girl sitting near lake
2ND PLACE || 2018


by Emily Baffa


I flipped off my nightlight and slipped under the covers, dreams of orphaned children and mission work dancing in my mind.

“God,” I prayed, my eyes squeezed shut and my hands folded in my lap. “I want to spread your love. Please give me an opportunity to become a missionary for you. Amen.”

I rose early, repeating my constant prayer before dressing for the church service. I always looked forward to the sermon, although, sometimes I was distracted by the squabbling, pudgy infant just a few rows ahead of me. My father was content to be helping in AWANA, but I wanted to do something more. I wanted to make a real difference in the world. The service was lengthy, but it convicted me with the realization of the love of God towards his people. I left the sanctuary refreshed.

I stepped toward the information table and read through the missionary updates, longingly dreaming of my future in the mission field. I etched my name on the sign-up sheets for offertory and worship leading. As I scanned through the thank-you letter from an elderly church member, one of the youth leaders approached me.

“Hey, Lydia! Would you be willing to weed Mrs. Davis’ garden for a few days next week? As you heard in the announcements, she had knee surgery and hasn’t been able to keep up with her gardening. I know it would mean a lot to her if you would help her with that.”

I gulped.

I was surprised that Mr. Jones had chosen to ask me instead of someone else. Didn’t he know that I was hoping to leave the country to do more important work? It wasn’t a job I was interested in. I did not feel inclined to weed poor Mrs. Davis’ garden one bit. That wasn’t how I felt God had gifted me.

“Next week?” I inquired hastily.

He nodded slowly, recognizing my hesitation.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Jones. I’d really like to but… my grandma is feeling poorly, and she needs my help next week.”

Mr. Jones nodded understandingly, although, he looked disappointed.

“Well, I’ll pray for her.”

I didn’t regret my decision to turn down his offer. I knew that I wouldn’t have lasted long in the searing sun without being scorched. That Wednesday at youth group, I avoided Mr. Jones. I was relieved when I overheard another kid offering to weed for Mrs. Davis. Again, I checked the missionary updates, making a mental note to pray for them. My heart was set on becoming a missionary, especially in Africa. I was confident that God had called me to go there. As I was leaving the church building, the Pastor stopped me.

“Do you remember the Millers, Lydia?”

I searched my memory; the older couple hadn’t been able to come to church for over a year.

Finally, I nodded.

“Well, they really need someone to mow their lawn, about once a week. You live near them and I was wondering if you could mow their lawn on the weekends. What do you say?”

My heart sank to my toes. Had the pastor seriously just asked me to mow someone’s lawn all summer long in the sweltering sun and throw my weekends away? Nobody could be so unfair. Besides, it wasn’t like I could evangelize to the grass before I mowed it down.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “My family wants me home on the weekends to spend quality time with them. I don’t think they’d want me to…”

The pastor seemed cool about my reply and told me to have a nice day before walking off.

My tired eyes drifted toward the starry sky.

“God,” I whispered. “Use me for Your glory. Help me evangelize others in great ways. Help me become a missionary.”

Why did it seem like God wasn’t answering my prayer? During the week, I researched ministry programs that sent young missionaries to foreign countries. I loved the idea of saving children who had grown up in poverty. It was an amazing ministry and I knew my church would be proud of me.

I continued to pray about becoming a missionary and talked with my parents about it. My mom was hesitant. She glanced at my notes and pulled out her laptop, quickly typing in a web address. She showed me a ministry program that she thought I would be interested in.

“Lydia, dear—the group meets once a week in our area and volunteers at non-profit organizations. That’s right up your alley!”

“Mom,” I protested, “stacking shelves and picking up garbage is not going to send me to Africa. That’s not what I meant by ministry, I meant real ministry; mission work. Maybe another time, okay?”

My mom sighed and eventually gave up.

“Remember, just make sure your heart’s in the right place,” she reminded me.

I nodded. Of course, I would remember, I wanted to become a missionary, after all!

The following morning, I was reading a devotional about mission work and was surprised by what I found. One verse said, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. I imagined myself feeding starving children and spreading the gospel. Another said, And he sat down and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. Missionaries are everywhere, and many people feel called to that field, the devotional read. I nodded in agreement and continued to read. But, look around you. How many unsaved people do you meet every day? Maybe, this very moment God wants you to help someone with their lawn and will shine his light through you in that situation. Maybe you don’t want to do the dirty work, but that’s what God did. He washed stinky, disgusting feet to show his love! How gross is that? Every day we are called to do the same, but not just in foreign countries. Sometimes, all it takes is a helping hand or a kind smile. Practice being a light right where God has you. Deuteronomy 15:10 says, Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.

I started sobbing, realizing that God had answered my prayer and my pride had not allowed me to listen to his voice. God had given me four chances, four opportunities to minister to others and spread His love and I had ignored them. I didn’t want to stay where I was, and yet, that’s where God was planting me.

Emily has seven siblings. She enjoys reading, writing, drawing. She’s been homeschooled all her life and loves school, animals, family, and God.