“Why is it always so easy to want to be where you’re not?”
This was a question that a friend of mine, who was serving as a student missionary in Africa, sent me during my first semester in Yap. I could completely relate, though I wish I did not. Why was it so easy for me to want something other than that which was set right in front of me? What was the secret to embracing the now? Both first semester and Christmas break had passed, and I knew I had to do something different if I wanted to learn to be truly present in the second half of the school year.
The answer came in the first week back after Christmas break during a staff worship given by Ms. Ennes, my principal. Honestly, I don’t know that I was paying attention to most of the worship, but I remember her saying one line that would become my mantra in the coming weeks. “A mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). I repeated this line to myself many times that day and felt it fully to be true. It was soon after that I decided that my word for the new year was going to be “surrender.” I knew that I could only live a full life of presence and peace if I surrendered my thoughts and being to the Spirit of the God who created me.
My surrendering came in the form of a routine that allowed me to start the day slow and have quality time with Jesus. It looked like me waking up at 5am, grabbing my Bible, my journal, and my earbuds and tiptoeing out my squeaky door trying not to wake my roommate up. I went to the kitchen to put water to boil for my daily serving of sweet instant coffee or peppermint tea that my parents had sent me for Christmas. (Sometimes, I would turn on the kitchen lights to find that my foe, the brooding cockroach, had crept out during the night and I was forced to gather my courage and spray him away before I could continue with my morning.) Anyway, regardless of whether I had to first battle with a roach or not, I would go on and light the cinnamon-spice candle that had been one of my greatest finds at one of the local grocery stores, filling my morning with the smell of home. All the while, I had my earbuds popped in my ears with a Jesus-music playlist that my SM family had made–a playlist that became my daily soundtrack of healing and renewal. After my setup was complete and I had my morning Joe in my hands, I would read, write, talk, and simply just be with my Creator.
These simple mornings were the beginning of true presence, of taking the time to talk to Jesus and seeing that He is indeed worthy of bent knees. They were the beginning of a less scattered mind, of believing it when I told myself that it was going to be a good day. These slow starts not only helped me to be more confident in myself as a teacher as I went to pick up my students every morning, but caused me to have a deeper desire to plant a passion for Jesus in them. Much earlier in the school year, I had given my students prayer journals and established a time we called their “Daily Bread,” where they would take a few minutes to read their Bible and write about their thoughts as we listened to Christian music. It’s ironic that I deemed it as important for my students to spend time with Jesus, but I didn’t quite figure it out for myself until January.
The peak of this joyful learning period is represented in my mind by one Sabbath in late January when most of us SMs got up at the crack of dawn and dragged ourselves out of bed to watch the sunrise up at the windmill hills, the highest point on the island. The walk up the hill was slow and languid, and, as many of us were still half asleep, conversation was dominated by loopy banter. Yap’s early-morning sky captivated my attention, with its blanket of stars clearly displaying Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and the constellation Sagittarius. At the top of the hill, I couldn’t help but stare in adoration at my Yap, trying to take a mental snapshot of it all: my SM family who laid out joking and singing around me, the lit up peninsula which held the whole of Colonia (the small town where all the stores and restaurants are located), the contentment in my soul. One of the SMs, Isaac, picked on his guitar while Leah and I attempted to swing-dance, and the sky traded out its stars for patches of light-blue sky and lazy sunbeams. It felt like being fully awake and aware, like with every deep breath, more fog was swept away from the peripherals of my vision. God’s goodness was revealed so clearly through such seemingly insignificant details.
Upon coming back to campus, we continued our morning by making breakfast together in us girls’ apartment, with new lit candles and pancake-making and coconut-cutting. We were like a big family on Christmas morning. Samuel danced around our apartment while holding up a very unamused Kitty (our adopted cat) up like Simba in the Lion King, and I thought of how I had never before had a group of people who felt so much like family even though they weren’t actually my blood relatives.
Afterwards, I sat outside in a hammock by myself and thanked God for these moments. I was enjoying the contemplative quiet, so when the daughter of one of the long-term missionaries came out asking me to do her hair for church, I was tempted to encourage her to go find her mother instead. But then I remembered that part of being present was letting go of myself in exchange for open arms. So I shifted my mindset and we spent time together as I braided, she talked, and God sharpened my vision a little more.
And so, at this point in my journey, my surrender looked like the pursuit of the peace that comes along with a mind controlled by the Spirit of God. I learned to be intentional about soaking in the details of my life and calling each one significant; about digging my roots into my current moment and breathing it in. I don’t know why it took me so long to start practicing this, but perhaps sometimes the prerequisite to contentment is being willing to take the time to be emptied of everything else.
Rebecca (Becky) Orozco, a Student Missionary from Walla Walla University, recently returned from serving as a 5th grade teacher at Yap Seventh-day Adventist School in Yap, Micronesia. Sadly, school came to a sudden close in March due to the threat of COVID-19, sending Becky and most of her fellow volunteer teachers home a few months early. Becky is taking some time to walk through her experience in Yap as she transitions home, and is kind enough to share it with all of us through this blog post series.