October 30, 2014

Finding Your "Africa"

Disclaimer: This is not a geography lesson. (Although we know that most of us could probably use a few more of those.)

Oh, Africa.

What is it about that place? What is it that draws you in, rips your heart to shreds, and still makes you want to go back for more?

(My version of "Art Therapy" to cope with returning to the U.S.)

Is it the beautiful people filled with holy joy (much deeper than most) amidst the terrible suffering that encourages you? Is it the sights of babies with swollen bellies sitting on mounds of trash that convicts you? Is it the lions, and hippos, and giraffes (Oh my!) that delight you?

While we lived in Guatemala for three years, I consider Africa my “first.” My first exposure to extreme poverty. My first wake-up call that the life I was living was not “normal” to most of the world. My first step into reality of what much of the world is like. My first experience of seeing the world through God’s eyes. My first realization that our lives are meant for SO. MUCH. MORE. than white picket fences.

I had the pleasure of meeting Africa, specifically Uganda, the summer after my junior year in college. I traveled with two dear friends, and spent three weeks in the Amani Baby Cottage, an orphanage located in Jinja, Uganda. (And met a few more dear friends over there.)

And as mentioned above, the trip ripped my heart to shreds. The land, the trash, the people, the suffering, the joy, the heartache. (The TERRIFYING traffic.) It captured my heart. I knew I would never be the same.

And sometimes, I wonder, where is that girl? That girl that went to Africa? That girl whose heart was so on fire? That girl who cried through a wedding the weekend she got back from her trip? (Not because the bride was so beautiful, but because of the amount of money spent on party favors and alcohol.) Where is that girl who sobbed to her boyfriend because of how messed up the world is? Who swore she would give away all of her possessions to the poor?  Who went through weeks of her own personal art therapy and tried to sell it so she could help support a family moving to Africa as fulltime missionaries? Where is that girl whose boyfriend knew he wanted to marry her when he finally saw this side of her heart? (Even with all the sobbing.)

“Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” – Frederick Buechner

While my body might not be in Africa (or Guatemala) anymore, that doesn’t mean I can’t still find my “Africa.” That doesn’t mean my work is done. That doesn’t mean I can’t dream God-sized dreams. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to find where my “greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

My trip to Africa, which was a very short three weeks, changed me. (Okay, maybe “changed” is a strong word.) But it definitely woke me up. It started a fire, a fire that was kindled and maintained through three years of living in Guatemala. A fire I hope to maintain in our new United States lives.

We all have passions. We all have desires. We all (as individuals, as families, as churches) have gifts that can be contributed to  Christ’s Kingdom.

What is your passion? What is your “Africa?” What breaks your heart in this world? What gets your blood pumping and on fire in action for Christ? What takes part in the commandment called "Love God, Love your Neighbor?"

Pray for Wisdom. And do it.

And don’t get discouraged. (Or at least, choose to have faith through discouragement.) Don’t let the Devil steal those God-sized dreams, saying “you’re just ___” (a mom, a kid, a college student) or “you’re not enough.” Don't think that your dream is too small to make any impact, or too big for God to handle. Don't think that God can't use your gifts (humble or glamorous) to do great things, and stretch you outside of your talent comfort zone to show His power.

Because He who is in you is capable of accomplishing GREAT things.

How do you “dream big” for Christ? Both as an individual and as a family?

Last night, Collin and I asked each other the question, “If there is one thing that you would love to do as a family, in selfless love, and for Christ’s kingdom, what would it be?” What an exciting time of dreaming, hoping, planning! (And in case you're worried, no, I don't think it includes moving to Africa.)

What is your “Africa?” As Kristen Welch puts it in her book Rhinestone Jesus, what is your "one thing?" 

(It might be a job you want to pursue, but don’t get “job” mixed up with “calling.” Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes they don’t.)

What is your “Africa?” Your “Guatemala?” Your “Calcutta?”

“You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.” – Mother Theresa

(The few more dear friends we made.)

Is it adoption? Is it sponsoring kids in poverty? Is it encouraging women to choose life over abortion? Is it buying or selling free-trade goods to support sustainability in poor countries? Is it planning gatherings that encourage women in their roles as Wife, Worker, and Mommy? Is it selling crafts for a good cause? Is it taking the opportunity to share your true joy in Christ with the women whose hair you cut every few months? Is it teaching overseas? Is it literally moving to Africa? (Warning: you might actually get your heart ripped out in the process...but you might also find your greatest joy in the pain.)

You were given your passions and gifts for a reason. "You were placed in your specific corner of the world for a reason, with your specific experiences and perspective for a reason." - Aubrie Benting

If you haven’t found it yet, I pray that you will ask yourself these questions in a quest to live intentionally. Talk about it with those kinds of friends (and family) who know you and “get you.” Dream about it with your husband. Share it with your church.

If you have already found your “Africa,” don’t weary in doing good! The Devil is tricky, and is great at messing with your mind. The narrow road is hard, and it will probably require patience, suffering, and discouragement.

But as Scripture reminds us, life is found in death. True joy is found in trials. God draws near to us as we draw near to Him.

Carry on, Friends of Faith! Find your “Africa!”

Grace and Peace,

P.S. Are you wondering, where is this coming from?! I highly recommend reading the book Rhinestone Jesus, by Kristen Welch. If any of this message is convicting or appealing to you, this book will go much more in depth and give much more guidance about finding your “Africa,” finding your “one thing.” Do it. Right now. Look it up on Amazon. Or if you have a Nook, become my “Nook Friend” and borrow it from me. :)