I could tell you many stories about this place, like how a child fell into a well and died in my village last week. I could tell you this country doesn't have electricity or a dentist. No dentist for 1.3 million people! I could tell you I haven’t seen street lights or had 24-hour electricity for six weeks. But if I tell you those stories you may think that I am some noble human for coming here and living in such a hard place. If I concentrate on the material and cultural differences between Guinea and America, I won't paint an accurate picture of my time here. Sure, I have been overwhelmed by these things. But they don’t matter anymore. You get used to goats in the street and bare-breasted women in public. You get used to seeing poverty, and you learn to cope with the heat. But what really matters are the things I've been learning spiritually.
I'm a teacher and I’m volunteering as a teacher here. You may call me a missionary, but I think the people I've met here have been missionaries serving me more than I've served them. In fact, after meeting someone named Julio, I don't feel worthy of the title missionary at all. Julio is one of my students in the beginner class. He is motivated, always does his homework on time and gets good grades. Yet he is so quiet and timid. One day I went to the big market in my town. I bought a soccer jersey for 3 dollars and was pondering how cheap things were here as I walked home. About 30 minutes after I got home Julio knocked on my door. He said, "I found this dollar on the way home. I figured it had to belong to you." He went home without saying another word. I went into my room and cried. Here is a boy who owns two shirts, and one pair of shorts. One dollar is enough to feed a family of four for a full day here. Yet, Julio found this dollar in the street and gave it to me. To me it’s just a dollar, but when Julio gives me a dollar.....I am humbled. I cried because I realized how selfish I am. Not just because I'm a rich American, or because I have an income or have been blessed with good health and three meals a day. No, because I am selfish. Because I don't like to give or share my things with others, and because I do not have a generous spirit like Julio or any of the Africans I've gotten to know personally.
Julio rocked my world, and so much was put into perspective by that dollar.
I really am adjusting to Gambian lifestyle. I know for sure this is where God wants me and I am excited to start getting out on the campuses and meeting the college students in October and ministering to them. At times I do get lonely but God is right by my side…He is so faithful to answer my cry and meet all my needs!
The main thing I have learned thus far is simply to BE THANKFUL. We don’t know how great we have it at home. The Christians here have sincere hearts of gratitude. I remember the first time we all prayed together. I was just blown away – 95% of their prayer was thanking God and praising Him, and the other 5 % were requests. This really made me evaluate my heart and is teaching me to be thankful.
Seeing those who are so poor being so generous and hospitable was humbling. I went to my village as a “missionary”. However, I think I was the one who ended up being served. The only unique thing I really brought to them was the ability to speak a language that no one understands. Through the process of teaching I gave a lot to my students. But in reality, they taught me more. They invited me into their homes. They freely gave me their food when it was the only thing they had. They loved me with open arms. I realized that just because I was born in America, and had the opportunity to go to an amazing church, and have many people support me, doesn’t mean I am any better than they are. I am a sinner saved by grace just the same. It’s not by anything I’ve done that I was born in America and have the gifts and talents I do today. I realized most of all how powerful it is to have a Savior who is so utterly personal. We can call him Jesus, because God came to us so that we could understand him. He didn’t demand that we learn a new language, or adjust to a certain way or standard. He knew that we could never live up to it. He revealed himself to us so that we could learn. He became human; he crossed all cultural, linguistic, and human boundaries so that we could understand Him. What an amazing act of love! It’s something I’ve heard about my whole life. But I feel like I understand it so much better now!
It was unbelievable to me that in the village I visited, there was only one believer (besides the missionaries.) It was just like being in one of the books you read about missions. I was hit by the fact that there really are villages out there that have actually never heard about or experienced God. I have read books and articles and heard about such places, but to actually be there in the midst of one was amazing!
Some of the things that I have seen over the last couple of weeks I do not think I will ever be able to forget. Words cannot express the evil and fear these people live in. In the villages up country where there are many animistic beliefs they wear charms in order to fight off evil spirits. Here in the city people just trust in Allah. To see them carrying their prayer mats and bowing to Allah is just heartbreaking.
Right off the bat you are testing the waters, trying to find your place, your fit in this new atmosphere. As feelings of anxiety start to dissipate, relating to and learning the culture becomes a lot easier. Right from the start I learned that you have to accept and learn to laugh at your mistakes as they are going to happen. Soon my thoughts and feelings turned to more specific events and people as I slowly found my place. I found myself wanting to make real local friendships. The key work there is real. Getting to know people can be simple, depending on the effort you take but I quickly felt that there were walls around these peoples’ hearts. I soon realized that, despite how much I wanted to, I couldn’t crash down those walls. But, with help, I could try to take down one brick at a time. At the end of the day my big lesson has been realizing how helpless I can be on my own and that I really have to rely on God’s strength for energy, wisdom and patience every day.
