Sometimes I feel guilty about my time in Africa. Whenever someone asks me why I was in Nigeria for two months, I feel a need to disclaim the “mission trip.” I didn’t really do anything physical. I was mostly in class. I left early. I feel like a mission trip failure: I want to say, “Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t make a difference.”
My friend Brydee, who lives in New Zealand and I have yet to meet in person, sent me a link to a short speech by To Write Love On Her Arms‘s founder, Jamie Tworkowski (first name twinssss!). Anyway, something about it reminded me of the way I felt in Africa.
I refuse to commit to more than one blog because I seem to really suck at writing commitments, so I need to get it out now.
I kept a journal when I was in Africa. My friend Noelle gave it to me. And a friend at church, Brittany, told me that her suggestion to me was to write every single day. She told me that I would regret it if I didn’t. Brittany didn’t talk to me a ton, so I took that as a very important piece of advice. So I did. I filled Noelle’s journal with all my African stories.
Opening it up to a random page, I found “11 Feb 2012” (I started even doing my dates like an Nigerian.) “Last night, Jules, Judith & I watch Wild Child or whatever it was called about an American – a spoiled rich one – being sent to a British boarding school. The American, of course, wins the boy, expels the evil girl, & wins the lacrosse team by the end. Aye. They made fun of me b/c the girl used so much hand sanitizer. Lol. We had to wake up today at 7am to go to a bible study in the church. I have been coughing & sneezing all day…”
There’s more, but I’m trying to make a point that my time in Africa was not about “missions” the way we talk about it. It was about people. I got the very unique opportunity to be totally submerged in another culture… one that is wildly different from the only one I know. But I was living a normal life. I was watching a B-movie with a couple of girlfriends while they teased me about my differences from them. I literally did that a couple weeks ago. Life. Just like it is here. Except with onions in my pancakes and no running water on base.
Personally, I am a relational person. It’s where I find purpose. It’s where I can see God working in me and in others.
“I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgements I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; Oh Lord, do not put me to shame!” Ps 110:30-31 // “How I feel about going home. Lord, don’t put me to shame. Soften hearts with understanding, that people know this is from you,” ends my journal entry from 7 March 2012.
If I want to have purpose again, I know that I need to sacrifice the need for physical appearance. What I mean by that is that… instead of getting caught up in how it looks like I am doing emotionally or mentally, I need to trust that the Lord will expose what is true. I am not well. I mean, I’m OK. I don’t struggle with thoughts of suicide. I’m not depressed. But I’m lonely. I feel purposeless. I feel small and insignificant, and I don’t know where God is in all of this. I feel tired, I get anxious, and I usually pull out one drink before bed just to calm my mind a little before I try to sleep. I don’t seek God. Lately, I just haven’t felt like God is peace.
In Africa, I felt that way. I knew that God was the Lord of Peace. In all of the stressful and scary things that were happening to me in a country I was unfamiliar with, God’s Presence was always enough to give me some kind of peace. (except when I was on those motorbikes. SCARY.)
Do we lose God in the day-to-day? It’s bizarre to think we can lose God. That’s not even slightly theologically correct. God’s always among us. But being aware of His Presence. Understanding that this life will bring you troubles, but God is bigger than your troubles, and His presence is a constant reminder to keep holding on, to keep going, to keep pushing through. As Christ did. As Jesus always did. Did we lose him in the bible classes at the Christian Universities? I think I lost the awareness there before I ever stopped by the bar with my friends.
Someone in Nigeria once expressed to me that she thought this man she knew was “too smart for his own good” because he let the academic mindset rule over biblical truths. Being an American, I thought she was wrong. (Good old Americans.) Now I get what she meant. Not to say that classes themselves are bad in any way. They’re great tools. But if you let it be your Bible time… you can lose what you know about God. And when your beliefs change and your long-held theology is challenged… you can lose what you know about God.
There is nothing I can do but hope that He is doing something so much greater, and that He is still using me somehow. In the speech by Jamie, he says that there are parts of our past we wish we could erase. They haunt us. Earlier today, I thought about things I wish I could erase. I thought of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I thought the consequences would be worth erasing very specific memories. So it caught my attention when he added something along the lines of “But there are memories that make you happy. People you got the unique experience to meet.” My first thought was Nigeria. My first thought was laughing with Jules over sarcasm and how we were the only ones to ever get sarcastic jokes in movies. There was a time when I was home, and it had nothing to do with my surroundings. It had only to do with the people that I was around. It happens no matter where you are in the world.
There are memories that make us smile. Things that remind us of what we would hold onto; things we would never want to erase. Oh, how grateful I am for the gift of memory. Despite it all… despite it all.