Why I Go to Africa

12/14/16

People often ask me why I go to Africa, especially to the places that “even Africans do not go,” a comment I’ve heard more than once from friends with African roots.

When I’m asked why I go, I typically chatter on about marginalized people, building relationships, educational needs and such—words I believe, for sure. But are these the reasons I go?
 
I have a confession to make. The first time I went to Africa, it was all because of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency book series. I’d fallen in love with Mma Ramotswe and acacia trees and bush tea, and I wanted to see and taste for myself. My church connected me with Children of the Nations, and off I went to Malawi with a teach team. No matter that my detective books were set in Botswana. I was going to Africa.
 
"I go because Africa is where I find God," Melissa says. "I see His face in the children, in the mud huts, and in the classrooms. I hear His voice in the mornings as I sit outside, Bible open and pencil in hand, assured He’s about to speak (and He does)."
 
I did not find Mma Ramotswe, but I discovered lovely women just like her, smart women who were also solving important problems, serving tea, and parking their cars under acacia trees.
 
I also found children in rags, selling charred rats by the roadside, children who should have been in school. 
 
And I was appalled. 
 
So I kept going to Africa. I met more women and men solving big problems. I drank lots and lots of Chombe tea. And I slipped my hands into children’s hands, children of privilege (not very many) and children whose bodies and minds were starving.
 
Melissa and her husband, Matt, lead a round of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" along with fellow Venture participants and COTN staff in Uganda.
 
I came home. I went back. And people kept asking me, “Why Africa?” I tried to explain about the books and the kids and the acacia trees, but it all sounded a bit fuzzy. I couldn’t articulate my reasons, even to myself.
 
I recently visited Uganda for the first time. On one of the many plane rides over, I spotted an ad in a magazine that touted Uganda as the Pearl of Africa. That phrase got me thinking about Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew:
 
"… the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (13:45-46)
 
I read those words every morning in Uganda. I read them again when we moved on to Malawi.
 
I’m reading them still.
 
                    "It's inconvenient to go to Africa," Melissa admits. "But hearing from God? Worth it all."
 
These words answer the question why I go to Africa. I go because Africa is where I find God. I see His face in the children, in the mud huts, and in the classrooms. I hear His voice in the mornings as I sit outside, Bible open and pencil in hand, assured He’s about to speak (and He does). I feel Him in the fires dotting a countryside where there is no electricity, in the thick blanket of stars not so readily visible in my hometown, where light pollution dominates the night sky. I sense His heartbeat when Malawian children sing.
 
It’s inconvenient to go to Africa: endless plane rides, required vaccinations and medications, time away from my work and my family. And being there is messy business, what with acclimating to the temperaments of my travel companions, not to mention the frequent unintended social blunders I make. I am faced, too, with the reality of my addictions to comfort and convenience. No lie: on every journey—more than once—I go to bed in a sticky sweat, raging over the fact that I can’t take a shower because there is no power.
 
But hearing from God? Worth it all. Because, you see, He is the pearl. His kingdom here on earth brings me a kind of joy I can’t find anywhere else. I want that kingdom, that joy.
 
   "I go to Africa because He is the pearl, and I am becoming the merchant. Where He is, I find unspeakable joy."
 
In recent months, I find Him prying my fingers off of my comforts, my possessions, and even my timelines. He’s inviting me closer and closer. Sometimes I can even hear His whispers back home, not as clearly or loudly as in Africa, but the voice is unmistakably His.
 
“Are you ready? Will you come?”
 
Why do I go to Africa? Well, honestly, because I want to see my COTN sponsored kids. Because I want to see the end of extreme poverty. Because every child should go to school—good schools. Because I want to partner with people who are solving big problems one small step at a time.
 
But mostly?
 
I go to Africa because He is the pearl, and I am becoming the merchant. Where He is, I find unspeakable joy.
 

Comments

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What a small price for such a great reward!! Keep going to Africa!