June 2008 - Vol. 20

Mary Shields with youth from Emmaus Community, Kampala, Uganda
How Mission Changed My Life

by Mary Shields

What is it like to be sent on mission far away from the comfortable surroundings of your home, job, and country?  Mary Shields, a medical doctor for the past 20 years, and a member of the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland, tells her story – her struggles and challenges, her doubts and fears, and how God gave her new hope and fresh faith in him.
I'm not the missionary type 
My foray into the mission field started in 2003 when I was invited by the leaders of my community (Community of the Risen Christ) to attend a mission weekend sponsored by the European Mission and Middle East team of the Sword of the Spirit. At that time I thought they had me mixed up with someone else. I never saw myself as the “missionary type”. So, I thought I was there to make up numbers. However, the Lord had another plan. Previously, whenever I heard talks on evangelisization and mission work, I would feel vaguely guilty, defensive, or hopeless.  But on this occasion, it was different. I felt convinced over the weekend that by praying daily I could contribute something very meaningful to the mission work of the Sword of the Spirit. I knew I couldn’t stand up on a soap box or a stage and preach to big crowds. But I knew that I could pray for mission, and this started a new chapter in my life with God. 

The first thing which happened over the course of some months was that the Lord changed my heart, and in some ways this was the pattern of what was to happen over the next few years. As I prayed I changed, and in a very real way “the tent pegs of my heart were stretched” (Isaiah 54:2). I started to really care and have a heart for the situations and people I was praying for. I do believe that the Lord was preparing me for the opportunities which I was given over the next couple of years. 

I was susceptible to one of the greatest lies of life 
At that time, I had been in the Community of the Risen Christ for over 20 years and in the medical profession nearly as long.  I felt mature, sensible, grown up, and tired. It was that sobering time where you can be fairly sure more of your life has past than is still to come. I had a certain competence in my work and community life which rendered me susceptible to one of the great lies of life: “I am in charge of my own life.” It is a time in life in which I felt I knew myself well, and while this led to less disappointment over my lack of holiness. It did mean that in some ways I felt there probably wasn’t much more God could do with me. How wrong was I! 

This complacent and comfortable life was disturbed in 2003 by a phone call from Martin Steinbereithner, Mission Director for the European and Middle East region of the Sword of the Spirit, asking me to join a mission trip to Uganda. Several aspects of this were a challenge for me – surprisingly not the nasty diseases we might pick up or strange food we might have to eat, but working with a team of people I hardly knew and speaking in front of large groups of people. We had been asked to run the annual retreat for the Emmaus Community who were full time missionaries themselves and who lived residential community life. They lived what we were talking about! This was seriously scary for me. 

I saw the multiplication of our loaves and fishes 
My experience that year and on subsequent visits to Uganda was profound and long lasting. I had very low expectations on the first journey, I hoped to return having done what I was asked to do and not having “blown it” in any way. I really had no expectations that God wanted to work in me, change me, and heal me. Before I left Glasgow many of the brothers and sisters were praying for me, and one reading I repeatedly was given was Luke 9, the feeding of the five thousand. 

This was the reality in Uganda where I felt constantly challenged to bring out the meagre offering I had and trust that God could meet the need. I felt embarrassed by the scarcity of my resources in face of the need, but time and time again the Lord was faithful and I saw the multiplication of our loaves and fishes. This has given me courage in my ordinary life in Glasgow to bring out what I have, even when it doesn’t seem enough. With my drug-addict patients I now talk about God without thinking I need all the answers. In relationships, I believe change is possible even when there have been long term difficulties. I can change and so can others. I believe God hasn’t finished with any of us. 

One of the other ways the Lord worked in and still is working in me is to set me free to be myself, to help me believe that being myself is enough. God has been relentlessly breaking down the lies which I can surround myself with – that I need to be something more than I am, that I need to strive harder just to belong. This again has been a theme for me during the visits to Uganda, the simple fact of the scale of God’s love for me. This has spilled out into my ordinary life by giving me confidence in God’s love no matter if I succeed or fail – and that means I can try new things without fear. I have recently taken on a leadership role in community that I wouldn’t have had the confidence even to attempt before. 

New hope and fresh faith in God 
More than anything during the trips to Uganda the Lord has spoken about my personal relationship with him and how he desires to draw me closer to himself. The reading from the end of John’s Gospel (20:16), where Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus only as he says her name, has become a reality to me. When the Lord speaks your name and you recognize him, everything else seems unimportant, even your worries. It has been like a paradigm shift for me with a resultant new hope and fresh faith in God working in and through me. 
On return home from the first mission trip to Uganda I felt a bit like St Peter at Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor – I just wanted to build a tent and stay up on the mountain. However I felt that God was saying to me that the experience that I had had was to help change my life down at the bottom of the mountain – God had things to say to me about relationships that were difficult for me down here, and he has work for me to do. There have been a lot of things that I feel have changed since I came back, but underpinning them is a new appreciation of God’s love for me and his power to do things in my life despite my limitations. 

The Lord says to all of us, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelations 21:5).


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