So Africa -- you are almost here. It's been nearly 10 years since I've seen you and I've missed you so much. But this time, I'm taking you back with me.
From the moment the adventure of Africa sparked in my brain when I was just 17 years old, I knew we were meant to be. And when I stepped out of the airplane breathing my first breath of African air in Malawi in 2001, I felt a sense of comfort. People say America is God's country...and maybe it is but...Africa sometimes seems more so to me.
From Malawi, we drove 18 hours in the back of truck down a lone highway to Mozambique. We arrived to a place I'll never forget, to a gorgeous valley with endless well, to rolling hills, impossibly starry skies and sunrises so pretty I got up early every morning for two months just to watch them from start to finish.
I fell in love. With the light colored, powdery dirt. With ever-smiling, happy African faces. With those quintessential, irreplaceable, joyful African singing voices. I fell in love with little people who wouldn't let go of my hand, who liked to touch my face and my hair, for whom a piece of candy might as well have been a diamond ring.
Africa is not a Vacation
I dug a lot of ditches in Mozambique. I mixed concrete mortar by hand, laid brick, fastened trusses, painted walls and hammered nails beneath the light of a sun that had never seemed so close. It was hard. I was hot. My friend Christina felt something tickle her spine and literally pulled a gigantic rodent out of her dress one day. Outside our tents, the noises were funny and my bladder was often left unrelieved for hours because of it.
I peed in a concrete hole in the ground called the "squatty potty" and "bathed" out of a bucket, slopping dirty, soapy water onto my legs and arms with a wash clothe. We took turns dumping and dunking our hair to clean it and spent hours filtering all of our drinking water through a hand pump after dragging it bucket by bucket up the valley from the well.
Every sunset was perfect. Every supper shared in the cooling evening was my favorite. I knew I would pine after these moments, even though I longed for a shower. I would miss this sunset, these friends, this valley, these kids. I would miss this place God had put in my heart. I knew I had to go back.
Two years later, I did. This time, Kenya. Leaving the Nairobi airport, I spotted giraffes on the side of the road within 10 minutes. Hello Africa, I thought, I'm back!
We set up shop and waited in the field next to a one-room church where people had walked for hours -- possibly days -- to receive much needed medical care. We brought basic medicine but we also brought a whole slew of prayer and praise and love. I think it was a pretty good combo.
There were the smiles, there were the voices, there were the people. And my starry skies returned, my sunrises were right where I left them. We did something I never thought I'd do -- we washed people's feet. We held their hands and prayed with them. We hoped that love was radiating out of us, far beyond the language barrier, far beyond the little bit of physical help we could give.
It was over before I knew it and I said goodbye again. Every time I leave some place like that, I never know if I'll get back. Life happens, you know? It costs money, it takes time, it's a huge commitment. I wondered if I'd ever get to go back to Africa -- twice was already such a blessing.
I Left Part of My Heart in Africa
After that, I was so nostalgic about it. Music, photos, stories, mission trips in generally all brought me back to this place I loved. My heart would grow soft when I heard stories of trips being taken. Every sensory glad in my body remembered the way the air felt, the food smelled, the way the people laughed. I would get back there - -someday.
Someday has arrived. Someday is Friday. And this time is different. This time, my purpose is abundantly clear. This time, it means more to me than it's ever meant. Congo, my love! I've learned so much about you -- you've broken my heart. I can't wait to meet your people...to hug them, to look into their eyes. I am going to fall in love with your children and probably your sunsets too.
And I'm going to wrap you around me for all you are worth, deliver what it was we were sent for. All the things I've read are going to make more sense. I am bringing awareness back with me. This country wants and needs for so much -- far more than 17 people can do in 10 days. But we are one part of this and this trip is one part of our commitment -- a commitment that lasts years, not days.
Before last year, the 17 of us didn't know much about Congo either for the most part. Now, Congo has at least 17 advocates it didn't have before. 17 voices, 17 reasons for a few more people to listen up. So we go -- in love, in grace, in commitment to something we've grown to love.
I don't know what to expect from you, Congo. But I already love you and I know God's got big plans for you -- and for us -- and hopefully for any one else that has decided to invest their time, prayer, money, concern or curiosity into this trip. So here we go.
*Want to keep up with us while we are gone? Just click this link and "like" the Facebook page attached. My pastor's wife will be updating it as she connects with him each day to let ya'll know how we are doing. I doubt I'll have any access to Internet so I will look forward to recapping for you afterwards!