After one semester into college, I almost dropped out. During a lecture on the extreme poverty in Africa, my stomach squirmed. And it wasn't just the pictures of sick people, or the horrifying statistics of death. I suddenly felt like I had to do something to change all that pain and poverty.
Sure, I'd felt sad when I saw child-sponsorship commercials showing the skinny, crying faces of kids. In fact, I'd been sponsoring a child from a Mexican orphanage for a few years. But that day, it suddenly hit me that I wasn't doing enough.
I decided I would go out there and make a difference right now. I'd quit college and throw myself into a life of service to the needy and impoverished in Africa. But first I needed to go home and tell my parents about my decision.
"What? No! You can't!" Mom shouted. My dad met my decision with total silence. I actually preferred the yelling.
I argued my case.
"But what about the disciples?" I pleaded. "Jesus told them to go out to all the nations and share the good news. Did they just sit around in the library and read ancient books all day?"
Dad finally spoke.
"Honey, didn't the disciples also spend a good amount of time hanging out with Jesus, and learning lessons from him?" Dad went on to talk about all the preparation that took place before the disciples actually evangelized the world.
While I hated to admit it, maybe he had a good point. After all, Jesus didn't even begin his own ministry until he was 30. Did I need to rush out and change the world? Was that what God really wanted me to do?
Since I'm writing this story from my dorm room, I obviously didn't drop out of school and head off to Africa. But I did change a few things. I started studying books and reading articles that would help me better understand the needs of people who live in poverty. I also joined a group on campus that writes letters to missionaries and studies issues affecting various countries around the world.
Some of what I read also showed me that my country and community have their share of people who live in terrible conditions. Then there were the spiritual needs. When I opened my eyes a little more widely, I discovered there were many people around me who needed to know that God loved them and offered them hope. After all, wasn't there that girl down the hall who often cried herself to sleep? And what about that guy in lit class who always seemed so down?
I know I'm not the only college student who has struggled with the desire to get out there and do something besides study. Some of my friends have also wondered if they're wasting their time sitting in a classroom when there's so much they want to accomplish right now.
But I've discovered there's a lot God wants to teach me before I walk out into the world to begin my career—whatever that career may be. I've also figured out something else. There are many ways to make a difference in the world. And being a student doesn't limit me, really. At this time in my life, college is my Africa, and the hurting girl crying down the hall needs me. Right now.
Heather plans to take a short-term missions trip to China after she graduates from college this spring.