When Your Child Hears God's Call

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Asian girl

The soap suds rise from the bottom of the tub and cover me like a warm quilt. Oh, if Calgon could really take me away, I'd be curled up on my grandmother's sofa in front of her roaring fireplace as she tucks the corners of one of her tattered-piece quilts around my feet.

But try as I might, I can't get there; I'm still here in my tub, hidden away for just a moment. The water's too hot for a bath, but that's the way I like it.

My eyes are closed, and when I try to open them all I can see is a green light filtered through cucumber slices. So I close them tighter and begin to think about Chera, our 15-year-old daughter—the one who wants to be a missionary.

She knew she wanted to be a missionary when she was 10. I remember the night a drama troupe came to church, and at the end of their program they invited young people who have a heart for missions to come forward so some of the performers could pray with them.

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That's when little Chera made a beeline to the front. Our son, Zach, who was only 5, said, "I want to be a missionary, too."

"You do?" I asked.

He nodded. Then as everyone prayed for the future missionaries, he leaned in close to me and asked, "What's a missionary?"

But Chera's always known what a missionary is and what a missionary's job is. My big concern is that she may not be tough enough; her heart's too tender.

I wish I could soak in this tub all day and act as if nothing is going to change. But it won't work like that. I know because I already tried, and in a blink she went from collecting bugs in the backyard to perusing college catalogs.

There are moments I wish I could freeze—like snapshots—moments when she is innocent and childlike, like the time she got excited to learn that some of her favorite things to eat, such as tomatoes and green beans, grow on plants. At the same time, she was tremendously disappointed to discover that macaroni and cheese doesn't work that way.

At first, I believed her idea to be a missionary was one of those wishes that change with each birthday—you know, like a child wanting to be president of the United States one year and a cashier at 7-11 the next. When she was 5 all she would talk about was getting her own gas station!

When Chera started paying more and more attention to maps and stories of far-off countries in missions magazines, I thought to myself, Thank goodness there is nothing set in stone when you are 10! But five years have passed, and the conversations are still the same.

Chera's room is filled with books written by missionaries living in "the bush," battling (sometimes to the death) disease and sicknesses, irreverence and harassing governments, and hunger. But the harshest of these stories have done nothing to dissuade her.

Lately, she's been getting a lot of mail from universities across the country. She studies the catalogs, flipping past the colorful photos of grinning, laughing students having fun in the student center or couples walking hand-in-hand along sidewalks that meander through an autumn landscape (those PR people are good!) and goes directly to the curriculum sections.

Dreamy-eyed, she studies the Third-World curriculum offered by one institution. "Look, Mom," she says as she points to a section of small print in the middle of the page. "It's required that you take two semesters of African culture studies. Required! Can you believe it?"

I just nod. I'm trying not to weep as my little girl gets excited about going to a country that's on the other side of the world.

I wonder about Abraham and Isaac. I can imagine how Abraham's heart must have been breaking in two as he prepared to offer his only child—a child so long in coming—up to God.

I take a deep breath, and the quilt of suds starts to sink into the cooling water. No one has banged on the door yet to disturb my solitude with a life-shattering question such as, "Mom, where is the peanut butter?" So I stay put a little longer and try to figure out where in the world 15 years went.

A few months ago, Chera and I went to Guatemala with a group from World Vision. I wanted to guard her heart.

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