“…For such a time as this.”- Esther 4:14
I first heard the Wayne Watson song “For Such A Time As This” when watching a Touched By an Angel episode that talked a little bit about Darfur in the Sudan. I first saw this episode when I was only 10 or 11 years old, and even then this episode brought me, the non-crier, to tears. Almost a decade later I realized that this scene struck a chord in me that I am just now beginning to realize is a part of my heart.
As many of you may or may not know, I ran my first marathon on May 1, 2010. I ran this race to accomplish my goal of running a marathon before I turned 21, but more importantly I ran this race to raise awareness and funds for a mission trip to Southern Sudan in summer of 2010. Yet here I write this from my small hometown in Durango, Colorado instead of Yei, Sudan. Let me explain.
I can’t even remember the first time my heart was struck by Sudan. My family and I have been to Voice of the Martyrs Conferences since I was a child. These conferences have talks after talks and workshop after workshop all centered on praying for and learning about nations around the world that are persecuted—China, Vietnam, Colombia, Sudan, and dozens others. When I was 8 years old I remember packaging up toys, coloring books, and Bible verses for kids in Vietnam. When I was a teenager I began sitting in on the adult sessions. Through the years, among all the stories and all the people that I heard from, the stories about Sudan are the clearest in my mind. And as a 10 year old, I replayed the Touched by an Angel episode over and over again with the words “for such a time as this” echoing in my head. And in the fall of 2009, I was suddenly awakened with a burning desire to learn about, pray for, and work in Sudan. I thought that “for such a time as this” I was placed on this earth to go and serve in Sudan. I immediately searched for organizations that sent people to Sudan—many on the Internet, small and big, and of course a prominent organization—Youth With A Mission or YWAM as its commonly known.
I began corresponding with someone from YWAM about possibly going over to their base in South Sudan and working in a small medical clinic they have there. I explained to the man that I am a nursing student, but my knowledge of medicine is rudimentary at best. He assured me that I knew more than most civilians and that my medical background (of a whole year) would be helpful. It seemed as though I was indeed at the right spot at the right time, so I began starting to brainstorm fundraising ideas.
During this time I was running dozens of miles a week in preparation for my marathon. Towards the end of my training, the shortest amount I was running was 5 miles, and the longest run I would run would be 21 miles. These runs gave me literal hours to well just run and… run. I began taking a prayer list with me on my runs. I listened to my ipod on training runs and every time a new song came on it would either remind me of someone or something—For Such a Time As This came on and it was my reminder to pray for Sudan. Decades of civil war, genocide, and political and religious unrest has led to the death of millions in the largest country on the African continent. The hundreds of miles I logged in my training was the best opportunity I could have had to spend time praying for my family, friends, mentors, but especially Sudan.
By the time the morning of my marathon rolled around, I barely had 3 small donations and was beginning to question if I’d heard the Lord right in wanting me to run this race. As I ran mile one, mile five, mile ten, and it became evident that I hadn’t heard the Lord wrong. I had prayed for a nation I barely knew about (but had been trying to learn about), for a people I didn’t know, and for peace in a country where I didn’t understand the war. The fact that my training had given me months to pray for this nation, made this marathon worth it. I had shared with many people my desire to run this race for this country, hoping to simply raise a little bit of awareness of the Sudanese struggle. I knew that I would only finish 26.2 miles with the help of my Savior and that regardless of whether or not I had pledges or not, the glory would be given to him.
I finished my marathon in 4:48, the 20th female out of 51 runners. But long after the nearly 5 hour race was over, the purpose I ran the race still lingered. I needed at least $3,000 to get to Sudan, and I had about $200. Not to mention I had applied for a passport in early March only to check its’ delivery status in mid-April. According to the report it had been delivered to my post office box at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs dorms at the end of March—I hadn’t seen a trace of it. After weeks of haggling with the mailroom at UCCS, the local post office, and even going to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs I got my answer: “There’s nothing we can do, it’s out of our hands. Your passport was either lost or stolen, all you can do is apply for another one.” I was frustrated—not only did I have to go through the hassle of reapplying, I would have to fill out extra paperwork explaining that it was either lost or stolen, and have to pay all the fees again (over $100). There went the donations I had.
