In Yap, most of my time was spent on the Seventh-day Adventist school campus, where I lived and worked. Each week was pretty predictable and consisted of teaching, our weekly town trips, prayer meetings, and Sabbath worship services. The island is beautiful, but most land, including beaches, are privately owned by local people, and so there weren’t many places for us missionaries to go. Of course, we found ways to stay entertained on our own, like having game and movie nights, painting parties, playing sports in the school’s outdoor gym, etc. When we were feeling extra spontaneous and really wanted to spice things up, though, we would sometimes set out to town and visit Manta Ray (aka Manta), a restaurant/hotel where scuba diving tourists could often be found. The Manta restaurant is high up on a ship which is three levels tall, and has a hull that stretches out over the ocean. The interior space of Manta is decorated by old U.S. dollar bills and t-shirts signed by visitors who have come throughout the restaurant’s history, amongst them being other student missionaries who have served in Yap in prior years.
In my book, the ideal time of day to go to Manta Ray was late in the evening, when most other places were closed and when we would usually be wrapping up for the night. Around this time, the stars blanketed the darkening sky and small boats turned into silhouettes bobbing in the sea. Looking from the top floor of the restaurant, the bright sign of a nearby grocery store and the festive fairy lights wrapped around tall coconut trees in the surrounding area created a whimsical mood to accompany the Manta experience.
The first time I was told about Manta Ray, I learned that one of the traditions that previous SMs had beheld was that of jumping off the ship into the water at least once in the school year. Even my students held the practice of jumping off the ship at Manta at a high esteem, many of them proudly informing me that when their birthday came around, they would finally be old enough to be trusted to partake in it. And I, having been a summer camp staff who found any excuse to jump into the lake during the summertime, liked the sound of this tradition very much. Thus, every time us SMs would take a trip to Manta Ray, I had the urge to jump in, but always found an excuse not to. Eventually, however, one of these times turned out to be different. We had all exhausted our time at Manta Ray and were headed off the ship when I turned to Isaac, who was walking with me, and asked if he would be up for a swim. This offer had only received rejections during other visits to the restaurant, and so I was delighted when Isaac agreed to the small caper. We weren’t clothed properly for a swim and were well aware that we’d be faced with a very chilly ride home afterwards, but for me, all I needed was a “yes” and I knew that the time would be right to jump.
And so we did. We jumped right into the cool blackness of the night sea, coming out shivering and laughing as our other friends shook their heads at our antics.
This school year, the carefree jump at Manta Ray was one of numerous jumps that I took, some of them being jumps that were entirely out of my comfort zone. I jumped when I decided to tutor students after school, even though I was afraid that my efforts wouldn’t be enough to help them succeed academically. I jumped when I agreed to be a coach for the volleyball and basketball teams on campus, while I was inexperienced as a coach and had never even played on a basketball team before. I jumped when I had necessary conversations with my housemates that were difficult, but were important to nurturing our friendships. I jumped when I decided to trust God with who I was and who he was creating me to be. And more than anything else, I jumped when I followed God’s call to the tiny island of Yap, despite several uncertainties.
The summer before I went to Yap, I worked as a counselor at a summer camp called Big Lake Youth Camp. That summer, there were four other counselors who had just gotten back from their own experiences as student missionaries. Having worked with them the summer before as well, I could tell that they had all changed in their year of service. At the start of the summer, us girls’ counselors had an evening of vulnerability, where we related some of the current highs and lows we were experiencing in our personal lives. Each one of the four returned SMs had tears welled up in their eyes while they shared with us how, in each of their own ways, the transition home was very difficult for them. I already had my own worries about leaving home for ten months, so seeing how distraught these girls felt upon returning, my anxieties surfaced and I also broke down. I was hit with questions of “What am I getting myself into?” I wasn’t in a place in my relationship with God where I felt that I was worthy or equipped to be his vessel and, in addition, I had no earthly idea of how I was going to fool anyone into believing that I knew how to be a teacher.
Later that night, I talked with all four of those girls, them reassuring me that God knew what he was doing by sending me to Yap. One of them hugged me and reminded of something that I had heard before, but had not absorbed until then: “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
Another told me that the night before she had left home the year prior, she sobbed in the face of the uncertainties and questioned her calling. I suppose it is a recurring theme–God calling the unqualified to be his fishers-of-men, then having us crumble into doubt when we realize the vastness of the unknown He’s calling us into.
What I keep discovering about life, though, is that it will always be full of vast unknowns and we cannot live freely if we choose to stay stuck in fear of them. When God calls us to follow Him, He calls us to jump–over and over and over again. We will rarely feel ready or equipped or qualified, but all we really need to be sure of is that He is jumping with us. If we look to Him, all we need is a “yes,” and we can be sure that the time is right. And that we won’t be jumping alone.
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.