An Unexpected Life – Naomi’s Story
I can’t ever remember a time when church wasn’t a part of my life. My grandparents are Christians and as long as I can remember our family of five joined them every Sunday at our local church. But when I was 14 church life changed for all of us. Not because of some obvious spectacular event but simply because my mum, a devoted, faithful, amazing woman had an encounter with God that totally transformed her.
My mother had experienced many difficult things in her childhood that had led her to live cautiously. She lived with a burden of unforgiveness and timidity that were like chains on her life. But one Sunday, her pain collided with God’s grace and healing in a way that changed her forever. Her new revelation of freedom affected our whole family. Church was no longer an obligation or a ‘have to’ for us. We couldn’t get enough of God or the sense of community that we were experiencing in His house. More than 10 years later my parents are still incredible role models for my brothers and me. Their love for God and commitment to His purpose is inspiring.
Like many teenagers however, as I got older I needed to find my own way in the world. I enjoyed the social side of high school but was not interested in the world of academia and after I graduated I enrolled in Fashion College. As much as I loved the content of the course I struggled with the environment and expectations of the fashion industry, particularly around the area of identity and value. I began to doubt so many things about myself and realised that this world could not be my future. After finishing the course I worked in retail but I felt like I was just treading water.
I often worked Sunday’s so church attendance became sporadic. I was 19 years old, living with my parents, working in a job that was just ok and spending most of my downtime watching TV. I felt lost and stuck. One day I shared my frustrations with my mum. Her response was to ask me, whether I had asked God about my future. That thought hadn’t occurred to me and to be honest I didn’t expect that even if I did ask Him, that God would have anything to say.
That evening, out of respect for my mum I prayed the simplest of prayers to God. “God can you show me what I should do with my life.” I went to bed with no obvious answer. The next day I attended church with my parents when an acquaintance of mine approached me.
“I had a dream about you last night. You were in a rice field, bending over and ploughing the ground, you were surrounded by women on both sides. You ‘grew up’ in the dream but even as you aged you remained in the field surrounded by women.”
I had never had anyone tell me something like that before. It seemed like more than a coincidence that the night before I had asked God for direction and now a random person is having a dream about me. My mind was racing, what did the dream mean? A rice field seemed so strange. I had never had any desire to travel anywhere outside of Australia but I had a sense that the rice field was not in my hometown!
That day a team from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) were also at church. I had never heard of their work before but after the service I chatted with some of the team. I was totally captivated by their energy and enthusiasm for the things of God. Their joy and sense of purpose was contagious. I saw how much they loved what they did and thought to myself ‘I want what they have.’
I was so impacted that a week later I signed up to do a six-month training school (DTS) with YWAM. The training base was only five minutes from my house! After three months of Bible training I travelled to India with my classmates for an 11-week mission trip. I thought I knew God before I went to India but during my time there I fell in love with God. There is no other way to describe it. I experienced His love, peace and presence in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I sat with people who were impoverished, forgotten and despised by their community and I shared God’s love with them. I saw Him move in the most powerful way. I witnessed physical healing and had the privilege of seeing people emotionally and spiritually set free.
When I returned from India I asked God ‘what next?’ God told me to continue with YWAM for at least two more years and six years later I am still here. In 2012 whilst on a trip to Bangladesh (remember the rice fields) God planted the idea in my mind of bringing teenagers on short-term mission trips overseas. Over time the details became clearer. What God placed in my heart was a vision to see ordinary young Australians experience what I had witnessed that first time I went to India. These trips would not just be about service or good deeds but an opportunity for each young person to have a deeper experience of the love of God themselves. To see the bigger picture of what He is doing on the planet, recognise that they have something to contribute and that God wants us to partner with Him.
In 2016 I led the first YWAM-Wollongong Mission Adventures trip to Cambodia. It exceeded all of my expectations and confirmed to me yet again, what an amazing God we serve. We had the opportunity to assist a number of established ministry’s in Cambodia and bring meaningful support to their projects. In addition to this, I had the privilege of witnessing a team of 15 young Aussie teenagers grow in faith, compassion and courage as they stepped well outside of their comfort zone. It is exciting to see what was previously just a dream in my heart now becoming a reality. Preparations have already begun for our next Missions Adventure trip. I know that this is just the beginning of what God wants to do through this project.
When I reflect back on the last six years of my life I barely recognise myself. The teenager who had no desire to leave her hometown has now visited more than 14 different nations. The school student who had little interest in study has now completed numerous training courses. I have learned administration, organisational and project management skills far beyond what I thought I was capable of. No two days are the same for me but every day I am reminded that I can trust God with it all.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8,9 (NLT)