I remember like it was yesterday, that’s how I know it was significant. I was six-years-old, sitting toward the back of the old chapel at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp. It was dark; the lights were dimmed. Diane, the head counselor from my cabin, prayed with me as I surrendered my life to Jesus. A few years later, back at camp, I was sitting two or three rows back during the morning chapel service. The speaker was talking about the life of a missionary and all the people in the world without anyone to tell them about Jesus. At the end of the short sermon, I remember standing up as a declaration that I was going to be a missionary when I grew up.
The summer of my sophomore year in high school I went on my first mission trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. I experienced a culture full of warm and accepting enthusiasm. I looked into the eyes of children who had never known their parents and spoke to women in the market who were searching for significance. I returned to Jamaica two years later, and as the week unfolded, I was uncomfortably reminded of the decision I'd made so many years ago at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp. However, being a missionary wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I had other plans.
Well, my plans didn’t work out. They completely unraveled and left me feeling frustrated and lost. Nineteen-years-old and one year out of high school, I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my life. I decided to give God five months to help me figure it out. It was the fall of 2006. I arrived in Adams, Tennessee, and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a short missionary training program with an international and interdenominational mission organization. Their slogan: "to know God and to make Him known."
After three months of classroom learning, I stepped onto a plane that took me to the unfamiliar land of Egypt. I lived in Egypt for a little over a month. It sounds crazy, but it was long enough for me to call it home. The streets became familiar, and the people became friends. My desire to communicate and get around helped me pick up some of the local language; it came naturally. In Egypt, a 90% Muslim country, I felt alive in a way I hadn’t since my last mission trip to Jamaica, and I was reminded of the commitment that ten-year-old me made all those years ago at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp – that I would be a missionary when I grew up.
Five months turned into 13 years of training and working in missions. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to England, India, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kosovo, and I’ve lived and worked long term in Chile. I’ve learned from cultures not my own, struggled with foreign languages, seen God at work in the darkest of places and had the opportunity to be a part of it. And it all started in a chapel pew at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of being the camp missionary. This time, I was standing at the front of the chapel with campers looking up at me. Wow! What a gift to be back in this way. The chapel was different, but the nostalgia was still there. I was in awe of how things had come full circle in a way only God could orchestrate. I gave the campers the same challenge that was given to me all those years ago, and prayed God would write many more missionary stories that started in a chapel pew at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp.
About the Author: Tara Balvin, a Mora, Minnesota native, now lives in Chile with her husband, Pablo, and son, Hosea. Tara worked with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for 13 years. She credits her years of ministry in the mission field to the decision she made as a young girl at Grindstone Lake Bible Camp. Tara now spends much of her time as an English language educator for Spanish speakers.