Fully Surrendered: Marah’s Story

“Enlarge your house; build an addition. Spread out your home, and spare no expense!  For you will soon be bursting at the seams.”  Isaiah 54:2

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.  To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”  Isaiah 61:1 –3

What a year it has been!  But it is not over yet.  No matter what season of life you are in, God is calling you to a place of deep and wholehearted relationship with Him.  We desire to see women empowered to live their Christian faith confidently with transformed minds and hearts.  Psalm 33:11 & 14–15 says, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.  From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.”

Our mission is helping women be fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and courageously on-mission for Him – one heart at a time.  One of the ways we do that is by sharing real-life stories of Christian women both past and present who have decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in this way.  We pray that each story told over the next few months is used by God to fashion your individual heart, to know and experience Him even more deeply, and to joyfully do His will to His glory!       

*          *          *

We (Beth & Jenni) attended a Christian university that emphasized Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world…”  (Matthew 28:19)  It was here that our paths crossed with many people from all over the nation and even the world with a sense of mission and purpose to bring God’s light into the sphere of influence to which He had called them. Whether in the legal field, the classroom, business, the medical field, church planting, and much more, the vision was emphasized to us as students over and over again: “Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth.”

It was here that I met Marah, a mighty woman of God with a heart that overflows with God’s love and relentless service to Christ.  Her heart is zealous for international missions and, specifically, the Philippines.  For her, the “uttermost bounds of the earth” is home because it is where her Lord has called her.  Her story may seem a bit different than what God has called you to in your current season of life, and yet, it really isn’t so different.  We are all called as wholehearted followers of Jesus to live a life fully surrendered to Christ, to lay it all down, and to GO where He calls us to.  Have you chosen obedience no matter where God may call you?  We pray that God uses what you read today to birth something afresh inside of you for His purposes, your good, and His glory.  This is Marah’s story…    

Will you tell us about this season you are in?  How have you experienced God throughout it?   

Waiting. I’ve gone through so many seasons of waiting with the Lord that I’d think I should be a pro by now. But here I am still waiting and still learning to trust.

My name is Marah Pense. I’m a 33 year old single missionary serving in the Philippines. I have my Masters degree in Christian Counseling and have been a Licensed Professional Counselor for 6 years now. This coming January 2021, I will celebrate 5 years in the Philippines. The vision, however, has been planted in my heart for about 18 years. When I was 15 years old, God called me to the Philippines as a missionary.  The word “Philippines” was stuck in my mind. I had to look it up, not even realizing it was a place. I knew it was from the Lord and claimed it as my future.

After graduating with my bachelors in International Community Development, I went to the Philippines for the first time for two months. When I landed, after 30 hours of travel, I breathed in the warm, thick air, looked at the beautiful palm trees, and felt a joy I never had felt before. I was stepping off the plane into the desire of my heart, God’s promise for me. The most impactful moment of my trip happened my last week in the country. As I was leaving the Saturday kids’ ministry, I told a little girl that she was beautiful. She was so shocked and kept telling those around her what I had said. Then, I sat with a young girl about 8 years of age and asked her if she had Jesus in her heart. She said she tried to be good and do what was right so that someday she might enter the kingdom of God. My heart broke for both girls. They didn’t know they were loved for who they were. From that moment, God gave me a clearer purpose, to help young people see and know they are loved and valued by God regardless of their actions or circumstances.

I went back to school and got my Masters degree in counseling, which God showed me was a gift he’d already placed within me that needed refining and enhancing through education and experience. My anticipation to return to the Philippines permanently was so great and my patience running thin. Two more years of school, followed by another two years under supervision as a counselor serving marginalized families, and I was still not yet on my way to the Philippines. There was one more year before I was able to move to the country of my dreams, and it was the hardest year yet. I enrolled in a missions training program through my church that led me with a very diverse (and difficult) team of people to Haiti for a month and a half and Greece for four months. I had to constantly fight feelings of frustration and lack of understanding why God made me go there and not to the Philippines. It was an ongoing battle against my own fleshly desires and keeping the faith that God would follow through on His promise.  

