Kelsey’s Story: Since I was a little girl, I have always loved learning about other cultures. Combined with my love for Jesus, my interest in other people and places helped me develop an interest in sharing Christ cross-culturally. After serving on several short-term mission trips and as a missions intern for a local church, I began to explore the idea of long-term missions. Soon God opened a door for me to move to Southeast Asia and live with a missionary family.
I picked up and moved without going through any training and with no official connection with a missions agency. I simply went as a single woman to assist with home school for a family. Due to my lack of training, I wasn’t ready for all I would encounter in another culture. Often existing struggles in one’s home culture are magnified in a different culture. With a personal history of untreated anxiety and depression, I found my problems quickly became worse than ever before.
While living in Southeast Asia, I struggled with anxiety and depression in ways I never thought possible. The joy of life had slipped through my hands and I couldn’t seem to get it back. Each passing day was a struggle to complete because of the loss of joy.
Each day, I had multiple crippling panic attacks that left me on the floor or flat on my bed. I could never quite recover from one to the next. I knew they were coming, yet they were still unexpected when they came.
I was afraid to go to bed because I knew when I woke up, it would start all over again. It was like a bad dream on repeat. I never quite knew how I was going to make it through the day, but God always brought me through.
I felt trapped in my own body, drowning and alone, unable to see a way out. Friends said I was a skeleton of the Kelsey they had known. It was terrifying feeling that way. I started medication and counseling. I exercised and spent time with friends. Yet I still felt like I was drowning as I sought to deal with my anxiety and depression and a whole new culture. The life and comforts I knew were gone.
The only One who got me through each day was Jesus. He was all I had. My only choice was to lean into Him. He sustained me as I learned to trust my Savior in a way I never had before. He was drawing me nearer to Him, and I fell in love with Him more each day.
I couldn’t see the light in the darkness, but I knew Jesus did. He was my light in the darkness. I didn’t know where I was headed or what the purpose was for my suffering, but I knew Jesus did. I knew that I might not ever see the purpose on this side of eternity, but I knew there had to be one.
He heard me. He heard me when I was flat on my face or on my knees crying out to Him. He knew my struggle. He knew I physically ached from head to toe. He knew the battle I was fighting because He was in the battle with me. As I was losing my grip on joy, I knew I just had to hold onto Jesus. More importantly, Jesus had His grip on me.
Six weeks into my time in Southeast Asia, I had lost 50 pounds and was not a version of Kelsey anyone recognized. After much prayer and counsel, I and others who cared about me decided it was best for me to move back home. This decision brought a whole new battle – one of failure and shame. I didn’t want to face everyone who would wonder why I was back in the States. I didn’t want to face my perfectionist, type-A self. I had to loosen the grip from my original plan. I had to give the lies of failure and shame to God. I had to rest my weakness in the grace of God and the Resurrection power of Jesus. I had to press into Him as I walked into the unknown.
After time and healing, I got to a point where I was okay with not knowing why I went through that horrible experience. But in God’s grace, He made it clear that I would serve others more effectively because of that season. In God’s redemptive plan, He has brought my story full circle. I am now the Missionary Care Director at a local church. My job is to love and care for missionaries all over the world. I get to help meet them in the middle of their difficult times. If it weren’t for my experience in Southeast Asia, I wouldn’t understand as well what missionaries walk through, especially single women. Because I lacked the preparation and care I needed then, I can help and care more compassionately for missionaries. I don’t want anyone to walk through what I did, and I get to step into the gap for others.
God always has a plan in our pain and suffering. He allows nothing to go to waste. We might not know on this side of eternity what His plan and purpose are, but we can trust that God does. He is Sovereign, constant and Keeper of His promises. We can trust that He will use every heartache. As Psalm 56:8 says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”