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God, give me the faith to go

Answering God’s call begins with a heartfelt prayer for faith

by Leisa TonieAnn Wagstaff | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Today, African-American mission co-workers continue the transforming work of God’s mission, answering the call to service through Presbyterian World Mission. Leisa Wagstaff, currently serving in South Sudan, shares her personal reflection on this irresistible call. Like the mission workers who served a century before her, Leisa has found herself personally transformed. That is the essence of God’s mission.

Mission co-worker Leisa Wagstaff discusses clean water at a school in South Sudan. Photo by Sharon Kandel.

LOUISVILLE – I always knew—as simple as this—that God was calling me to full-time ministry. Growing up in a rural and traditional African-American faith setting, however, I could not imagine opportunities for a future in ministry. The people who had answered God’s call were all preachers—and all men. I remember begging God to not make me be a preacher, for I did not want to be the lone female. The only other option I was aware of was to become a nun.

From early on I enjoyed learning about other cultures, meeting people from diverse backgrounds and watching my family feed anyone and everyone, but I did not know how this was impacting my life. Greater clarity came during my college years when I participated in a work-study travel program in Africa. Being far from home, yet with another group of God’s people, felt right. While gazing out at the point where the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers meet, I was told of the belief in the Sudanese culture that if one managed to put a foot in each river at the same time, one would return. Although not really holding to this folklore and being terribly fearful of any body of water (I had almost drowned in a few feet of water just days earlier!), I wanted to do everything to ensure that I returned to a place where I felt God was calling me. Trembling with fear, I waded out to the spot where the rivers met and asked God to give me the faith to go in whichever direction I was sent.

In South Sudan, education helps young people recognize their potential and transforms generations to come. Photo by Sharon Kandel.

Thirty plus years later I have returned to the area of South Sudan after having journeyed in faith with citizens in several other African countries. People often ask me in which capacities I have served. I respond: strengthening communities as they seek to provide education; training pastors, lay leaders and primary school teachers; administrating schools and curriculums; training youth workers; coaching gymnastics, and so on. I believe my most important work to be the sharing of self—shortcomings included—and the ministry of presence as I walk with the host community at their pace through the challenges of having been born in places where people have not been allowed to reach their fullest potential.

Some people are under the impression that I have given up much in order to be here. What is not understood is that in accepting God’s call, I am receiving much more than I can ever possibly give. African communities have taught me the true essence of compassion and faithfulness, even in the midst of the most adverse of settings, and have welcomed me as a part of their extended families and cultures. This is the richness of the blessings of accepting my call.

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Mission co-worker Leisa Wagstaff has served in education-related mission assignments in five African countries for more than 30 years, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesoto, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and, since July 2013, in South Sudan, one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Support Leisa in South Sudan pcusa.org/donate/E200501.

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This article is from the Spring 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.


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