In the "All In For All Nations" magazine, we were able to hear from Laurelyn regarding her short-term trip last summer. Laurelyn recently graduated from college, so she was able to benefit from the assistance offered to students from the Global Offering. After her time on that short-term trip, god impressed upon her to invest more time overseas. Following God's call, Laurelyn went on a 2-month mid-term trip to a least-reached area, which is also one of our focus areas. Hear from Laurelyn as she reflects on her time and shares what the Lord taught her.
My story begins around 5:45 am on a Saturday morning. I was invited to participate in a hike to watch the sunrise at the top of a mountain that overlooked the ancient city of Ephesus with four other college-aged friends, despite my lack of proper footwear. The five of us crammed into our rental car and drove a short distance to the trailhead that began at the end of a long gravel road.
As we drove, I noticed two large and aggressive dogs pacing alongside a long chain-linked fence that ran parallel to the gravel road. I was thankful we were on one side of the fence and the aggressive dogs were on the other side. Because one of my friends broke her toe a few weeks prior, she decided to opt out of hiking up the mountain, stay in the car, and wait for us. The rest of us ascended straight up the mountain, with each step carrying us through centuries of history. After voiding an encounter with wild boar and scaling up boulders in my slip-on Birkenstock sandals, we finally reached the summit. We gathered together and marveled at the panoramic view - the Aegean Sea to our left and the faint ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus to our right.
About 15 minutes later, we all received a text from our friend waiting in the car that read, "Do not come back down (the mountain) the same way yet. One of the dogs is loose...he's been barking and growling at the car for a while...he just rammed into the car..." Many anxious thoughts immediately flooded my mind: How will we all safely make it back to the car? Will the dog attack us if we go back down the mountain? There isn't another trail back down the mountain, so where will we go? My phone buzzed again and the notification from my friend read "He (the aggressive dog) rammed the car again. Now he's waiting at the head of the rail." After reading that text, the four of us agreed to not follow the trail back down the mountain, especially since none of us had anything to defend ourselves with. At this point, we were all still unsure of where to go, but we knew we couldn't remain at the top of the mountain.
As we were openly suggesting options (there were very few, considering the circumstances), we heard jingling bells in the distance. Our shared curiosity prompted us to move towards the noise. After weaving our way around barren shrubs and ancient ruins, we came across several sheep, some of them with cowbells hanging from their necks. Four dogs accompanied the flock of sheep, along with a man clothed in rugged linen with a weathered staff by his side. At that moment I realized we were no longer alone, fear was swiftly replaced with hope disguised in the image of a real shepherd! The four of us whispered among one another and decided it would be wise to stay with the shepherd. After all, he was the one armed with a staff and was familiar with the land, not us. As the shepherd began to descend the mountain, opposite of the direction we came up the mountain, we followed in line with the sheep. I wasn't sure where he was leading us, but I knew I was safe and was being led away from a potentially dangerous situation. The shepherd guided us through the valley and down the mountain. My friend, who spoke the local language, asked him how many sheep he had and he told her he owned seventy sheep. My friends and I joked together and made comments on how he had seventy-four sheep that morning!
As the scene unfolded, I couldn't help but smile to myself and be reminded of Psalm 23:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
We followed the shepherd walking ahead of us to the base of the mountain where there was a slight definition in the dirt where the path split into two separate directions. He turned to us and gave us brief directions on the route we needed to take. At this point, I was still a bit confused as to where we were, but I knew I could fully trust his direction and instruction. The shepherd safely brought us this far, right? We thanked him and he walked to the left as we walked to the right down a dirt road.
We we walked down the dirt road toward civilization, we came across a flourishing fig tree laden with fresh, ripe figs. We stopped, ate figs together, and thanked the Lord for His continued provision. We followed the dirt road as instructed and it led us to a one-way public road that takes tourists directly to an entrance to the ancient city of Ephesus. Thanks to technology, we shared our location with our friend and she drove the rental car to the location and picked us up off the side of the road.
As I look back on this experience, I can't help but think of all the simple and unexpected joys of our journey! Not only did the Lord send us our guide down the mountain, but he also provided delicious figs, a beautiful sunrise, extra time for intentional conversations with new friends, and friendly gods that accompanied us down the mountain. Little did he know, but the shepherd beautifully exhibited the character of the Lord in many ways. We could trust in him to lead us, in his instructions, and his protection over us.
Psalm 23 provides believers in Jesus Christ with the promise that the Lord's goodness and mercy pursue us. We can turn our gaze from looking up to simply looking to our side, for he is there. When fear or uncertainty steeps into my heart, I am encouraged by Martin Luther's gentle reminder: "I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide."