A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Montenegro as part of a short-term missions team. My local church in Scotland was partnered with a church in the Montenegrin capital city, Podgorica, but our work was primarily with three Balkan refugee camps in the eastern town of Berane. The first team that went out in 2010 were involved in installing a toilet block in one of the camps; that which we affectionately called ‘The Container Camp’ because the families there lived in metal shipping containers.
Upon their return, the team presented to the church all that they had done on their trip. That particular night, I happened to be manning the Information Desk at the back of the church. And that particular night I carried extra information about our Montenegro partnership, including a sign-up sheet for people interested in going on the next trip.
As the team shared their experience, they explained the different work initiatives they had been involved with in the camp, including work with the children, and maintenance work to improve the basic facilities that were available. They told stories of a head-lice infestation amongst the young ones, and shared photos of team members knee-deep in sewage. Then they called for volunteers to be part of the next team that would visit a few months later.
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ‘high maintenance’ kinda gal, but I do appreciate my home comforts like my hair-straighteners. Somehow, I didn’t think this was the kind of trip that had time (or need) for hair-straighteners, so I was ready to politely decline the team’s request. But God had other ideas…
Nothing in me wanted to join that next team, yet something in me knew I had to. My heartbeat quickened, my mind began to race, and everything around me swirled in slow motion. I was terrified to volunteer, but it was an excited, expectant kind of fear. It was like my hand had a mind of its own, and before the team’s presentation had even ended, the sign-up sheet lying on the desk in front of me already had my name scribbled at the top.
For the next three years I participated in the annual aid trips to those Montenegrin refugee camps. I fell in love with the people and longed to make more of a difference in their lives. I delighted in building relationships with the individuals, especially the children, in each camp, and endeavoured to learn just a few words through which we could communicate and play games together.
But that third return trip very nearly did not happen. You see, my personal finances were a struggle that year and common sense told me I could not afford to go. I had already agreed to co-lead the team, however, so the question was not if I was going, but how. I had little more than the amount required for the first half instalment but I was worried about clearing out my bank account, leaving me broke for the remainder of the month. Not to mention my concern over where the rest of the fees would come from when the second half instalment was due.
I pondered my predicament over lunch with a friend one day and explained the situation. I did not want to miss out on being part of the trip but my circumstances had me feeling defeated. Yet God is not defeated by circumstantial evidence. If He wants something to happen, it will happen.
As the deadline for the first payment drew ever closer, I continued to pray and consider the best way to move forward. Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to take a risk. I recall journalling about it and stating, almost in diva-like fashion, that God would just have to come through for me. He had put me in this predicament and therefore He would just have to get me out! So, only a day ahead of the deadline, I cleared out my bank account and paid the first half instalment.
And then the miracles began to tally.
The very next day, I received a cheque in the mail from the friend I had previously had lunch with. She had spoken with her husband after we had met and they had felt compelled to give me a financial gift. Its amount matched the first instalment I had paid not 24 hours before.
A week or two later, I was approached at the end of the church service by a member of the church finance team. This was nothing particularly unusual, as his work would sometimes overlap with mine, but our conversation that day was not about business.
“Someone would like to give towards your Montenegro trip,” he told me, “for the next three months, they will contribute towards the remainder of your fees.”
And they did just that. To this day, I have no idea who that anonymous supporter was but I am incredibly grateful for their generous contribution which provided for me in ways beyond just financial.
I couldn’t believe it; my entire trip fees had been covered and God had proved Himself faithful once again. But He was not done yet.
Around that same time, I came home one day to find an envelope had been slid under the front door of my apartment. Ordinarily, my mail was posted through the main front door to the apartment block and I would pick it up from the lobby on my way past before I entered my own apartment. But this envelope had clearly been personally delivered, right to my own front door. It only had my name hand-written on the front, with no mention of who or where it had come from. And inside was a small sum of cash. The mystery of that gift was never solved either.
Then shortly before we left the country, I received a final financial gift. This gift covered the cost of my spending money and the petrol I needed to drive the 400km round-trip to the airport. By the time I boarded the plane, I was better-off than the day I had taken a risk and paid that first instalment. God had not only provided, but He had made available His abundant provision. Those months and that experience completely transformed my understanding of God’s generous spirit and the ways in which He works. It challenged me to be more generous and to be more readily available to walk in obedience to Him, trusting Him to provide all that I need along the way.
I personally experienced God come through for me in just a small way, but its lesson and impact on my life was huge. Even now, years later, I often recall that testimony when I am faced with financial challenges. I am reminded that when we walk in obedience and take a risk for God, He blesses us with far more than we ever sacrificed for Him. We cannot anticipate or understand the ways through which He works, but we can be sure that He will surprise us.
That first risk; that first step of obedience to pay the first instalment; that first act demonstrated that I was willing to pay the price to follow God’s call. That action became the catalyst for God’s blessing. All too often we do not take that first step because we fear it will cost us too much, but when we give our all to God, He always returns with more. Our obedience brings breakthrough and leads to blessing.
God knows what we need, when we need it, and how to provide it. Sometimes, He gives differently to what we expect. Sometimes, His provision is not financial but relational or circumstantial. Sometimes, He withholds it for a little while to give us time to settle our eyes on Him first. But He is not defeated by our needs, like we often feel we are. Our needs are an opportunity for His miracles.