It was December 24, 2017. Christmas Eve, the most wonderful time of the year! Our student missionary group was having a party with our Palauan sponsor families and it was a great experience. Around the holidays is typically when the SM feels homesick a little more, so it was really special. Later in the evening, the plan was to have a gift exchange among the group as well, and many of the group had brought their gifts with them to the party.
I was going to spend the night at a sponsor’s house afterward, and had my bag packed and ready to go. I had left it in the van with the other gifts without another thought – until we came back outside when the party was finishing. One of the other missionaries said that there was toothpaste and a brush on the ground around the van, and was wondering where it may have come from. However, once a couple of us got into the van, we realized something was wrong. Gifts were missing, and as I got closer I realized that the toothpaste was mine. I immediately started for the back of the van where I’d stowed my backpack, and to my surprise it was gone.
In addition to my overnight clothes I’d also packed my computer and my Bible, by far one of my most meaningful possessions. Just like that, it was all gone. Stolen! I really didn’t know how to react, but tried to keep my cool for the most part. I hoped I’d get the things back, but I wasn’t really that confident about it.
The most wonderful time of the year! It definitely didn’t feel like it. With quite a few of the gifts gone, the exchange wasn’t as joyful as it should have been. I remember thinking to myself that night, why did this happen? The computer was a new computer, but my Bible was one I’d had for a few years and had written everything down in there. Notes, thoughts, my experience as a believer, all of it was in there, and now it was gone. It just didn’t feel right, waking up on Christmas morning, and going to have my devotionals with the Bible app.
Something that nearly every missionary goes through are those moments where we wonder if we made the right decision by being out here. Any negative situation is easily magnified and raises these questions and doubts to a new level. Even for me, in the midst of my fourth year in Palau, these doubts arose even more strongly.
It wasn’t even a few days after Christmas that one of the missionaries called and said that her sponsor mom had found a bag in town that they believed was mine. I was skeptical but hiding excitement, as she brought me the bag. When I opened it, I found that everything was still in the bag – except for the computer! I was so grateful to have received my Bible back, for in my mind that was the most irreplaceable item of all that were stolen. Ironically enough, the bag was found on the front steps of the Adventist church in town. The church secretary had seen my Bible outside of the bag, and when she saw my name she picked the things up for me.
I was sure that I’d never see the computer again, so I made arrangements to continue working without it. It turns out I would have many other challenges to deal with from that point to the end of the year, so my mind was in a completely different and not necessarily positive place.
Feeling burned out, it was a relief to be home for a bit, but God wasn’t going to leave me in my discouragement. I had been scheduled to speak for Mt. Aetna Summer Camp for a week, and their theme verse happened to be my favorite Bible text, Isaiah 40:31. Trusting in the Lord seemed like such a difficult concept for me during that time, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to share the message of that passage without fully feeling like I believed it myself at the time. I spent several hours reviewing the text and praying, asking for God to show me something.
That’s exactly what He did. For the many times I read that verse, it never occurred to me to read the very first verse in the passage – verse 27. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God?’” It was in this moment that it struck me; my favorite verse was the answer to the very question I was asking myself for the past 7 months. I felt very strongly that God was speaking to me, reminding me that He knew what I had been through, the things I had lost, and was going to renew me. I didn’t feel like flying with God before that, but His Word gave me the encouragement I needed to share with the campers just how awesome God is. It also gave me a boost spiritually that I was in dire need of. Praise God, several campers made decisions for Christ by the week’s end.
A few weeks later, I was back in Hawaii for the new missionary orientation. While I was there, I got a Facebook friend request from a friend I knew in Palau. He sent me a message and I replied, but didn’t really thing much of it.
Within the next week, we were back in Palau to start a brand new school year. I was excited to see God work and take things to a whole new level, and within a few days I was scheduled to speak for Koror Church’s prayer meeting. I ended up talking about Isaiah 40:31, and the rejuvenation I felt from God in a moment when I really needed it. It was a blessing and it felt so good to share how I’d experienced God talk to me and work through me.
I was really hungry when it was over, and I skipped over the restaurants in town in favor for a little spot about half way home. It was right next to the gas station by the bridge. When I got there, I saw my friend who had added me on Facebook just a week earlier. As soon as he saw me, he came up and said we needed to talk in private. I wasn’t sure what it could be about, as I’d only been back for a few days and hadn’t had a chance to do anything yet, but I obliged. Once we were outside, he asked me about the Facebook request and if I was curious how he knew my name. To be honest, it never occurred to me that I didn’t know his last name and that he didn’t know mine, but there was something he was getting at.
His next question was if I had lost something recently. I said no, not that I remembered, but about 8 months ago I had some things stolen and a computer that was long gone. He then proceeded to tell me how he had bought a computer from a guy who bought a computer from a guy who bought a computer from a guy who had stolen that same computer, and that on the screen he recognized my first name. He didn’t know my last name, so he had asked some of our students at the gas station one day if they knew a Corey Johnson, and they replied that I was one of their teachers. After that is when he added me on Facebook and sent the message, but that wasn’t all. He said he had the computer at his house at the very moment. Later, he was able to return it to me, and after 8 months, the lost was found, the stolen computer was in my possession once more.
Nothing short of a miracle. Nothing short of God putting on a clinic of just how good He is. I didn’t do anything to deserve to have all of my stolen items returned in full, and I know that during those months, due to that situation and others, my faith was not the strongest. But God came through for me, and after getting everything back, I have more than I had before – because I now have a testimony. Every time I use my Bible or my computer from now on it is a reminder of God’s grace and just awesomeness.
As I sit here typing on my computer and referencing my Bible, I can only smile. God cares about me, and has given me constant reminders of what He wants to do in my life. I share the experience because I know that it’s not always easy being a missionary, and it’s not pleasant when you go through tough times and lose things. But God is so merciful, even at times when you don’t feel like you’re waiting on Him or trusting in Him, He will provide exactly what is needed to remind you of His goodness and that He cares for you.
I don’t know what you’re going through or what you’ve been through. All I know is that God cares for you and every detail in your life, even things you may have written off. You never know when He’s going to come through and shock you with a miracle, and inspire you to continue to share His goodness with all those around you.
Corey Johnson has been serving as the Chaplain and Bible teacher for Palau Mission Academy since 2015. Before that, he served as a P.E. teacher at Palau Adventist Elementary School in 2010-11 after graduating from Southern Adventist University.