I had finished my finals and was now back in Durango for the summer still trying to figure out a way to go to Sudan, or if it was the Lord’s will for me to go this summer. My Dad and I argued for two hours or more nearly every day about the situation. He was fearful that because they recently had elections (in April 2010) that the tension that is constantly underlying the Sudan would come to the forefront and make it an even more volatile and dangerous country than it already is.
I was struggling with a passage in Matthew that I had studied in my Bible Study earlier in the year that says: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:37). I also struggled with the fact that they are my parents, of course they’re not going to want me to go to one of the most dangerous third-world countries in the world today. They were fearful for my safety and well-being but they’re my parents—they had to be. On the other hand, I also knew that my parents are strong Christians and that their wisdom and advice was not something to be brushed off lightly—maybe they were the Lord’s way of telling me “not now”.
The morning of May 21, 2010 I sat outside my house as the sun rose and I prayed earnestly for the Lord to show me his will for my summer—I had to make a concrete decision one way or the other within the next week or so. My journal entry from that morning is word for word what’s written below:
Dear Lord, I am seeking your will in whether I go to Sudan this summer or not. I don’t know where to turn for answers anymore. Please just give me a sign, an answer, but mostly peace about my summer.
I needed a clear sign, and I needed one soon. That day I planned to go visit my old high school, and say hi to old teachers and friends. I had my list of teachers to go and visit (mostly history teachers, a math teacher, my old choir director, and my former tennis coach). Lo and behold I walked in and all of the teachers I’d wanted to see minus my choir director were all in the same room, and they invited me in to join them. After talking about their kids and classes and how excited they were for summer, they asked me about my summer plans. Here we go, I thought, once again I have to explain how I want to go to Sudan but I’m still stuck here in measly Durango, Colorado. I told them about my marathon and how I’d trained to earn funds to go to South Sudan to work in a YWAM medical clinic but how I currently had no funds, no passport, and no clear answer as to whether I was even supposed to go. A couple of the teachers were Christian, a couple were not—I now realize that this opportune meeting of all my teachers had given me the opportunity to share my heart and once again raise a little bit of awareness about Sudan. One of my favorite history teachers, Mr. Logan, was a pastor before he was a teacher. I had openly shared about my faith with him when I was in high school, and he had often encouraged me not only in my schoolwork, but in everything I’d strived to in my personal life as well. He’s a strong Christian man, but at the same time he is a smart man with knowledge of the world’s and its happenings. Because of this I trusted (and still trust) his opinion almost more than anyone I know.
As I explained my desire to go to Sudan, he began to tell me, “Sarah, I understand your desire and I admire your heart for that nation. But it is incredibly incredibly dangerous right now.” Now, I had heard that before. I tell people I want to go to Sudan and immediately their response is, “Oh that’s so dangerous!” But this statement and warning is coming from people who can barely tell me what continent Sudan is on or point it out on a map. Mr. Logan, I knew, could easily point it out on a map, and undoubtedly had a greater understanding of the country’s politics and war than I had. At the same time he was a Christian and understands the importance of missions and the need to follow where God has called us. He continued to tell me that within the past week he had talked to a friend of his who had been working with a team in Southern Sudan—and was currently trying to get out because of increasing violence stemming off from the election that had happened in April. His words sunk deep into my core. He understood my desire to follow God’s will, but he also understood how dangerous it was at the time because he is one of the most knowledgeable men I know in the area of world politics. I thanked him, said goodbye to my teachers.
I then remembered the prayer I had prayed that morning asking the Lord for a sign. And of all days I’d gone to talk to my high school teachers, with one of them being Mr. Logan. All of a sudden it seemed clear as day—Sudan was placed on my heart by heavenly Father but he had sent my Dad, Mr. Logan, and someone to randomly take my passport to show me that, yes I am called to Sudan.
But for such a time as this (summer 2010), I was called to stay in Durango, Colorado.