The Interim

I have been struggling through the aftermath of this year’s Swazi experience. It was much different for me than previous trips; living arrangements were different, the people were different, my expectations were different. With very limited access to the internet and longer work days, I was unable to write much of anything worth writing. I have pieced together a collection of anecdotes detailing some of the individual experiences, to be posted in a few days. I’m still mulling everything over, trying to glean as much information as I can from this trip before I am too far removed.

One note of concern I had early on in the trip was my lack of emotional response (aside from a handful of small experiences to be shared later). The shock factor of the various care points has worn off; I didn’t feel the same stretch and pull or the nudging of the Holy Spirit that instills growth and reveals the lessons that God has prepared for me. I’ve been patient. I patiently waited out the 355 days in between trips. I patiently waited in line for airport security. I sat patiently through the 16 hour flight and the 6 hour drive to Mbabane. I waited patiently through the first morning at Njojane, playing with the preschoolers, helping dish the meals, singing songs…all while waiting patiently for my babies to get back from school. Finally, I saw Tengetile coming over the hill, dragging a piece of firewood behind her–kids eat for free as long as they bring a stick to keep the cooking fire burning, that’s the deal–as she approached the stick pile, we made eye contact. She dropped her stick and ran full speed at me. I picked her up and hugged her…but there was no spark. Even when Khetokuhle got to the care pointe and sought me out, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.

I wrestled with this for the first few days. It took some thinking and praying and talking to my team leader, a 4-trip veteran, to realize why I wasn’t experiencing an emotional response:

I am home.

Home is a place where you are welcomed and comfortable. It’s warm and there is lots of hugs and laughter. Home is where you’re feet feel happy upon the familiar ground, there are games to be played and stories told. Its a place where no one is afraid to be himself or herself, where bellies can be filled and spirits lifted. Home is where the language of love is spoken, through smiles and hands held. It’s a resting place, where you are comfortable in your own skin. I don’t get emotional when I come home at the end of a semester, because it’s home. Its a special place, but comfy. Familiar. It’s not exciting, but it is a place I belong.

I keep coming back to the word comfortable, which is funny to me. If you ask anyone that has ever been to Africa on a mission trip, they will tell you there is nothing comfortable about Africa. We are forced to grow in faith and in spirit, in strength and in courage because of the people we meet and the things that we see. There are too many heart wrenching sights to grow comfortable in a place like Swaziland, but nonetheless, I feel comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about carrying around two toddlers while others pull at your arms and legs. There is nothing comfortable about bouncing around in the backseat of a khombi on dirt roads, hitting potholes the size of a small sedan. There is nothing comfortable about sending children home loaded down with a backpack full of the bare necessities, hoping an older child or adult won’t rob her of your gift on the walk home. There is nothing comfortable about watching your sponsor children sob at the sight of the khombi pulling out of the care pointe for the last time. These things are excruciatingly painful, both physically and emotionally, but these are the things I am dedicating my life to so that some day, no one else will need to.

text message

This is the very greatest compliment I could receive. I got this text message yesterday from one of my very first babies–the young ladies in the small group I had the blessing to lead while I was in high school. She is now finishing up her freshman year of high school, and is making me so proud in everything she does. She is currently leading a group of third and fourth graders at summer camp, and this is what she shared with me. I can’t think of a single third or fourth grader I know, but somehow, he knows me and my heart well enough to identify the Guatemalan equivalent of me. My cup and my heart are so overflowing.

5 days, 14 hours until Ethiopia.

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2 Days // I didn’t ask for this.

My trip has been 100% covered in your contributions, and for that I am so, so grateful.

In the interest of transparency: I didn’t ask for this.

Just like the human body, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 tells us that each part of the body of Christ has its own unique purpose, different gifts and talents and abilities in order to complete the mission for which it has been appointed to do. One body part cannot function without those around it, and without one part, the whole body cannot complete its mission.

There are some days where I look at this earthly body of mine and think to myself, wow. I am uniquely qualified for the assignment I have been given. More often than not, however, I look at this body of mine and think to myself, I did not ask for this body of mine.

I did not ask for a mind that keeps me awake at night, trying to think of ways to logistically house and feed every orphan in Swaziland. (I mean, come on, the military can house and feed hundreds of thousands, why can’t I?)

I did not ask for eyes that are drawn to the outcasts, the lonely, the ones most in need of attention and affection.

I did not ask for eyelids, the inside of which are indelibly inked with the images of painfully beautiful moments with my babies.

I did not ask for ears to which the sound of children is like the most beautiful of songs, ears that hear the cry of one child over the laughs and cheers of others.

I did not ask to find my heart walking around outside my body (click here) so, so far away.; a heart that is broken over watching these sweet babies fend for themselves, and grow up feeling unloved by parents, siblings, their Creator.

I did not ask for an immune system that might kill me in the US, but save me in a third world country.

I did not ask for a voice that does not shake when asked to speak in front of large crowds.

I did not ask for arms that can rock colicky infants to sleep.

I did not ask for hands large enough to hold that of three or four children at once, because there is a shortage of such.

I did not ask for fingers that could pluck guitar strings and teach children to sing of the Happy Day when Christ came alive.

