time—the face of a parent who is so loving, full of understanding, and eternally patient, just waiting on us.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to wait until I’m in the desert. I love to turn to that face all the time. I think that not only through this ministry but through my entire Christian life, God was bringing me to that point of knowing that this is really, truly the one necessary thing. I love looking to God throughout the day for everything—anything. Nothing can separate us from that.