I’m Sarah Badgett, and I just got back from a year-long mission program called the World Race. My squad and I served in 11 countries across Central & South America and Africa. Here’s a glimpse into how God’s using that time to help me live deeply.
I had been told to prepare for the abandonment that comes with living out of a backpack for 11 months, yet overall, my year was much more comfortable than I thought. I found it easy to adjust to the nomadic lifestyle (and bugs). Throughout the year, we primarily worked with kids’ ministry, but we also spent our time doing manual labor, working with rehab programs, evangelizing and simply loving those around us. An unforgettable revelation occurred in our first country, Honduras. I’d become irritated at everyone around me sharing words from the Lord – ‘The Lord’s saying this, the Lord’s saying that!’- while I’m ‘hearing’ nothing at all. Intense frustration became a common feeling. One day, during our two months in the jungles of Honduras, we organized a ‘burn’: time dedicated to non-stop prayer, worship and fasting. From 6 am to 6 pm, we planned to sit in the church (a little wooden shack) and read through the New Testament, following along with the person at the front reading aloud. We’d pause to switch readers, and for teaching & worship. During worship, feeling utterly forsaken, I read through David’s laments, praying like I had this entire time: ‘Help me find You. Let me hear You. Where are You?!’ And as if a box dropped in front of me, I opened it and discovered a thought: ‘You need to change your perspective.’ In one wave of realization, my selfish desire to ‘have God’ and to ‘hear God’ revealed itself. I wasn’t wanting to ‘be with God,’ I was wanting to ‘have Him.’ I had abused this relationship with my Creator- I tried fitting Him into my life. The significance of Jesus’s purpose came to mind with an entirely new depth, and I laid on the floorboards of the church and began sobbing, crying for forgiveness, kneeling alongside David’s confessions. If I really, truly wanted God, to know Him and what He wanted to say to me, I would have to seek it out through action, not just want.
So I started reading. I wanted to know for myself what God said about me and how He desired to be a part of my life. That’s how relationships work- you’ve got to spend time with the people you want to keep close. The next month, Nicaragua, was a month of learning what spending time with the Lord was like. I began to grow fond of our time together, aware that this was laying the foundation for something beautiful. In April, I found myself in a small province in the Costa Rican rainforests. My all-girls team and I agreed that this ministry would hold some powerful moments for us all. We were right. The first weekend there we were told, ‘Pack your bags. We’re going to the capital to do street evangelism.’ And for the weekend, we walked into the streets at 10 p.m., sharing with those on the street the rehab program we were offering -as well as the hope of Jesus- until around 3 in the morning. As we got our bearings the first night, we came across several folks wasted, high, cross-faded, as well as pregnant women, prostitutes and addicts lying plastered among the sidewalk, huddling close to the cardboard they had made their comforters for the night. We walked through the most dangerous parts of town, past brothels and gangs- warned many times by the police to redirect our steps. But our host explained that we had literally nothing on us to steal, to hurt or to give, so we pressed on. If you were to ask anyone on my team that month, ‘What was one of the most impactful moments of your Race?’, I can almost guarantee all of us would point back to this weekend.
Awake in the hotel, I wondered why seeing so many people in such a state seemed so familiar to me. Upon reflection, I had a heartbreaking realization: I felt right at home. Not because of Knoxville’s homeless population or dangerous parts of the city, but because these people lying on the streets were my friends, even my church family– those sitting in the same pew as you, those I’d greet at work, or my friends I’d see on the weekends. ‘College is where faith goes to die,’ they say, and I had witnessed the watering down and twisting of such strong faiths. The girl stumbling drunkenly down the street, the woman selling her body, the man lusting after whatever walked by him, the boy smoking a blunt- they were no different than us living in the ‘Bible Belt.’ I was reading through Hebrews 10 (stop what you’re doing and read it RIGHT NOW– it puts the Fear of God in me, I love it!), and struck by the knowledge that my friends and I had chosen to deliberately sin after knowing what Jesus did for us. We had spat in the face of the Triune God and trampled underfoot the Holy Spirit. I wanted to cry out to the church, ‘Stop it! This isn’t what we’re called to do! We have it so much better than this!’ It awakened the fact that we as Christians are called into a radical life and faith. We’re not supposed to be just nice or sweet, generous or joyful, but to truly look and live so differently- with love. With an ever-growing faith in the Lord, we’re going to fall in love with pursuing Him in such wild ways and radical thinking, just like Jesus and his disciples. The passion, heartbreak, and conviction I experienced– it made me upset because we’ve gotten it so wrong.
Now I’m home. I’ve been in Knoxville since early December, and while there are things that I’m so thrilled to have again –a car to sing loudly in, Tex Mex queso and chips, a room to myself– I find myself struggling to adjust. Being home has brought back the feeling of habits and routines I don’t care to ever return to. (It rained non-stop the first week I returned home, and that was hard.) Even in our last country, South Africa, surrounded by the distractions of a well-developed city, I found myself redirected toward (good) habits and healthy friendships, but I was replacing my time with Christ. I realized, even after a year of being a ‘good Christian missionary,’ learning to live a set-apart isn’t easy; it’s a process, constantly under development. The Race was a life-altering experience, and I highly encourage research into AIM and other organizations that offer these programs. I’d love to say I came back completely untouched by the distractions and old mentalities of home, but as I recognized months before, I was going to fail. I was going to waste time. I was going to find myself in a rabbit hole of indulged temptations and sins. And I do. But I have to remind myself that the change in my life was not because of me, but because of WHO I turned to. When you take the time to root yourself in Christ, you’re secure, and your sufferings become a little less terrible, your sins become a little less appetizing, and your love becomes a little bit holier. Now that I find myself living at home again (because who knows what’s next?), I find myself learning how to fight for the most important relationship in my life. I’m learning how to Live Deeply by loving wildly.