❝Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.❞ John 4:27-30
Reflection by Brian Yost
When I graduated college, I left the US to begin my adult life on a missionary internship to Guatemala. I did so, not out of a passionate commitment to Guatemalans or even to evangelism, but because I was certain that to serve God, to live up to his will, and to be the kind of person I was supposed to be meant making my life into something immediately recognizable as a ministry. What could be more ministry-like than travelling to an impoverished country to spread the word of God? As naïve as this sounds, it was something I felt compelled by.
As you might well predict, my time in Guatemala was not a raging success. Despite having visited for short trips as a college student, times that were profoundly moving and satisfying, I quickly realized the life I faced there was not one I could live out. With little of the companionship and structure I had experienced and found so appealing on shorter mission trips, I retreated from whatever work I might have done (and that wasn’t already being done by Guatemalans themselves or the literally hundreds of already seasoned missionaries on the ground there).
While no one wants to admit defeat and no one takes pleasure in withdrawing from a commitment they have made to the people supporting them, it was when I gave up on the idea of changing the world by changing Guatemala that God finally did surprise me. Instead of the satisfaction of redressing poverty, I read books. And as I did, I found something meaningful that I had real passion for. A year later, having left Guatemala behind permanently, I began a summer teacher certification plan that grew into two master’s degrees and a doctorate in English. My certainty that I knew how God is served led to a long and messy road.
In some ways, I can relate to what the woman in this story might have felt upon meeting Jesus. The surprise I find myself taking from her story is not that he turned out to be the Messiah, but its completely typical demonstration of his expansive love: he affirms the life of this woman, who no doubt had been poorly treated by the people in her community and was met with unspoken skepticism by his disciples. Rather than asking her to repent or to change her ways, Jesus simply extends his promise of love to her. Her life was not perfect and she did not leave it behind to follow Jesus with abandon. Instead, it remained what it was, and God used her as he found her to do something glorious.