Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Letter

      I sent a little letter to some folks about my trip and although I couldn't mail one to everyone, that's okay! Because I can post it right here. :) Here are my thoughts, feelings, well really, my heart and soul and mind on my experience in Africa. Enjoy!

My host sister Adriel from S.A.
and I enjoyed some coffee at the wonderfulWimpy! :)

      I have thought about writing this letter for weeks, not really knowing where to begin, or where to end. It seems like just yesterday that I began sending out letters announcing this incredible journey I was going to embark upon, with fears that raising enough money was not possible. Little did I know that it was only the beginning of God revealing his faithfulness to me. When I think of 2013, I do not think of a trip I went on or some experience I had overseas. I think of a collection of many small moments that have altered my mindset and emotional connection with man and God forever.
Whatever I thought I knew about God, or Africa, or people in general, it all went out the window.
Mpumalanga and I were best friends.
He was in Grade 1 at Olievenhoutbosch Christian School
where I worked during my time in S.A.
      It is difficult to talk about my trip because most people want to know what I did. The common expectation of going on a mission trip of any kind is that you do things. Yet even in the beginning days of my trip which I spent training with my team, one of the first things we learned is that Immersion is not about doing. It is about living. A lot of things we do, fade. You can build a house for someone, but eventually that house will fall apart. You can give handouts, whether money or other objects, and those too will eventually be gone or fade. Immersion was not about checking things off a list to say that I did my part, but it was about making every action, every word I spoke, and every thought even, to be part of living out my mission. In the end, whether someone builds a house, or gives an impressive cash donation, it is how you interact and love that will truly transform the hearts of people. But you see, building things or giving money away is so much easier. It can also be much more time efficient and convenient. As American’s or westerners, we are all about that. However, the sad truth is that people in Africa have not been changed by these gifts. If anything, it has made it worse. It has not made them realize that God is the foundation of all things and he is the ultimate provider. Instead, I learned that many African’s look at white people or westerners as a god. Meaning that they think we are the ones who should help them, that we should give them money, that they could never accomplish anything themselves. Why? Because they were never told they could. That is when I learned that the devil really does fool us all. Not only does he tell us lies about ourselves individually, but he lies to nations, to countries, to continents, like Africa. The saddest part is that Africa is the wealthiest continent regarding natural resources and material. If they would simply be educated of this and shown their own potential, they could become so much more. Instead, the cycle continues.
      Why am I telling you all this? Because once I too had no idea, I had no idea that all the things we thought were so helpful, maybe were not so helpful after all. Africa is a beautiful place with beautiful people. I learned on my trip to stop thinking that it was me who was going to offer Africa something, but that it was really them sharing their life with me-that it was me who needed to be taught that life is so much more than the box we put it in. More than designer labels, more than our fancy cars with shiny paint, even more than our 5 star restaurants. It reminds me of a verse from Proverbs 15 that says “Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, Than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” Maybe I didn't always have the most delicious meal in front of me in Africa, but truthfully, the conversations were always heartfelt and with love. Just a few weeks into my trip, while we were still on the reservation, my team had a discussion about how we wanted to grow, whether in relation to God, ourselves, others, or nature. I specifically remember wanting to grow in relation to God. I realized that God to me was in a box, that there were certain things he could do but then there were things that God would never do, or maybe it was that he couldn't do them.
      Little did I know that God was preparing me, he was going to show me that he was bigger than I ever thought, or ever knew. Namibia was the second country my team and I traveled to. We had had a great beginning in South Africa. Relationships were built relatively quick, and communication seemed easy. We were on a roll with this whole Africa Immersion thing. When we arrived in Namibia, we heard that it was a community of kind and friendly people. We expected to have a somewhat similar experience to the one we had in South Africa (this is where my team would laugh, now knowing that we had no idea what we were really in for). Personally, my time in Namibia had a rough start. I had struggled with connecting to my South Africa host family, and I had high hopes for my host family in Namibia. After I was put into a host family, for a slew of reasons, within a couple days, I was unexpectedly taken out of that host family. I was then placed into a completely different environment with my second host family. The transition was incredibly difficult for me. My second host family in Namibia was an older couple and they tended to their own lives. Thankfully, they had their five-year-old grandson living with them and he was able to add an energy to the home. But most of the time, I felt unnoticed and conversation only happened when I initiated it. Communication itself became more difficult as they didn't speak as good English as those in South Africa. On top of that, all of my teammates except for me were placed into schools, whether elementary or high school. I, however, was placed at a creche, similar to a daycare. With around 22 children ages four-six, and they didn't speak English and their teacher, Marty, also spoke very little English. There I found myself, a continent away from anything familiar, in a small and deteriorating building, with 20+ children running wild, and a teacher who could barely understand what I was saying, as well as a host family who I wasn't even sure were interested in getting to know me. Let's just say I found myself in a lonely situation. I also wasn't guaranteed to see any of my teammates daily due to our different work locations and host families. This was it, it was me and God. The special thing is that God had given me a scripture long before my trip to Africa. The passage of Hebrews 11, that we walk by faith and not by sight, had been put into my mind and now it was becoming a reality and fast. I remember as my team debriefed after our first week there, I told my team that I felt as if I was walking in the dark and hoping that God had some purpose in what was happening. It didn't take long for me to realize that he did.
Marty and I with all the children from the creche on one of my last days there.

