My heart has been yearning for Africa lately. Between seeing pictures of Compassion kids all over Africa, chatting with our dear missionary friends in Swaziland, and remembering the simplicity but complexity of life over there, I decided to go ahead and write my final blog post.
Because I don’t want to forget.
I don’t want to forget the way Africa planted seeds deep into my spirit and started taking roots.
I don’t want to ignore the life changes that happened as a result of leaving that wild and beautiful continent.
I don’t want to dismiss the butterflies I got as I watched the rich red African soil coming into view through the plane window.
I want these things to continue to be part of my very essence. I’ll be headed to India in a few months and I want to remember those moments as vividly as I remember Africa.
Okay. enough about my love affair with Africa.
Our final day at the Care Point I felt emotionally spent. I knew we were having church at the care point but I also knew I had to say goodbye to my sweet friend. I fought and fought and fought against going numb, but it happened. And I hated myself for it.
Until the singing started.
The church service was held under the awning at the care point. Literally metal poles holding up a tin roof. It was so windy and cold. I remember gathering children onto my lap to try and warm myself thinking it would hopefully help block the cold for them. I sat on the end of a row next to a bunch of beautiful African women. We couldn’t really communicate, but then one of our translators and new friends started giving us the run down of the service in English while also talking in SiSwati. He asked for people to start singing songs of praise.
And then I heard the most pure African voice crying out the names of God. Without realizing it, I stood to my feet, chills running down my body, tears filling my eyes, and I felt more in the presence of the Holy One than I had ever felt in my entire life. The LORD met us there, in His mighty being, through the voice of an African woman. I was transfixed and remember thinking, this. THIS is what heaven will be like. pure uninhibited worship. no agenda. no program. no power point. this is holy and pleasing.
I could have sat there for hours. But then the time ended and once again in English and SiSwati, the congregation was asked for testimonies of God’s goodness. Four women and one man immediately came forward. Before they started they greeted us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was precious and filling for my soul. They talked about how God has saved them and how thankful they are for what He has given them.
How thankful they are? They have NOTHING. They live on less than two dollars a day and potentially could become an extinct people. Yet they are grateful for what God is blessing them with.
Following all of this, a small plate was put on a tiny table in front of all of the chairs. Voices raised in a worship song, an offering was taken. I saw almost every man, woman, and child, give their pittance to the Lord. It was the widow’s mite in front of my very eyes. Furious that I had no money on me, I awkwardly sat while I watched these men and women give all.
After two moving and brief sermons, we started our process of goodbyes and trying to load up the bus. We knew we had several hours of a drive before we crossed the border back into South Africa and we had been warned Sundays were a busy day.
I saw my sweet little friend running around but she wouldn’t come up to me. Holding back tears, I desperately tried to pick up her squirming body to hold her one last time. She managed to escape so I found her older sister, patiently described that I needed to leave, and asked if she would tell her I had to go back to America. Within minutes my little friend was wrapped around my legs reaching for me to hold her. I pulled her into my arms, snuggled against her and felt hot tears streaming down my face. Our team leaders announced we needed to go so I began to put her down after telling her she was loved and worthy and precious.
She did the classic kid move and pulled her legs up so I couldn’t put her down. I kept trying and trying to put her down but she wouldn’t let go. At this point I frantically started trying to unhook her because I knew if I didn’t I wouldn’t make it on the bus without a full blown meltdown. I walked over to a go-go and asked her to help. She uncurled the little girl’s arms and I started to run.
She chased after me.
As I ran to the bus, I jumped on, and shouted at them to close the door.
As the door was closing we locked eyes.
Tears filled hers as she reached out for me and tears filled mine as I reached out for her.
And in a flash – we were gone. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces as we drove down the dusty road. We began what felt like a 7 hour drive back to South Africa. We knew that what was waiting for us were hot showers, warm beds, and a safari, and while I was so excited for this, nothing could ease the pain I felt at leaving Swaziland.
Under the cover of darkness, we arrived in Nelspruit. A beautiful retreat center became our refuge for the next 36 hours. Upon arriving, we were given a delicious meal on real plates, warm blankets, and hot water. We were split up two to a room and had more space than we’d had in weeks. It was the epitome of luxury for our weary bodies. I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever stayed somewhere that’s felt more luxurious than that retreat center. While there was nothing extravagant about it, the small things I had taken for granted were once again seen with new eyes.
We knew we had to be up around 3:45am for an open air safari the next morning, so bed came early. When my alarm went off, I silently cursed under my breath, found as many layers as I could and stumbled into the main room for something warm to drink. We loaded up the busses and went to a second location where we climbed aboard the oddest looking trucks I’ve ever seen. We huddled close together, were given blankets and began our journey to Kruger National Park. We arrived around 5:30 and the park didn’t open until 6. So we waited. and it was freezing.
I remember begging for the sun to rise just for the warmth. It was so.cold. I can’t even describe how cold it was. But just when I thought the sun wasn’t going to come up, it broke on the horizon and it took my breath away.
We entered a terrain that time seemed to have forgotten. Animals ran wild. Lions, buffalo, elephants, hippos, zebras. We saw it all. It was spectacular. One of the highlights of my life.
Eventually we made it back to the retreat center. After being up for 16 hours, plus the weeks of ministry we had finished, we were ready to crash a bit before dinner and a traditional South African braii. Our team gathered around the fire pit outside and just enjoyed each other as well as the delicious food. After time around the fire, we journeyed back inside to shower, drink hot tea, and continue our time of community. I went to go get the international phone to update our family and friends when I got an update that spoke directly into the deepest wounding of my heart.
News of impending changes in the life of someone important to me rocked me. I sat in the room and it went silent. I saw everyone talking and laughing but my ears heard nothing but the pounding of my heart inside my chest. I guess my face went white and I noticeably stiffened. Someone teased me about something and I went running out of the room. Two dear friends followed me and I sat on the bed and in a broken voice explained the news.
And they just held me. They held me while I cried out the year of pain and confusion. They held me as I ranted and raved, got quiet and loud, sobbed and whimpered. All of the emotion of the past year came out in a torrent.
Defeated I slumped over and said, “I’m so tired of never being chosen.”
And as I closed my eyes and tears began to fall again, my sweet friend Jen stroked my head, held me close, and prayed over me.
I cried myself to into a fitful sleep that night. Tossing and turning hoping it wasn’t the inevitable nightmare I knew was going to happen. As I awoke numb, I gathered my bags, retreated inside my own head and let Jen and Jessica fight for me.
The hours long bus ride is a blur. I know that by the end of the ride, my pillow was tear stained and my face had mascara on my cheeks. As we were waiting in line, one of our missionaries from Woodmen who lives in Joburg and has the most incredible story, met us. The tears that had ceased began to flow without warning. She wrapped me up and just held me. I knew in that moment everything was going to be okay.
As we got ready to board the plane and then begin our 30hour+ journey back to the States, I remember being so thankful for the chance to process alone. Without questions or sympathy inquiries. And I did. And I saw how God had saved me from myself and second best.
And somewhere over the Atlantic, He reminded me that He makes all things new – even me. Even my story. Yes, I lived the same story over again, almost two years later. But this time? This time I was new. This time I wasn’t going to shatter. This time He turned my Valley of Heartbreak into a Door of Hope.
I stepped on that plane, weeks before, panicking that I wouldn’t have what it takes and terrified of loving Africa.
I stepped off the plane knowing I don’t have what it takes, knowing the One who does have what it takes, and seeing a finished work.
Because that story that started in October of 2009, finally had a happy ending.