Hello again, Africa

This is my story. A bit re-told. Perhaps, redundant. But mostly, re-ignited.

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It’s been so long so I’ve written on my blog. My inbox shows thousands of deleted and sent e-mails after four years of work and development of relationships and efforts achieved, and yet, I haven’t really said anything – about Africa. My vision. This hope sparked five years ago in the heart of a girl who just wanted to make a difference and LIVE.  And, so I take a moment to ponder and write.

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5 years ago, I moved to Kenya. I lived and served there for a year, and was changed more than I changed anything.  I packed and moved and lived and worked and served and loved and cleaned and prayed and wept and laughed and cooked and got sick and cared for 17 surrogate daughters and taught music to little kids.

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I ran long runs and wrote poetry at night and practiced piano and went to the IDP camps and to the slums and saw eyes glazed over by hopelessness and sickness and despair.

I danced in the rain and learned Swahili and sat still and soaked up the Sun and baked bread and shooed monkeys out of my kitchen and picked rhubarb and flowers from my backyard and got my hands and feet dirty and learned how to play Rugby and took Pottery and warded off the H1N1 Swine Flu and killed bugs (a lot of them) and drudged through the Rainy season and fought with teenagers.

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I climbed mountains – physically and spiritually – and ached for home during the holidays and made life-long friends and wrestled with God like Jacob and learned from others and grew up – and then I packed, said goodbye and moved home for a variety of reasons.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my early twenties, and the decision to go was easier than the decision to return home.

Now, it is almost 2015.  I do what I do today, and have a strong and happy vision for my life, a future family, service, career, and relationships. But, there is a repeat to be played on this old song, an African beat too catchy to miss, and so I go back.  I saw what I saw, and couldn’t forget. I heard what I heard, and it has bounced off the wall of the globe and echoed back in my ears, too loud to ignore. I know what I know, and can’t ignore this deep conviction that calls me back. And so, this Friday, I’ll fly around the world to South Africa for vacation, and then to Kenya to work with the women of Threads of Hope and help figure out how to get a deed for some land and map out our plan to build an early childhood development center, and see dear friends and reflect and make connections. Three weeks will fly by, and Time will be precious, limited and fast. In many ways, I will have to “meet” an old friend again – after all, Africa has greatly changed, and so have I.

I’d like to think that I return to Africa older and wiser. At 24, I thought that I was going to Africa to be the heroic philanthropic servant. After spending 20+ years of my life in the same county, I felt a healthy discontent stirring within me to go, explore, do good, and help others outside of my own comfort zone and circle. And, yet, I was proud – American hat on, Western habits in hand, I brought my own ideology and agenda with me, more than I realized. How quickly did I see that I was a minnow in a pond of amazing other missionaries and teachers and photographers and musicians and doctors and athletes and professors and entrepreneurs.  And, I was just there to serve others like everyone else. Ego and identity aside, I ate many a slice of humble pie, and slowly but surely, shifted my thinking. I wasn’t there to accomplish – I was there to love, listen, and learn from others.

And, so, I go back, eagerly and gratefully, with a humble watchfulness for the unexpected. When I decided to make this return trip early this year, there were so many questions in my mind. How will I afford it? How am I going to get enough time off work? Who will I go with? How am I going to secure key meetings that will help bolster Threads of Hope’s efforts? When exactly should I go? And, now, a few days away from leaving, I thank God for the ways in which He has literally paved the way for me to do this.

Psalm 126 says: “The LORD has done great things for us; and we are filled with joy. Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! She who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing her sheaves with her.”

When I left Africa in 2010, I left sowing in tears. I wanted to stay a second year, but a family member was battling an intense season of depression, unemployment, and mental sickness, and I would return home to a dark shadow that had cast itself over him, and with it, our entire family.  Little did I know then how difficult that fog of years would be for all of us – the best year of my life in Kenya was followed by the hardest year of my life.  But, I left Africa in faith knowing that He had a good plan and purpose, and would show me exactly when and where and why I needed to go back someday.

While I went out “weeping”, bearing seed for the sowing God had back in DC for me, and with my family, I can now confidently say that I am going “home” with shouts of joy, bringing sheaves of bounty with me.  In some ways, I feel as though I’ve had a spiritual awakening, watching God work and weave His blessings over this trip from Day 1.

