A Locked Jaw and the Still Small Voice

Does God speak to you when you can't speak at all? In my case, He did.

I must have been five or so when I had this compelling urge to be a teacher. Two years earlier my parents had become Adventists, and I grew up in the Adventist culture and advantages--church nurture, Sabbath school, Bible studies. Taking all these in and participating in church life strengthened within me the desire to become a teacher. Even as a teenager, living on a farm, one of the things I loved most was to conduct a little school for the farm workers' children, and teach them to speak, read, and write English. I loved every minute of it, and the smile on the face of those children was reward enough. East London, South Africa, was not exactly a place those days where every child had equal opportunities for education and growth.

I was fortunate, though. My parents were of the "right" color, the correct status, and above all loved me dearly. My years of schooling sailed by easily. I spent quality time in church life, particularly camp meetings and youth activities. Many young people I met with talked about their adventures in mission life, some of them as student volunteers. Deep down in my heart, I too felt a pull toward being a missionary to a far away land. Would that day ever come?

Just before my high school final examinations, I had to choose my career. I knew exactly what that would be. Teaching, of course. Two weeks before the selection interview for teacher training, encephalitis struck me. The disease is as tough physically as it is difficult to pronounce. It is an inflammation of the brain and affects brain membrane and tissue. Its effect is unpredictable. The sickness left me unconscious for a month. I missed my interview and the high school examinations.

Struggles within

One year later, I tried again and got into the university with a scholarship. Studies were exciting. I made new friends. I looked forward to becoming a well-trained teacher. Then in the final year of my training, disaster struck again. Suddenly one morning as I was eating my cereal, my jaws jammed, got stuck, and I could not open my mouth. Fear overwhelmed me. It took three months for a proper diagnosis, and treatment took some more time. The doctors said I would not be able to speak normally again. Singing was out. Would I ever be able to teach? I wondered.

For a long time I was on liquids. Have you ever eaten liquidized pizza? Not exactly a delicacy. Even as I struggled with my illness, I continued my studies at home, passed the finals, and got into specialized education.

I could not quite figure all this out. One door closes; another opens. My jaws were locked. I could not speak clearly. But I could read. I could pray. I could listen. Then one day I heard distinctly the still small voice: God needed me for some special task, in some special way.

Soon after graduation, I got a job as a special-education teacher in my hometown. The job was satisfying. The pay was good. Within a year I bought a car, a house, and settled down comfortably. Three years went by. I could still hear that still small voice, but I was not quite sure. Meanwhile my jaw needed another surgery, requiring cartilage to be removed from my ear.

Was God speaking to me through all these sufferings? Yes, I would say to myself while in suffering, then forget the whole thing once I was well. After many such internal struggles, I wrote to the General Conference and offered my services.

To my surprise, I received a call, of all places, to Korea. What's that? What are the people like? Where is it on a map? Will I fit in the culture? I did not have all the answers, and secretly hoped I would not have to go. But the locked jaw and the still small voice were reminding me that God had a purpose for me. And like any good Old Testament character, I demanded that God give me a sign. I had a house. If I could sell the house without losing money, I would go to Korea. A friend invited me to pray together. Ten minutes later a lady knocked at my door. The house was sold. The still small voice was now a big megaphone.

The land of the morning calm

Soon I was on a flight to Seoul, Korea. The land of the morning calm brought anything but calm to me at least for a while. I was a stranger in a foreign land. The food was strange. The weather was different. But within days I made friends. God's family anywhere and everywhere is the same--in love, in worship, in work, in friendship. Culture does differ, and I learned that rather soon. You had to leave your shoes outside before entering a home. You had to respect the elders. You choose friends in your own age group. A date referred to the calendar, not an appointment with the opposite sex. But in spite of all these, I immediately sensed a family togetherness.

The Adventist Church in South Korea sponsors some 17 language schools. I was assigned to one in the beautiful island of Cheju in the East China Sea. I had to share an apartment with a Japanese and an American, and the melting pot of three different cultures in the midst of a fourth was good for our characters and our world understanding.

I taught English and Bible. Classes were from 7 to 10 in the morning, and from 6 to 9 in the evening. In between I met with young people, one on one, talked to them, counseled with them, played with them, and learned to love them.

Communication can sometimes get us into trouble. Like the day when I said to someone, "See you later, alligator!" The boy took me seriously, felt offended, and timidly asked, "Teacher, is that a nice name for me? Do I look like an alligator?"

In spite of such minor misunderstandings, our students were just like young people everywhere--curious, fun loving, longing to find meaning in life. That longing is what kept us all together, the teacher and the taught. Together we explored finding life's great purpose--in Jesus. This was the highlight of my experience in Korea. When you find from the Bible that there is more to life than mere existence, when you see someone's face light up because of the workings of the Spirit within, when you realize that Jesus has become someone's closest friend, you feel blessed. You feel lifted up. You feel the closeness of God. The still small voice becomes so real, that you cannot but say, "Thank you, Lord, for revealing Yourself to me." o

Sherry J. Botha from East London, South Africa, is serving as a student missionary in South Korea.

Readers interested in short-term missionary service may contact the Dialogue representative listed on page 2 or write directly to: Adventist Youth Service; 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, MD 20904; U.S.A. In North America, call 1-800-252-SEND.