      Before traveling to Namibia, God put it on my heart to begin reading 2 Corinthians. As I read it during my time in Namibia, one weekend at church, the power point screen displayed 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says “we live by faith, not by sight.” The crazy part of this is that I had always thought that verse was in Hebrews, little did I know that it was actually in Corinthians, which God would have me read. Coincidence? I think not. God was speaking to me, reassuring me that he was definitely with me and wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. One of my biggest desires before going to Africa was wanting to build unique and deep friendships with the people I would meet. This was something that I had struggled with thus far on my trip. Especially being in the host family I was and working with Marty. How was I ever going to build deep relationships in these circumstances?! I should have known, once again, that God was planning for me to begin my most memorable relationship on my trip.
Marty, William, me, and Deidre :) My good friends in Rehoboth, Namibia!

      Her name was Deidre and she worked in the church that owned the property the creche was on. In the mornings, I would go over to the church to make coffee for Marty and I. This ended up being how I I met Deidre. Every morning her and I would chat for a bit while I made the coffee. Before I knew it, she began to open up to me, and share her life, her joys, her sorrows, her passions, and her weaknesses, with me. Weeks upon weeks we spent, some days, even hours talking. Truthfully, I sometimes spent a little too long “making coffee” simply because I wanted to chat with her. This eventually led to me helping her with some of her secretarial duties. One of my most beloved memories is one week when I told her how I missed pizza. She then said, “Ah! The church has a kitchen, should we make some?” I was shocked. She wanted to make pizza with me? She then went on to say how Dominee (Afrikaans for pastor), was out of town and it would be our little secret. The next day I went to the local shop, Spar, and bought the food to make it. That Friday we spent time making the dough from scratch and baked a huge pizza, and after all the kids from the creche left, Marty, Deidre, and I sat in the church eating the delicious pizza we made. We chuckled at our mischievous yet tasty act. Deidre called us partners in crime. It's hard for me to not cry as I write this. Especially because I know that I started out in Namibia so afraid and lonely, and when I left, I left behind some of the deepest relationships I'll ever make. Marty, she shared her heart with me, including her struggle with her husband who told her she wasn't a good wife, despite the fact that she walked an hour to and from the creche daily, where she was paid close to nothing. She said she would never leave him because she had made a vow to God to be with him until death. The children, though none of them ever had an actual conversation with me, I knew all their names and felt like I knew everything about them. My host family, we were able to laugh about the same things and make jokes to one another, but I also got to see into their past of pain and loss. Deidre, an unforeseen yet incredible blessing from God. We were two souls that found each other at just the right time, when I was feeling alone and she was raising her children alone as her husband worked hours away and was gone for months at a time. What I would give to walk those dusty Rehoboth roads again, to be able to see the smiles of those 22 children, to hug the women who taught me so much about life and commitment to others, to their friends, to their families, and ultimately to God.
      It is crazy to think that this was only a portion of my trip. There were so many other things that happened and that my team did. For me to try to to write them all out would probably take a novel! Instead, I'll take this last paragraph to explain some of the more technical things that we did to give a more full summary of my trip. We began on the Navajo Reservation for three weeks in New Mexico and Arizona. We worked with several different communities while we were there, leading an adult Bible study as well as doing a VBS. We were also able to do some manual labor projects for locals. In South Africa we worked in a squatter camp (a small community of shack-like homes) called Olievenhoutbosch. My team was split in half with four of us working at a christian primary school and the other four working at a disability center where they also assisted the workers in making jewelry for their button business. In Namibia we worked in schools and were also divided in half again, with four working with one church and for working with another church. We also were there during their 150th celebration of being a church, so we attended many church services and celebrations. In Lesotho, we learned how to “Farm God's Way”, a new and inventive way of farming that completely goes against today’s standards of farming, yet is much more beneficial and the crop yield is greatly increased. We spent two weeks at the home base, Growing Nations, with the students who were being taught this way of farming. We then went home with different students for two weeks to their villages to practice what they had learned about farming and to create their own farms using this new style. We then returned for two more weeks at the base and worked on the fields at GN.
Crossing the river as we walked an hour and a half to a village to spend
time with the locals.

   Overall, my trip to Africa was everything I hoped it to be but nothing I expected it to be. It will always remain as one of my most treasured memories. It has now been two months since I got married and I still don't know where exactly God will take Kevin and I, well, that is something only he knows. But coming back from Africa, God has taught me that even when it feels like I'm walking in the dark, that he will guide my every step. I expect this even now with the various unknown aspects of my life, like where will I go to college to finish my degree? What will my degree be in? Where will Kevin and I end up staying? Will I ever go back overseas? I can rest assured that if I “walk by faith, and not by sight”, that God will remain faithful every step of the way.
The team of students at Growing Nations that we worked with.
To my left is Lebohang, who I and Mary Kate (on the other side of him) stayed with.
Copyright Barry Mann Photography/AIM 2013

      Thank you for taking the time to read this long and well overdue letter, I hope that it is more than just someone else's story, but that you can take something from it and apply it to your own life and walk with God. Thank you again for supporting me, whether through prayer or financially. This experience of my life and what God taught me through it could not have happened without you!

My team, from our first day, to one of our very last in Lesotho.

with love,