The list is endless.  Receiving a book on South Africa from my Uncle last December, planting a small seed of curiosity to travel there. A former supporter e-mailing me in early 2014 asking what was holding me back from making a return trip, and offering a hefty amount of funding to help me get there? Seed-funding pouring in for Threads of Hope, through my Fundly campaign.  God holding me back from returning in August – and, instead, giving me the opportunity to engage in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington, DC in August, opening doors with local Kenyan government officials and private sector leaders that I would never have met if I had been abroad around that time. A colleague from the South African Embassy inviting me to attend his wedding in November, and my friend Jessica commenting that exact week that we should take a trip together this fall to South Africa.  My friend from South African Airways (SAA) then offering to coordinate discounts/flight deals, bookings, and activities.  Key business meetings falling into place with my work clients in both Johannesburg and Nairobi. Attending a brunch in Austin, TX over Labor Day, only to discover that two friends of my brother’s were going to be in SA at the exact same time that we were!  Discovering that the “random” people we are going to spend Thanksgiving dinner with in Cape Town are mutual friends of some church friends.  Skyping with a representative from Banking without Borders for the Grameen Foundation last week, only to find out that her husband grew up in Malewa, the very town where Threads of Hope exists, and that he has a robust knowledge of the village.  Meeting with Kate Spade’s corporate philanthropy team in NYC in October, leading to an introduction to a girl who works in clothing design in Nairobi and understands the wholesale fabric business in the city – something I need to understand and learn in the days ahead.  Meeting my friend and Barre instructor, who helps hosts a successful fundraiser workout class for Threads of Hope.  Scoping out Air BnB, with many spots falling through, only to eventually land on a 160-year old church-turned into a BnB spot, hosted by a woman who is Dutch and a gardener, just like my Oma. And, even this past weekend, bummed that my own Air BnB booking fell through for my apartment, laughing out loud at God’s ways as I see a notification pop up from a girl would like to book my place because she and her friend will be in DC to renew her South African three-year Visa, and that they are involved in Non Profit and mission work on the Eastern Cape of South Africa.  On and on, it goes.

Coincidences? Perhaps, but I think not.  There is a sovereign, intelligent God ruling over the heavens and earth, who is not far away from us, but is actually quite close to our lives and hearts. Psalm 68 says, “Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.” This has been my prayer from the beginning. Strengthen, God, – shape, frame, mold, craft, weave, thread – this trip together into a tapestry of grace that glorifies and magnifies your name and worth.

Indeed, He has done this, and I am filled with joy. I’ve been reading in Acts lately – 2:23 says, “And, Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held down by it. Therefore, David says concerning him (Jesus), “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my flesh will also dwell in hope – for He will not abandon my soul to the grave, or let His Holy One see decay. He has made known to me the paths of life – He will make me full of gladness with His presence.”

I cannot GO to Africa without acknowledging the One who has equipped me for this journey. Just as there was a definite plan for Jesus Christ to die for us, be raised to life, conquering death and sin forever, there too is a definite plan for my next three weeks, and our lives at large. Through all of these ‘serendipitous happenings,’ these divine interruptions to my life and schedule, I see the Lord before me, at my right hand, and I am not shaken, because His ways are good and perfect. My heart is glad, I rejoice, and my flesh dwells in hope – because He will not abandon His own.  He has paved the way.

I’m not afraid. Of Ebola, sickness, of getting lost, of losing luggage, of ‘unplugging,’ of crying, of doing a lot of listening, of reflecting, of not checking X, Y and Z off my lists, of resting, of my plan being interrupted, of navigating complex situations.  God will be with me. He will help me. He will strengthen that which He has wrought for me.

I don’t tell this story to showcase anything that I have done, hope to do, or wish to accomplish. I have my ambitions to help take Threads of Hope to scale and to the next level of success, but I go with tempered expectations.  In America, Time is money, Time is tasks, Time is accomplishments.  In Africa, Time is relationships.  Time is listening.  Time is just, being.  And, so, I don’t tell this story to sugarcoat my trip with noble motives.  I don’t share this story to ask for your financial support for Threads of Hope (although, I welcome it!)  I don’t share this story to be dramatic. I simply share these thoughts before I go, because simple reflection leads to thankfulness.

When we pause to reflect on our lives and relationships and chapters, extraordinary or ordinary, it doesn’t take long to realize that in each of our lives, the Author of our stories is at work.  Something beautiful is unfolding. Something eternal is shining. Something taking root is growing. Something scabbed is healing. Something waiting is coming. Something dry will be quenched. Something shadowed will take the spotlight. Something watched for is on the horizon. Something unknown will be known. Something torn will be sewn. Something lost will be found. Something confusing will be clear. Something let go will be replaced with what is best. Something hum will be sung. Something played will resound. Something emptied will be filled. Something painful will be redeemed.  Something dim will reflect back clearly.

DSC_0048 Something frail, perhaps just a mustard seed of faith, will be strengthened into something Real and True by the Strength which He himself has wrought for us.

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