I had to leave Greece a week early to go home to my dying mother. I didn’t understand why so much loss was hitting at once and why my plans were being delayed. Yet, I trusted. I trusted in the midst of the pain and unknowing, knowing that the same God who thirteen years prior called a teenage girl to be a missionary in the Philippines would keep His promise.

Living as a missionary in the Philippines has brought many joys and challenges. I spent the first two years adjusting to the culture while serving other ministries as counselor, kids ministry director, English teacher, and as Ate (older sister) to many young ladies in the church. All the while, I was asking God what His specific calling was for me in the Philippines and when it would come to be.  The waiting has not always been easy.  But standing on the balcony of my studio apartment several years into my time in the Philippines, I looked behind the building, saw a large house, and started to dream. God gave me the idea of having a home for young ladies to have a family and hope for a better future. He birthed in me his next step and plan for my life, “Bahay ng Pag-ibig” (House of Love). It would be a home for the orphaned, a family for the lonely. God made the vision clear. Even in my time of waiting, He gave me renewed hope.

More waiting came. I was headed back to the US to share the vision God had given me for Bahay ng Pag-ibig and make sure I had enough support to move forward. This season had a purpose, and even though it was also challenging to wait for unexpected amount of time, God gave me the strength to keep going. This waiting season was nine months long, but the blessings the Lord gave me in new friends and supporters, valuable time and cherished memories with my dad, and precious opportunities to share my story was so worth the wait. That new year of 2019 back in the Philippines was a fresh start, filled with many promises and steps of faith that I am seeing the fruition of today.

How has cultivating a fully surrendered heart of trust in the Lord helped you to be on-mission for His specific calling and purposes in and through your life?

In my waiting, God gave me His promises to anchor my faith on. I was still living in a studio apartment and working for other ministries, but He promised me a house, an enlarged territory. I believed. March 26, 2019, God made good on His promise and gave me a house at least four times larger than my previous place with a big yard and car port for the same monthly rent I’d been paying. My dreams of a home for the girls he’d bring me has become a reality, complete with mango trees, areas for gardens, so many rooms, and tons of space for celebrating life and doing ministry.

By the end of 2019, I was still waiting for Bahay ng Pag-ibig to become a reality. After researching all the ins and out of social services’ requirements to start my own non-profit and open a home for young ladies, I was overwhelmed by the amount of time, effort, and expenses it would take. But God! Again, the Lord came through by giving me a simple idea, “What about foster care?” He planted a clearer vision and strong desire to bring four teen girls into my home and love them as my own. I will teach them, speak life into them, give them a desire and hope for the future, and preparing them for a life beyond their wildest imaginings. Girls 14 and older who, coming out of orphanages or other institutional homes, are unadaptable by 16 and aging out by 17, need homes and families. The Lord brought the connections together through relationships and, in the right time and place, I started my journey to become a foster mom. I sent my application in January 2020 and received my foster license in July.

Today, I am still waiting. My girls are out there waiting to come home. God knows them by name, and I know them by faith. Even through the waiting, God has been faithful by fueling my faith. Every step of the way I’ve had a nudge in the right direction. I’ve been surrounded and encouraged at just the right times. By God’s grace, I’ve kept moving forward toward the goal, especially when I’ve wanted to give up. Today I look at their purple room with white trimmed windows and cabinets that I’ve been working on for the past year, and I thank God that they will be here soon. I don’t know the exact date my girls will arrive. I don’t know their names or stories. I don’t know how truly challenging it will be as a first time mom to teen girls who’ve lived through only God knows what. I do know that God is faithful, and His promises are true. I know that He’s been preparing me my whole life for this. I know He will provide and carry us through. I know they are worth the wait.  

Read HERE to learn even more about what was going on behind-the-scenes in the story God has been writing in Marah’s life!

Also check out the link below to get more updates from Marah’s heart and ministry!


*           *           *

For more stories like this one, check out the book The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters  by sisters and co-authors, Jenni Walker and Beth Doohan.  With heartfelt messages that will challenge your faith, stories of other Wholehearted Women, and reflection questions to dive deeper, this is a great resource for personal devotion or small group study!

Now available through Barnes and NobleWestbow PressWalmart, and other bookstores.