I was 23, perhaps 24, when the Lord began calling me to ministry. I had graduated from Columbia Union College with my associate degree and been married for several years. I decided to take a spiritual gifts class at CUC from Dr. Bill Liversidge—a class that would be one of the most influential of my life.
During that class, Dr. Liversidge, along with encouraging me to write, planted the seed in my mind that the Lord might be calling me to pastor. I listened respectfully. Nice thought—but one that frightened me. So, I just shelved it—didn't think about it, went on with my life.
His encouragement to write, however, took root. His eight little words—"Have you ever thought about becoming a writer?"—gave me the courage to begin submitting my articles for publication. As far as pastoral ministry was concerned, however, the thought receded into the background, where God left it until I was ready!
Several years later, a friend of ours, Tim, who was the youth pastor at our church, asked my husband, Roy, and me whether we would be willing to sit in with him on a Bible study with a young couple. We agreed.
The wife had been an Adventist, but left the church and married while away. After the second or third study, Tim told us he couldn't continue the study and asked whether we would lead it. Who would want to say to a young couple eager to study the Bible, "Oh, no, I can't do that. The thought scares the daylights out of me"? So we went ahead with the studies.
Since I had a more flexible schedule, Roy and I decided that I would lead out in the study. Halfway through the studies, Cindy said to me, "Bonita, I have attended Adventist schools all my life, but I never learned how to accept Jesus as my personal Savior. How do I do it?" And, in the quietness of her kitchen, for the first time in her life, Cindy accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
As Roy and I drove home that night, I said to him, "Nothing has ever given me as much joy." Later, Cindy, her husband, and their daughter were all baptized.
Roy and I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings at our church about this time. One particular evening, our pastor came through the door right before the meeting was supposed to begin. "I have an emergency. I can't stay," he said. Then he looked at me and asked, "Bonita, would you lead out tonight?" Again, I ask, who's going to answer the pastor and say, "Sorry, Pastor. Not me. The thought scares the daylights out of me"? So, I went for ward, found his notes on the podium, and began leading the meeting. As I stood there leading the people in spiritual dialogue, I felt an unusual sense of calm. I felt at home.
During those same Wednesday night prayer meetings, Erwin Gane was con ducting a meeting on the topic of the Holy Spirit. It was at this meeting that all the events started coming together for me. As he stood there, explaining so articulately and beautifully the work of the Holy Spirit, the thought invaded my mind, This is it! This is what I want to do, I want to lead people in understanding Cod more clearly. I want to help them understand Cod's Word and how it is relevant to their lives.
What did all this mean? I wondered. And as I pondered, Roy was also pondering. I don't remember Roy and me actually talking about all that was happening, but as we were driving down Franklin Avenue in Takoma Park one afternoon, both lost in our own thoughts, Roy interrupted with the declaration, "Bonita, if you want to go back to school to be a pastor or a teacher, I will support you." OK, Lord, I think I'm getting the picture!
Originally, I enrolled as a religion major, to teach religion. That was safe. Yet, as time went on and I counseled with one of my advisors, it became clear that I needed to switch to theology. After making that switch, I went home and, lying on my bed, suddenly had a flood of thoughts about all the things that were wrong in my life.
Though it was not an audible voice, it was a voice nonetheless that said to me sneeringly, "Who do you think you are trying to be a pastor? You're not good enough for that."
After I'd been there a while, feeling as if a fifty-pound weight was on my back, I cried to God, "Why are You calling me to be a pastor? I'm not good enough." And, again, not an audible voice, but a voice nonetheless, compassionately spoke to me, "I'm not calling you because you are worthy. I'm calling you because I am worthy!" And with that, the weight immediately lifted.
That message from the Lord has sustained me through many difficulties. As ministers we all know how it goes: In the morning, we may be thinking, It's a good day. My ministry is going pretty well. But by that same evening, our thoughts are, Lord, why am I here? I am so inadequate. It is at those very times that the Lord repeats that message to me, "I didn't call you because you are worthy. I called you because I am worthy."
For many years, fear kept me from answering God's call. I feared I wasn't good enough. I feared I didn't know enough. I feared the commitment. But once I tasted the sweetness of what it means to be used by God, and that He who called me would equip me, life has never been the same. Ministry has given me the most challenging, painful, stretching years of my life. It has also given me my most joyful, rewarding, and satisfying years. I wouldn't trade any of them. And these days I do my ministry through the power of the writ ten word.
From the beginning of my ministry, the call of the prophet Jeremiah has given me courage (Jer. 1:5-9). Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is going on despite the fear. Courage is allowing the Lord to calm our fears. Courage is allowing Cod to cover our shame in the glory and assurance of His grace.
"Here I am, Lord."