Despite my former self-assurance and pride, I am realizing I have just started to actually find out who I truly am. It is interesting how much I can see of myself here in this culture. It's like my true personality is becoming more evident to me all the time. God has been teaching me things that I didn't want to look at in my heart: my motivations, my desire for materialism, my plans for my future husband, my future plans in general, my vanity, pride, selfishness...the list goes on and on. Even though these things are all difficult to swallow and not so easy to admit to, I have found that being honest with both myself and God about them has lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders that I didn't even know existed. God is so good at taking our troubles and worries, and burying them where no one can find them again, and I am so grateful for that. God is so good, and perfect in every way. We don't deserve to be called His children. I feel myself changing often, and I pray that it will be forever, and not just for the time while I am here in Senegal.
After much deliberation, prayer and counsel, I am returning home before I originally expected. But it's not a question of me living and moving in triumph or failure - staying on the field or leaving, my plans coming to my expected fruition or not - but that Triumph is moving and living in me! Because of that, "In Him we live and move and have our being." He is the aroma we shed in every place we go, simply in our being there. This is a great hope and great consolation. This is a great promise that following in Christ's train, there is one appointed end and it is Him and He has won the victory and He is in us.
I have reason to believe that Jesus has substantial work planned for me (and each of you should have the same belief, if based on nothing more than Ephesians 2:10). I believe this is a loving, gentle, yet strategic, darkness-thwarting step in my path. I believe that even though I'm coming "home," I've just begun; this homecoming is just part of my leave-taking. Leaving the world, leaving the "empty way of life handed down to [us] from our forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18), leaving its "elemental principles" (Colossians 2:20). I believe this is an advance of God's kingdom in me.
After all, where is our home, really? Should any of us consider ourselves stopped on the trail? I heard the story of a great missionary who returned to New York after almost 30 years of non-stop service in the field. He eagerly got off the boat, and was elated to see a band playing with officials and families and children waiting as he came down the gangway. But he soon discovered they were there for others on the boat, not for him. Soon the passengers had left and the crowd was gone. He stood there, alone, disappointed and hurt. “I've been gone so long, Lord, doing your work,” he said, “and here, when I finally return home, there's not a single person waiting for me. What kind of homecoming is that?” Then he heard a small voice in his heart say to him, “You're not home yet.”
You're not home yet. None of us is. Let's not forget it. May my return, if nothing else, remind us of, and turn our heads toward the road ahead, its great calling and great cost, and even greater Victory as its end. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Then we're truly homeward bound.
Over the last ten years one of the most significant developments in the realm of cross-cultural outreach has been the development of short-term overseas experiences. Whether as short as two weeks, or as long as two years, whether as part of a team or as an individual, the broad purpose is the same, to encourage a deeper and ongoing involvement in seeing the lost won for the Lord! For some it has been a stepping stone to long-term ministry, for others it hasn’t, but just as valuable has been the increase in their understanding of what is involved in serving the Lord in another culture, gaining an insight into how to pray for Christian workers, and a deepening in their own relationship with the Lord.
Short-term team members can bring many blessings to the team. Very often they are young people, and that in itself brings freshness and vitality! Those who come with a servant heart and a readiness to fit in wherever needed can be a tremendous asset to the team. However, it has to be said that they can also increase the work load for teams that are already stretched to capacity. They often require extra care and attention in the early days of adaptation to culture and climate, and of course often are not in the country long enough to acquire a good level of language.
So is the investment worth it? Absolutely! We believe in short-term teams with long term impact!
I was sitting at the table when suddenly my Mexican mother jumped up and said, “We must beat the tamales!” I thought that she was going to teach me to make tamales, a Mexican food I enjoy. Instead, she asked to borrow 20 pesos ($2.00). As I gave the money to her, she encouraged me to quickly follow her outside. Without shoes or knowing what was happening, I followed her out the door into the courtyard and down the street.
As she ran she yelled, “Tamales! Tamales!”
I thought, “Wow, she is getting very excited about making these tamales and she is just shouting it out!” Without knowing exactly what was happening, I followed, wondering what new adventure was unfolding.
We got to the street corner and again she started yelling out “Tamales! Tamales!” Then she took the time to explain. The tamale man was coming. The tamale man yells “Tamales! Tamales!” and anyone who wants to buy them shouts back. Eventually he finds you. I paused to listen for him and I was able to hear a faint cry. I looked up the street and saw the tamale man (similar to the ice cream man in the U.S.). He was riding a bicycle with a container of hot tamales on the front. We ordered 4 tamales, 2 of each type: tamale verde and tamale rojo. The tamale verde contained corn, chicken and hot peppers, while tamale rojo also contained corn but was on the sweet side. Both were very enjoyable. I just love MEXICO!
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