Jonah and the Vine - or "How Stephanie stopped throwing adult tantrums and came to love His people"
In different seasons, God has used different Bible figures to grow my spiritual strength. In this season, the book and life of Jonah has been brought powerfully to my attention. Jonah is both dramatic and stubborn in actions, words and spirit, and I can relate to that.
My first Sunday in Guatemala, the story of Jonah and the Whale was the message at La Gracia Church. In the days leading up to this Sunday, everything felt foreign, stressful, and i was filled with homesickness. I missed all the modern comforts of our home - my favorite subway tiling in the kitchen, our sturdy roof that did not leak, our lovingly selected sofa, beds, bedspreads, as well as all the little conveniences America has that makes parenting just a tad easier (prepared foods, hand railings on stairs, Target, libraries). In the first few days here, we had a minor break-in, car trouble, as well as the unfortunately incident with our inherited dog and our neighbor's turkeys.
"Why am I here?" "What did I get myself into?" were questions that crossed my mind quite a bit in those first four days. Needless to say, I felt fairly despondent as I went into church service on our first Sunday here. However, the message of Jonah and his ultimate obedience to God perked me up. In my heart, I felt like Jonah - questioning why I was here and unhappy with God's calling for my life. However, I knew God was calling me to His path for me and ultimately I needed to "arise and go." This realization brought me to tears that first Sunday, to know that God wanted me here - as foreign, difficult and crazy as it was- this is where I was truly meant to be. But this blog post actually isn't about this part of Jonah's story - it's actually about the last chapter of the book of Jonah - Jonah and the Vine, which you can read here:
Jonah Chapter 4: Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
I resonate with this story of Jonah and the vine so MUCH. My favorite verse in this chapter is verse 6 - "So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant." This is me about anything - I get easily excited about so many little things. I live for these little moments: a really delicious dessert, Joel learning to blow me kisses, finding the perfect coffee mug, a full night's rest, or meeting a work deadline a half day early. There's a lot in life to be happy about, and I will darn well get happy about it! However, in the next part of this story, God sends a worm to eat the plant, the plant withers, then Jonah throws an extreme adult tantrum. Jonah is SO upset, he could die. Even after Jonah learned the lesson that God's plans are more important than his plans - with his running away, the storm, the whale and his ultimate obedience to God - Jonah is still immature. I also can relate to this. I am definitely over-dramatic and prone to making mountains out of molehills. Through our transition to Guatemala I definitely feel/have felt that so many things that I thought I was entitled to have been taken from me. I've cried out to God in my prayers - "I WANT TO GIVE UP," "THIS IS TOO HARD," "GOD, I'M CHANGED, CAN I GO HOME NOW?"
Yet, in response, God vividly told me in my prayers - "Hey, you know that Philz Mint Mojito coffee you miss or that perfect-pull baby wipes dispenser you loved? Well if you loved that so much, do you know how much more I love the 14 million people of Guatemala?" And this has touched me to my core. God loves me, God loves his people, and I am part of his plan. At the end of the day, all the comforts of our previous life we built were given to me by the perfect grace of Jesus Christ, just as God gave Jonah that vine. Through God's divine speaking into my life, I have come to love the people here and has gifted me with a burning ember of desire to be a part of God's plan for this country. God has been revealing (and continues to reveal) many qualities to love about the people here, things that are difficult to see from a U.S perspective, especially with the immigration fear-mongering that is so prevalent in the news media. Here are just a few general qualities that I have come to admire through my interactions here.
1. Guatemalans are incredibly industrious hard workers and would rather work than attain higher education. Many travel far distances for work (supercommuting many hours each day or working in another city for weeks at a time). Six day work weeks are not uncommon and I don't hear people complain. One challenge that we hope to overcome is that many students would rather work than continue-finish their education. Yesterday, one of our favorite AMI church members, 14 year old Moses, brought all of his certificates as a "resume" and asked for a job at the school we are launching. It was tremendously cute, but at the same time, we want him to finish his schooling.
2. Many of the upper class population will study in the U.S and come back to this country and use their resources for change. We've had numerous educated people that help us out with our school planning out of the kindness of their heart because they desperately want to see change in their country. They recognize the challenges of the country and want to see improvements. Many of them have studied in the U.S or visit the U.S regularly. At our fledgling AMI International School, we hope to give students more chances to study at international universities with the hope they will come back to Guatemala and be catalysts for change.
3. Guatemalans care for each other and are extremely hospitable. Their hospitality and sense of community is so strong here. When we visit families, we are always left bearing so many gifts, people drop off fruit, jams, tortillas, tamales, crafts, etc. Whatever they have, they are generous with it.
These are just a few of the characteristics of the Guatemalan people that have grown my general desire to help others and obey God into an authentic love for this country, for these people of God. I will say, that I definitely have a lot more to learn about Guatemala and God's people, and I'm looking forward to learning more and continuing to grow my love for this unique and beautiful country. Sometimes the growing and withering of vines in our lives and the adult tantrums that go along with it are distractions from the true purpose of our time here on this earth. God loves all the people of this world and he calls each and every one of us to love each other (and animals!) more than we love our selfish creature comforts. If called, we must surrender our plans, our plants and the things we love to care for God's people - whether that is in a foreign country, your friends, your coworkers, or your children. Pray for us that our hearts will continue to grow for this country and our ministry!