The Word “Leader” Terrified Me. Then God Called Me to Be One.

World Race Alum Sarah Baker didn’t see herself as a leader. In fact, she avoided leading in the past. And then she was asked to co-lead an Ambassador team of 18 high schoolers to Puerto Rico. 

It was two weeks of living by faith, listening for God and speaking His truth into students hungry for His hope and love, of praying for His Kingdom come, and leading by example. 

And by doing so, Sarah discovered two of the most powerful truths of leadership:

1) That the best way to lead is by being real, and 

2) that by impacting one life, anyone can change the world.

 “You’re going to change the world one day, and I don’t think you know it yet.”

One of our last nights in Puerto Rico, these words words were written on paper and passed into my hands.

As an anxiety-filled, doubtful human being (how’s that for a dating ad), I was nervous about leading a team of high schoolers on a mission trip. I have been absolutely terrified of the word “leader” and have stepped aside from many life opportunities because of this word in the description. I preferred the supporting role; my fear preferred the behind the scenes, hands-on type of business.

But when I saw people speaking passion-filled words and hugging tear-stained humans at a Training Camp, my heart lurched and my brain thought, “I can do that. I want to do that.” 

So I said a shaky “yes” to leading a missions trip. I told God this was my compromise for letting go of my nomadic lifestyle and agreeing to settle down for a little while. I’m not sure if his conditions were the same as mine, because I got a whole lot more than I bargained for.

On a normal Thursday before the team came, I was just an individual. I could walk away whenever I wanted, I could go hide and eat trail mix for an hour (which I did), I could invest or pull back on my own terms.

And then Friday came. I sat in the Atlanta airport for a good eight hours, compartmentalizing my fears and anxiety and greeting each tentative participant with a hug and a hundred questions. I had suddenly become a responsible adult, and for nearly twenty lives. I didn’t have the option of saying, “Peace out, world” and moping in a field of weeds. I was on the clock, 24/7, for the next two weeks.

Sometimes you’re required to throw yourself into life head first and figure it all out later. I think that’s what courage is: going for it despite every fear begging you not to.

I was no longer independent. I was counselor, listener, friend, parent, teacher, nurse, liaison, singer, leader. There wasn’t time to overthink whether or not I should speak up. I couldn’t avoid conflict. I had to eat the rice and beans, and I had to make sure the vegetarian on the team didn’t accidentally ingest meat, thus preventing a field trip to the ER. I was asked questions constantly, overheard whispers about me, and had eye rolls and looks that could kill directed at me.

If you want a good test of how well you believe in yourself, enter the boot camp of leading high schoolers.

But I also got to hear pieces of their stories. I was trusted. Tears flowed, deeply buried feelings surfaced, and I listened. “This is gonna sound bad but…” I often heard. “I don’t care,” I’d respond. “At least you’re being honest with yourself.”

‘Cause what I learned the most from these heavily humid days is this: people just want someone who is real. In a world of filters and surface level commitments, people are craving someone who’s honest with them.

At the end of the day, when Snapchat fails to entertain, and the likes on that perfect selfie stop ticking past 51, we wish for something real. Someone to say, “I don’t have it together either.” Someone to listen to untold secrets and bottled up anger and not be distracted by the ping of a phone.

So when I received a note from a student that said, “You’re going to change the world someday,” I could only smile. She’s right, but she’s also wrong.

Because to me, changing the world means impacting her life. Seeing her change, watching her grow into the real person she’s created to be.

And while I’m still a tangled mess of emotions from the past two weeks of life in Puerto Rico, I know to my very core that stepping into the role of leader was not done in vain. If I touched even one person’s life, the world has been changed.

So please be real. You don’t need to lead a group of teenagers to teach you that, or go to an island to find it. You can be real right where you’re at, with the people who flow in and out of your day. It just takes a few seconds of courage. And I know you have courage in you.

*First photo by Emily Day

We have an exciting announcement: All 2017 Ambassador trips are open!

If you are a high school student and want to go on a mission trip next summer, you could raft the Amazon Jungle to share the Gospel with local tribes, help run a camp in Albania, play with orphans in Africa, join a sports ministry in the Philippines, or adventure on a guys-only trip to Nepal.

CLICK HERE to read all the opportunities of how you (or a student you know!) can impact a life—and therefore, change the world!