I did not ask for a stomach strong enough to withstand the smell of un-bathed children, urine-soaked clothing, burning trash and feces.

I did not ask for long legs that can play soccer as easily as they can provide seats to two or three children at once.

I did not ask for feet that feel at home wrapped in canvas TOMS, stained red with Swazi soil, impervious to rocks, thorns and sticker plants. Feet that knew I was home the moment they touched Swazi soil.

I am clumsy and uncoordinated with these things that I have been given. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in what’s happening in front of me to see the ones most in need, or enjoy too much the sound of laughter to hear the cry of a child. Sometimes my heart aches more for my own circumstances, those that keep me up at night. Sometimes my immune system knocks me flat on my back (pun intended), and sometimes I can’t use my voice to speak up for my babies. Sometimes, my arms and legs and hands shake so much that I can’t hold a glass of water, let alone hold babies or play guitar. Sometimes, my feet get tired, and the Swazi soil washes away. Sometimes I forget the beauty of the sights, the strength of the smells, the depth of the feels.

It is on days like today that it is the very hardest to cling to the Cross, when I feel weak and powerless, undeserving of the gifts and talents I have been given in order to complete my mission as a part of the body of Christ. As a missionary, I have been warned that the enemy attacks when we are closest to Christ, when there is the most at stake, when we have the most to lose. It is in those moments that the enemy finds us the most vulnerable, because we never see it coming. Today is one of those days. I know the enemy is attacking, but knowing doesn’t make it easier to face. It is days like today that I think that this body of mine is more a burden than a blessing.

And then I remember: this body of mine is not mine.

I may not have asked for these things, but God did. Not only did he ask, he commanded them. He commanded ME. To go, to do, to love. To use this little ol’ speck of his great and mighty body to be a light in the darkness, so that his children might rejoin the Kingdom of Heaven.

On days like today, straight out of Ephesians, this is my prayer: that I might live a life worthy of this calling I have so graciously been given, even when—especially when—I fall short of the glory of God. So here I am. Lord, send me.

2 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes until I go.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.

You Call It Africa

This post was written on June 19, 2013 as a freelance piece for the Connection Pointe Christian Church Global Impact Blog. You can visit this blog to receive updates on our team’s trip to Swaziland, as well as other CPCC mission team visits to other parts of the world at www.cpccglobal.com

The first thing I remember seeing upon departure from the Johannesburg airport was a billboard for a South African travel agency boasting the words, “You call it Africa. We call it home.” It struck me as odd for a few minutes; what kind of marketing is that? Of course Africans call Africa home. They live there. I’m not African…why would I call it home? That phrase has been nagging in the back of my mind. It has taken me some time, but finally, I understand.

Have you ever imagined how a particular event or conversation would go, only to find yourself disappointed because it was nothing like you imagined? In the weeks preceding our departure I dreamt and daydreamt about being weighed down with kiddos at the Care Points, laughing, giggling, tickling, singing. Time and time again, I talked myself out of these naive, idealistic visions in order to keep myself from being disappointed and ruining this trip for myself. Looking back on the last 10 days, I am remembering that this trip was not only everything I had anticipated, but so much more. Within minutes of our arrival at Mvutjini the first day, kids were clinging to our legs, waists, and hands. We laughed, giggled, tickled, sang. We’ve prayed. We’ve cried. We’ve felt motion sick in the back of the khombi; we’ve been splattered with chicken blood. More importantly, we’ve learned. We’ve grown. We’ve been uncomfortable and pushed through it. We’ve followed in the steps of Jesus, visiting the old, the needy, the orphaned, the sick, the lame, the poorest of the poor. Unflinchingly, we’ve laid hands on each of these with total and utter disregard for ourselves.

In the last 10 days, a lot of things have happened; some things we have the words for, as you’ve seen here, that we are eager to share. But the things we don’t have the words for…what about those? Over and over, small occurrences have taken place that could only be attributed to God: the heart that is broken for all the right reasons, as a result of prayer; the overwhelming sense of peace that settles inner turmoil when a comfort zone is infracted upon; the oddity of being in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time, yet feeling that sense of belonging that some people never find. Each of us has extended love farther and in more ways than we thought possible, and already we are reaping the rewards. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we will each be returning to the United States a different person. The sights alone–naked children, children viewed as burdens by their parents, children in need of love–these are enough to break even the most hardened of hearts, but we didn’t come with hardened hearts. Some of us came with hearts that were weary, hearts that were anxious, hearts that were angry or sad or lonely, but all of those hearts were open to the upcoming experiences.

About having children, Elizabeth Stone once said, “It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” Going to Africa is exactly the same. You get here, unsure of what’s to come, but then, you fall in love…but then you blink and your time is up and you’re boarding the plane from Johannesburg to Indianapolis and you’re unsure of where and why and how the time has gone, yet grateful for every second, every sticky high five, every sweaty hug, because you got to be there and you were exactly where you needed to be.

Now, it is time for us to be elsewhere. It is time for us to leave this wonderful place. Good bye, Mvutjini, Njojane, Section 19. Good bye Swaziland. It’s harder than we thought it would be to say good bye, and for one very simple reason:

You call it Africa.
We now call it home.