When I was in primary school, I had a friend introduce me to Frank Peretti’s series ‘The Cooper Kids’. I remember reading them, terrified at the circumstances, yet fascinated at the faith and perseverance of the characters. Each time they hit a tricky situation, no matter how dire, they prayed and God rescued them. I was addicted to these books and they kept my attention for hours on end, reading through them as quickly as possible to see how God would rescue the Coopers each time. Although fascinating, in the back of my mind, I knew these stories were made up. I always wondered what a real life situation like these would look like. I was amazed at the way God was portrayed, but questioned the reality of these situations.
Around this same time, my mum started sharing stories of books she was reading, such as ‘The Spirits of Mindoro’ by Catherine L. Davis. I wasn’t allowed to read them, I think in my mum's wisdom she knew they might scare me a little too much at a young age — but, again, it fascinated me to hear the stories of God protecting and fighting for His people. This time the stories were real! Stories of angels standing guard, God’s complete protection for the people serving Him, it made me excited and I remember wanting to see and experience these things in my own life!
The Heroes That Shape
My Great Grandfather was a local missionary who never stopped by long enough for a cup of tea because there were “still more people to save!” I observed him for many years whilst I was growing up — he passed away when I was in my 20’s. I was so intrigued by his commitment, and as we heard stories of people coming to Christ through his time and efforts, again, I was fascinated by the work of God — this time not only in general reality, but nearby and in my hometown!
As I grew older, my favourite genre of reading was auto/biographies and real stories of Christian missionaries. Books like ‘The Hospital by the River’ by Catherine Hamlin and ‘“Kisses from Katie’ by Katie Davis. My all-time favourites were those by Brother Andrew. I imagined my way through the stories, wondering what I would do if I was there — if I could persevere in the same ways, could I do it? The more I read, the more I thought. The more I thought, the more I considered missions, and the more I couldn't ignore the pull in that direction.
Is That It?
When I was 20 years old, I joined some of my extended family to visit Asia. We were going as a working team to help in an orphanage with painting, putting in working showers, fixing farm equipment and other practical tasks. We ran some programs and played with kids, toured the city and played with the various baby animals on the farm. I was living the missionaries’ dream, being in a Third World place, within the 10/40 window, interacting with orphans and the poor. After the two-week trip I remember coming home and asking God, “Is that it?” I had experienced the missionaries’ dream, and yet I couldn't help wondering “Am I missing something?” I came home dissatisfied and wondering “What now?”
Yes, No Thanks
Life went on and I remember God challenging me to be a Christian Religious Education (CRE) Teacher in a local school. I told God, “No, that's for old ladies — and anyway, kids think CRE is weird.” Again God told me, go be a CRE teacher. Again I said no. This back and forth conversation went on for several months until finally in church we were singing the song ‘I Will Follow’' by Chris Tomlin. I was singing the lyrics “Where You go, I’ll go. Where You stay, I’ll stay. When You move, I’ll move. I will follow You.” I was crying and singing, “Yes God! I will follow you! Take me away to places to do your work!” But in that moment I felt God say “But Larelle, you won’t even follow me to the local school to teach CRE…” BAM! I opened my eyes and stopped singing. “God! What? No! You know that's not what I mean! I want to go overseas, I want to go to new places, I want to go to Africa with the orphans and Europe with the refugees!” But as soon as I said it, God convicted me and I knew that if I couldn't obey His simplest callings, like teaching CRE in a small local primary school, He couldn't take me further. So I signed up to teach CRE and after the long many-month struggle, I taught for one term and then God moved me on. I had learnt my lesson and resolved to be alert and aware of His leading from then on.
Shaped Like Clay
Around this time, a few young adults I knew at church got together and wanted to do a mission trip with the youth at our church. A couple of the girls had done various trips and programs with YWAM in the past, and they recommended it as a good short-term missions option to take the youth at church and expose them to missions. We all had a heart to bring missions to the forefront and so we organised our first trip with YWAM. On that trip we were equipped to evangelise and to share testimonies. We learnt more about discerning the Word of the Lord and how to walk in obedience to His promptings. Then we set out to a remote indigenous community to run a week of kids’ activities, sports events, church, and help those in need. This trip re-lit the flickering flame of doubt I had been entertaining in my heart for missions and I came back excited to pursue more of a life in missions. It was on one of these trips I submitted to God, “Whatever it is, whatever it takes, you have my ‘yes’.” For the next few consecutive years, we took various teams of youth on YWAM-led short term trips and I began to question God on how the university education I was currently taking was going to fit with missions. It was no longer “Should I?” but it was now “How?” and “What will it look like?”
My heart was being torn in many directions; I continued doing short term trips, but began to wrestle with understanding how I can still be a designer, a performer, a planner, a writer, a photographer, an outdoor lover, a gardener, a musician, a painter, enjoy sports, hang out with kids, study, and be immersed in missions all at the same time. In my mind, you had to give up everything to be a missionary. My greatest question was always, “How can I love so many different things and be happy with one job?” This was my forever-dilemma in looking for a career. I didn't understand yet that I could take my skills with me, and not only that — God gave me the skills I had so I could be the missionary He created me to be!
I launched myself into a cycle of university during semesters and missions during university breaks. I started doing slightly longer trips until finally, by the time I graduated university, I was ready to jump in and see where God would take me. I signed up to do Discipleship Training School with YWAM in Australia. Part of the school requirements was to do two months of outreach, so I applied to go to SE Asia and work with the YWAM missionaries there. Upon completion, I flew home to Australia for graduation and realised immediately that I was in the wrong place. I remember being so convinced it wasn't the time to stay in Australia!
After a brief week at home to graduate and a quick visit with family, I flew back to join the team I had been working with in SE Asia, this time meeting them for a two-week seminar for training in event management. I told the team I would stay with them until December and then I would return to Australia. December came and again I felt it wasn't time to leave. So I told them I would stay until Christmas — “Anyway,” I thought, “ they asked me if I was interested to stay and help out with some visiting teams coming so I guess I can stay for just that.” So I stayed to help. Christmas came and went and I, again, stayed. This time I felt it was time to commit to something a bit more long-term so I committed to one year, the disclaimer being that I would go home again in one year because I wasn't sure this was where God wanted to plant long-term roots.
Just the Beginning
By the time a year rolled around it wasn't hard to see this was actually the place that I was to stay for the time, being so instead of extending my commitment another year I extended it indefinitely until “God tells me to move on”. Four-and-a-half years later I am more convinced than ever this is the place God prepared for me long ago when He put all my missionary DNA together. Home is here now; I’m where God wants me. No longer do I wonder how all the little bits and pieces and skills fit into missionary life. Every aspect of my day-to-day life in missions encompasses every single gift and skill God gave me from the very beginning. And I am convinced this is just the start!
By Larelle Smith