About a year ago, I threw away three years of detailed notes, well-loved folders and overflowing binders I had neatly collected during my college career.
An expression of frustration, confusion and heartache? Absolutely.
For those who don't know me, my name is Nicole Arney, Answering the Call’s Systems and Operations Coordinator and newest team member. The nine months between graduating from James Madison University with my degree in Social Work and stepping into this role with ATC were highly turbulent and transformative months. Like many American twenty-somethings, among the major life events and changes during this time, I found myself in vocational turmoil.
Before attending JMU, I had the opportunity to serve in Muelle de los Bueyes, Nicaragua. It was there that I heard the call on my life to be a missionary. My idea of this call was incredibly narrow at the time, but I have come to agree with Oswald Chambers’ simple definition, “A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ as He was sent by God.” Though I hoped (and still hope) to be sent out far and wide to the remote and unreached, the Lord whispered clarity to my call to be a missionary wherever my feet are.
I entered JMU with the intention of studying dietetics, but immediately felt drawn elsewhere. I yearned to do something that involved serving people and pursuing justice worldwide. I discovered and delved into our social work program, gaining knowledge to supplement my ever-growing passion to see the people of the world living in freedom. I took courses on genocide and refugee advocacy, Spanish and introductory Arabic. I felt the Lord conquering my heart for people groups, regions and countries, one after the other.
I began volunteering and eventually interned at the immigration and refugee resettlement office in Harrisonburg, VA. The opportunity to sit with these people, assist with their integration into the community, hear their stories and learn from them shook my reality. I found myself immersed in global news, studying Scripture on the Early Church, exploring discipleship and tearing up at any mention of “the nations.” I regularly wept, prayed, and achingly longed to serve in these regions experiencing crisis, conflict, and persecution.
Though excited by my studies and humbled by various opportunities I had to serve in the States, I felt restless.
I wrestled often with the heart to “go” in a season of “stay.”
This exponentially amplified after graduating and receiving job rejection after rejection. I began 2018 dejectedly praying, “Father, You know where You want me. I pray You’d only open that door.”
And He did.
God opened one door I hadn’t thought to pursue: returning to the little bakery in downtown Harrisonburg that I had worked at while in school. That little bakery shaped me and was an enormous blessing, but in the midst of it I dismissed my prior dreams.
*Cue the disheartened discarding of all college material, doubting the hopes I had, and questioning why I continually felt called to something that wasn’t materializing.*
I wondered if I had copied and pasted someone else’s passions and deceived myself that they were mine. I stopped reading the news, global and otherwise. I think I subconsciously decided that I didn’t want to hurt with empathy if I wasn’t able to help tangibly. Little did I know that helping could look like hurting—compassion, suffering alongside someone, interceding, fasting, and lamenting. I neglected my heart and ultimately my purpose. I quickly learned we cannot selectively numb our emotions.
My joy felt entirely sapped.
Then, days after I got married, our beloved Development and Community Outreach Coordinator, Ciara Brennan reached out to me, curious if I was still searching for work. To which I responded, “I’m not not looking…?” In the midst of catching up, she shared stories from ATC’s time in the Middle East, unaware of my absolute love for the region and people. Something in me stirred, almost burned. By the end of our conversation, I felt like I had come out of hibernation.
How many weeks had I been sleepwalking through life?
No opportunity was discussed with certainty, but what was certain was personal revival. While I thought I was in a season of darkness, I realized I was actually in the shadow of the Lord’s protecting presence.
God had things to teach me, to remind me, and to refine in me.
Like, my work is not my worth nor my identity. And I am not God. There is nothing I can do that He hasn’t already done. It is finished. He has been alive and active in the Middle East—and the rest of the world—since the beginning of time and will be before, during and after I ever set foot there. He has an unfathomable capacity to love people more that I ever will. He is sovereign, good, just and faithful. He does not leave or forsake what He creates. God’s Truth is greater than any emotion I may ever feel, reality I may ever see, and circumstance I may experience. And much, much more.
Over the summer I felt a weightiness and a hope over the month of September. Wildly enough (and HALLELUJAH), I was asked to start my employment with ATC on September 1, 2018. I am still in awe and overjoyed at the opportunity to serve with this team. It has been slightly over one month since I returned from my first trip with ATC in the Middle East. IS GOD AMAZING OR WHAT?!
We repaired tents, brought winter coats, and provided food and kerosene to a Yazidi refugee camp. The tents we repaired were intended to be a temporary dwelling place for these displaced people, in an area laden with landmines and haunting memories.
Recently I have been reflecting on the tent of meeting mentioned throughout the beginning of the Old Testament. Moses would leave the camp, pitch the tent and God would meet with him there. Eventually, the Israelites constructed the tabernacle and later the temple—two, more structured, but still temporary and contained dwelling spaces for God. In these places, they would make sacrifices for their sins and worship the Lord. After Hebrews 9:1-10 reminds us of the old, specific regulations that were required for priests to perform so the sins of the people could be forgiven, Hebrews 9:11 says:
“But Christ has now become the High Priest...He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15)
Jesus makes a way. He offers what is greater than any animal sacrifice, temporary dwelling, fleeting life and momentary suffering: Himself. The death of Jesus offers complete justification to those who believe in Him. His resurrection offers redemption, freedom to worship the living God and an eternal home with Him. His Spirit offers a guarantee of what is to come and allows us to walk with Him daily.
Our lives on Earth are marked by a deep longing for permanency and perfect union with God. This world offers no enduring solution to injustice, pain and suffering.
So, until Jesus invites us home, we will continue to repair the tents of those around us; inviting them into pure freedom, true worship and an everlasting perfect home in His Name (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).
We at ATC are still overwhelmed by the generous contributions you all provided to make this possible in the Middle East. Thanks to you, we were able to make a deep initial impact in this area.
I invite you to continue praying for the Yazidi, and also to celebrate what has already been accomplished! Whether mustering up faith in a post-graduate wilderness season or delivering coats in a remote refugee camp, be encouraged: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10)
Systems & Operations, Nicole Arney
At eight years old, Nicole informed her parents that when she grew up, she would live in the bush of Africa. Today, Nicole lives in the Friendly City of Harrisonburg, VA, yet her heart and mind remain internationally-focused. While working toward her degree in social work, Nicole concentrated on genocide and refugee advocacy, working closely with refugees being resettled locally. With her administrative gifting and missional mindset, Nicole tackles ATC’s day-to-day tasks with color-coded precision. (We mean it—her handwriting could give Times New Roman a run for its money.) When she’s not at home organizing closets, Nicole's spending time with college students.