By Grace Baker
For the past two summers, I have had the privilege of traveling to Slovakia to work alongside Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Shane and Dianne McNary. I went for my first summer with my youth group at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., when I had recently graduated high school. And for the second time, I traveled this past summer with a group of adults from the same church.
For my whole life, I have always been frustrated with the term “calling.”
I understood what it meant and I had heard dozens of testimonies that told about one significant moment where God called them to do something. However, I had never experienced anything that seemed even remotely similar.
In fact, I started my freshman year at the University of Alabama completely clueless as to what I wanted to do with my life. Going into this summer, I prayed that God would guide me in the direction that I was supposed to go, and that I would experience this feeling of calling that I had heard about for so long.
And that is exactly what happened.
While in the small and beautiful village of Cinobaňa, Slovakia, we had the opportunity to teach English in their public school. The school was made up of students ages 6 to 18. As expected, our lack of knowledge of the Slovak language made this extremely challenging, however it blew me away to see the eagerness to learn, and overall interest in us as people that was shown by all of the students.
All week I became aware of the fact that I genuinely loved working with children. I already kind of knew this, but for some reason being in Slovakia and getting to work with children who were so different, yet alarmingly similar to American kids, really brought it to my attention.
Of course I brushed it off my mind and focused on the tasks at hand. I tend to like to live my life one day at a time.
The problem was, I couldn’t get rid of this pressing feeling all week. And just when I would start to let my mind wander, someone on my team would say the simplest thing like, “Hey you’re really good with kids.” Or, “You really enjoy this don’t you?” Even then, I thought there was no way that this was God trying to speak to me.
God knew that I was stubborn and that it was going to take a little more to speak to me.
When our time in Slovakia was over, we went to Budapest and Austria for some sight seeing. Early in the morning, while on the train to Austria, a young woman who was sitting alone approached a few of us and simply asked if she could sit with us for a while. She was carrying a large backpack that looked like it weighed more than her, and she had a thin layer of dirt covering her whole body. I had an empty seat next to me so I offered it her, and we all just began to talk. She had very good English skills and she explained to us that she travels back and forth from Austria to Budapest every week to help her parents on their farm.
She wanted to know what we all did for a living and so we went around the table and everyone explained a little bit about their work. Being the only college student on the trip, when it was my turn to share I explained that I was a student but I had no idea what I wanted to study. She smiled and said that she too was trying to decide what she wanted to do next with her life.
It was a relief for me to feel this connection with someone else and to feel as though I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have it all figured out. Next, she asked us why we were there and we told her all about our work in Cinobaňa.
And then, as if someone sent her to say it, she turned to me and said, “You know, you should really consider doing something that involves kids—maybe education?”
Everyone at the table laughed, and I was speechless. This woman knew nothing about me—she had no idea if I even liked kids, yet she saw something in me that I had been casting off for so long.
We learned more about each other for the remaining time on the train, and when we arrived in Vienna, she showed us how to read the map, and simply said goodbye.
I remember watching her walk away and thinking that she was not someone that you encounter everyday. What had just happened was not a coincidence. I had just experienced something that a few weeks ago had seemed so foreign: a calling.
It is easy to believe that a mission trip is all about what you can do for others. However, Slovakia has proven to me that mission trips give you more than you could ever strive to give yourself.
I am forever grateful to my church family, CBF, and the McNarys for giving me the opportunity to experience my calling.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16
Grace Baker is a member of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama, and is a sophomore at the University of Alabama studying elementary education.