Making Paradise

Kris Akenberger (the author) served as a volunteer Bible worker in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, where he helped plant a church and disciple a new group of believers. He is currently a theology student at Mountain View College in the Philippines.

Mission 360° March 1, 2020

There, on that little island, God took me into His hands and made me into something useful to Him.

God showed Jeremiah a vision of a potter at work. He explained that He was the Potter, and we, His people, are the clay. Just like a potter takes a lump of clay into his hands and forms it into something useful, God takes broken people into His hands and makes them the way He wants them to be. The tiny island of Saipan has been my potter’s house. There, on that little island, God took me into His hands and made me into something useful to Him. And I am grateful for that experience.

When I was invited to serve in Saipan, I immediately went home and Googled the Pacific island. Beautiful images of white sandy beaches, breathtaking sunsets, and pretty flowers splashed across my laptop screen. I began to dream of what it would be like to live there and sing ukulele worship songs while drinking from coconuts and looking out over the endless blue sea. I said a quick prayer of thanks to God, accepted the invitation, and boarded a plane headed for paradise.

When I arrived, the island had just been hit by a typhoon and didn’t look anything like the pictures on my computer. In fact, during my years of service there, the island was destroyed twice by devastating storms. Both times I had to learn to live without power for a couple of months and often didn’t have enough water. The typhoons killed the flowers, trees, and vegetables, and people mostly ate canned meat with rice.

However, the physical discomforts were nothing compared to the spiritual challenges. I had left a home where people loved me to come to a place where I couldn’t understand anyone and not many people could understand me. Even though the language of Saipan is English, for many people it’s their second or third language. So at best, you’re only partially understood. I began to complain in my heart. I drifted deeper and deeper into depression. Everywhere I looked, I saw only problems and reasons to give up.

In truth, it wasn’t the first time I’d struggled with complaining. I have a history of blaming circumstances and other people for my unhappiness. I can’t tell you the exact moment or the reason, but something broke inside of me, and I realized for the first time that I was responsible; I could either make the best of it or make the worst of it. I knew for the first time it had always been up to me. I get to choose what I think, feel, and believe, and ultimately how I act.

Proverbs says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” I love the text in Joshua 1:9 that says, Be strong and of a good courage because God is with us wherever we go. I’ve learned that courage is about asking God for a way to succeed rather than finding an excuse to fail. All my life, I had been making excuses. No more! I asked Jesus to give me a clean heart and determined to be a different person with a different attitude.

After many months of hard work, I was sitting under a mango tree by the church I had helped build, enjoying time with friends who had just been baptized. We were singing songs together while my friend Jonah played the ukulele. You could smell the flowers we had planted, and the cool breeze felt amazing. Children were laughing, and the women were preparing a Sabbath fellowship lunch. This was what I had dreamed Saipan would be like. My dream had come true!

God had given me that dream of paradise many months ago, not to complain that it wasn’t that way but because He wanted to use me to help make it that way.

Complaining and excuses have become hateful to me. God has taught me that not only am I responsible, but in Him, I am capable. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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