{WM Spotlight} Shayla Tonge

    May 2, 2016
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    Your family of four set out to venture the world and volunteer in orphanages in India, Africa and Central America. What led up to this wild journey and how do you go about it?

    In 8th grade, I checked out a book from my school library called 360 Degrees Longitude, a true story about a family who traveled the world together for a whole year. I had so much fun reading it that I started reading a chapter aloud after dinner each night to my mom, dad, and younger brother, Trevor. We ventured vicariously through them, laughing and talking about each new leg of their journey. One day, as my mom was driving me home from school I said, “I wish our family could go on a trip like that.” My mom switched lanes and pulled off the road, looked at me with a spark in her eyes, and asked, “Really?? You would be willing to leave school and your friends to do that?” I thought her question was ridiculous– of course I would… My mom and dad prayed about the idea for several weeks. One night the four of us went out for a special dinner, and mom and dad made a proposition. How did Trevor and I feel about taking off school and traveling for 5 months? I was immediately in… As we began dreaming around the dinner table, it became obvious that we didn’t just want to be tourists for half a year. Because of our family’s passion for kids in need, we dreamed of living in community at orphanages in several developing countries. This didn’t come totally out of nowhere; we have been going on short term missions trips to Mexico all my life, ever since I was tiny blonde squirt, and they are always the highlight of my year. My mom helped start a nonprofit for under resourced urban youth, and my dad helps run a summer camp for kids in the foster care system.

    After that night we hung a huge world map on our wall and spent our family dinner conversations dreaming about which countries we could go to. For the next two years we researched organizations, connected with churches, and prayed that God would open the right doors. Eventually we honed in on 3 orphanages, one in India, another in Kenya, and the third in Honduras. We would spend extended time there, visit 2 other ministries in Thailand and Uganda, and do some adventuring in between.

    What do you think keeps girls from making radical dreams and then pursuing them?

    Through this wild experience I have noticed the barriers people put up around themselves that get in the way of their dreams. When I first told my 8th grade group of friends about my family’s big idea, they all stared at me in disbelief. I faced a lot of doubt and skepticism which was really discouraging, but not because they didn’t believe in me. It discouraged me because I realized just how stuck many of my peers are… they don’t see an avenue for radical dreams in their own lives. I think there are a lot of pressures to succeed whether in academics, sports, or family life. The world tells us to do more, and to do it well, sending us in a million different directions. Pursuing a radical dream involves sacrificing things that are good. I had to leave my friends and my church community, and miss AP testing that would help me get into college. But when God puts a crazy dream on your heart, missing out on those things are worth the sacrifice. I’m afraid as young people we just don’t see that big. We don’t dream with abandon because we believe we are unable to follow through. The lens through which we see our world and our choices is too small.

    What is your hope and prayer for today’s generation of young women in our country?

    My hope is that this generation of young women would say “yes” to crazy dreams, despite the expectations and pressures we face. I pray that they would abandon the conventional and live the gifts and passions God equipped us each with.

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    What is your new big dream?

    As we traveled, our family kept a modest blog for our friends and family back home. It was such a joy for me to share the stories of our wild adventures and all the incredible people we met. We received emails and messages from people back in the states, expressing how inspired they were. I began to realize that my storytelling can have an impact. I have the power–we all do–to move hearts, rally support, and spur action by God’s people. My new radical dream is to write a book. In my mind, what better way to share stories of a love that crosses all boundaries and cultures? My dream was never to write a book in the first place, but as I look back down this windy road I’ve walked, I can see the way God has seeded this dream, He sure had this plan all along.

    Are there any action steps that you took, that other women could follow, in getting started with realizing your dreams?

    I allowed myself to say yes. When I read that book, a whimsical dream to travel the world persisted in my heart. Instead of dismissing it and figuring my family could never be able to do the same, I invited my family into my dream. In doing so, they too caught the vision. Dreams are infectious, and I think it is so important to surround yourself with like minded people who want nothing more than to support you in following them. If you surround yourself with individuals who doubt and question your dreams, it will be so difficult to chase them. Seek out adventurous, Jesus-lovin’ human beings who will cheer you and perhaps even join you in your radical dreaming.

    Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible that you turn to when things are hard during the process?

    During our last month of our trip, I began to experience a lot of anxiety and apprehension about returning home. I had fallen head over heels in love with this life of adventure and humble service. I adored long days spent playing with orphaned kids and loving them more deeply than perhaps they’ve ever experienced. I found my sweet spot… I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt: God had made me for this kind of life. So when I thought of returning back to my affluent suburban town, far from the squalor villages I’d come to adore, my heart broke into pieces.

    During a morning devotional that we had every morning with the orphanage staff in Honduras, we read Isaiah 55:8-9, which says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” In that moment I knew that God plan’s were greater than my own. Even though I wanted to stay, He was going to use me and my stories back in the States for His purpose. That verse has become a favorite of mine because it helps me peel away from my desires and focus on God’s. After all, I know He has my best interests in mind.

    How does pursuing a dream or passion on earth point back to God?

    I think pursuing a dream begins with God. He seeds unique gifts and passions into our hearts and minds. The Lord gave me a passion for kids in need, a love for writing, and a spirit of adventure. My radical dream to travel the world for 5 months with my family did not come out of nowhere. It was rooted in the passions God made me with all along. Dreams are the purest of longings and I believe saying “yes” –even to the craziest of ideas– is what God calls us to do.

     

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