When we think of going on a mission trip, we usually focus on the people and communities we will encounter at our destination. However, God can use us to impact people and change the world in any circumstance, as long as we are open to those opportunities. All it takes is stepping out in faith and engaging with those around us, even to a small degree, to light a spark of change. Margaret Thomas was given just such an opportunity while on the first leg of the Uganda medical mission trip, when she heeded the Spirit’s call to invest in her plane neighbor and share the Gospel with a stranger for the first time. She faced many trials leading up to this trip that refined her and humbled her, creating a joyful dependence on Christ and His plan that set her up to share with more openness and easy faith than ever before.
This was Margaret’s fourth trip with Long Hollow Missions, and her second as a nurse on the Uganda medical mission team. Even as a child, she knew she wanted to help people for a living, so becoming a mother-baby nurse and eventually embarking on medical missions seemed natural for her. However, she admits that during her first Uganda trip in 2014, her heart was more focused on herself and the good acts she was performing than it was on serving God and His Kingdom.
This trip was different. The four years between comprised a series of humbling trials and rejections on a level Margaret had never yet experienced. It began with attending Celebrate Recovery (CR), a ministry that has been a blessing and “road map” for Margaret as she negotiated her way out of food and alcohol addiction. Her biggest trial came in 2017 when, one week after celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary, her husband revealed that he wanted a divorce. Loss continued to weigh on Margaret in the following months as she and her son moved out of their house, and her mother, who had lived with her for years, passed away. In reflecting on this time of trials, Margaret acknowledges that it was a time of refining in which she became more humble, found more self-control, and relied on Jesus more than ever. This deepening of her faith primed her to enter this trip with a heart for God’s purposes. “Use me, Lord,” was the cry of her heart.
Prior to the trip, Margaret received an email from the trip leader asking if she wanted to choose her seat assignment for her flight to New York, her first stop on the way to Uganda. Usually she would have changed to an exit row seat but this time she hesitated; “I just felt something small inside me say, ‘Just trust God for your seat assignment… surrender it all, just go!'” This may seem insignificant, but Margaret’s faith in something small was honored with greater blessings.
Seatbelt fastened and tray table in the full upright position, Margaret began to chat with her seat neighbor, a young German woman named Isabella, as the plane ascended. Isabella was on her way home to Amsterdam from a business trip. And Margaret? Her reason for travelling that day opened the door for her to share about her faith, her experiences of the last few years, and the love of Christ.
“It being my first time to share, especially with a complete stranger… what felt most comfortable to share was what Christ had done in my life. It felt so natural to share with [Isabella],” she recalls. “I think she could see my joy. The conversation didn’t feel pressured and I don’t think it did for her either. I felt an openness, the Spirit with me. It was based in love and not fear. It was like, ‘I just want to tell you what the Lord has done for me’. If what I went through brings one person to Christ it was worth it.”
Isabella was comfortable sharing her own relativistic views and her experience with Christianity, which she viewed as rigidly legalistic and tainted with works-based philosophy. “Receiving salvation is not based on what we do,” Margaret shared with her. “It is through our belief in Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross. I can do all kinds of good things, but I can never earn my way to Heaven. There is no bias with that, anyone can accept Christ.”
“I wish I could say that she accepted Christ right then,” Margaret recounted with a sigh. Nevertheless, by sharing her testimony and the grace of Christ, a seed was sown; it is up to God to “bring the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Her conversation was overheard by the team leader who asked Margaret to share with the rest of their team at their first morning devotional. Throughout the entire trip, during wellness visits under the clinic tents and communal church with the local ministry team, Margaret remembered Isabella.
Back at home, Margaret returned to work as a mother-baby nurse. As part of her job, she meets with parents in labor and delivery to complete paperwork on behalf of their coming baby. The first couple she attended told her they were expecting a girl. And her name? Isabella.
This struck Margaret immediately as a little gift from God. “You know how it says Mary ‘pondered these things?’ She kept them to herself but pondered them? It was like that—a catch-my-breath moment.” Margaret’s eyes glistened at the memory. “It was a reminder of new life, not only physically but spiritually. It definitely reminded me not to forget Isabella and not to forget to pray for her. This morning I thought, ‘Lord, how good would it be if when I get to Heaven I see Isabella?’ I’ll never forget her face…. How cool would that be?”
This encounter has inspired Margaret to boldly take advantage of opportunities whenever they come her way. When coworkers tell her of their troubles, she pulls them aside and prays with them on the spot. “I’m not going to live in fear anymore. I may not always have the most eloquent words…but I’ve got minutes. That’s all it takes.