Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Truth About Being a Missionary in Africa

Alright people…let’s be honest, “missionary in Africa” sounds pretty legit, right?  Cue scenes from “Hotel Rwanda,” “Blood Diamond,” “Tears of the Sun” (all movies that scared the you-know-what out of me ever wanting to go joy-riding around Africa in all of my inescapable whiteness).

Scene from Blood Diamond

Yes...this is exactly what I pictured (see photo of Leo above).

Now, I realize selling all your possessions, quitting a job you love and moving your family with small kids to Africa to “help people” sounds impressive and sacrificial.  And in that moment for me 5 ½ years ago in 2010, I suppose it felt that way.

(photo credit: Buzz South Africa)

And truth be told…it had pockets of scariness too.  Even through South Africa is slightly “Pseudo Africa” (we don’t actually live in mud huts, have ravenous lions roaming the streets, or neighbors sporting cool-but-a-tad-bit-too-tight-for-comfort “neck stretching rings”), Cape Town is always listed in the top most dangerous cities of the world (something about high rates of murder, rape and other such non-sense).

So I thought, “Yes! This sounds like equal counterparts of brave, sacrificial and amazing.  This MUST it!”

So we took the plunge!  We heard God say “go” – and we went.

Africa gets in your blood and you start to see her everywhere

Fast forward to now.

There have been failures and disappointments, battles hard fought and moments of grief and sadness.

But the #truthaboutreallife, is the surprising reality that I need Africa much more than Africa needs me.

Who knew that this country of load shedding (scheduled government power-outages), driving on the wrong left side of the road, and Ebola (OK just kidding…that was like 3,000 miles away in a whole different country) – would capture our hearts so thoroughly.

I cannot over-emphasize this…We LOVE it here! It’s certainly not about happiness…but we have never been happier. I am truly in the “happy spot” of my life.

If you think the worse thing that can happen to you is that "God calls you to move to Africa and become a missionary," I write this for you to think again and know that God's plans are ALWAYS good.  He loves for us to expect delight and wonder as we follow Him. Rest in knowing he has already customized a life-plan that that will blow your mind. Don't be afraid of His intentions!  I'll say it again - God actually and willfully intends so much good toward YOU...yes YOU.

Ok...back to Africa: Realizing recently  that we need to return to the US for our children, especially as it relates to Emme and Down syndrome, was an intensely difficult decision. In the end, it became obvious that the educational system in America could best support her needs and we will fly back to the US this July.

Emme recently turned 7 years old and we know she is entering into a new developmental stage.

7th birthday party

Decorating cup cakes

Emme's two favorite things: balloons and worship music

But the cold hard fact is that moving back to America is one of the hardest things we've had to do.  For me, this is harder than having a child with Down syndrome, harder than a miscarriage, harder than skin cancer.

Blah, Blah, Blah.  I know, I know…we all do incredibly hard things.

Nevertheless, my heart seems to be spilling over with fountains of tears. Over the last few weeks I would openly weep to anyone brave enough to ask me how I was doing.  I seemed to be crying every time I ran into someone else at the grocery store who had not yet heard we were leaving. It was terrible (not just for me but I'm sure for the poor people unfortunate enough to run into me)! Ha!  That will show them not to make eye-contact and ask how someone is doing – when all you want is some biltong (a 400 year old traditional South African beef snack…don’t offend the locals and call it beef jerky).

(photo credit: Naked Ape)

When we got up in front of our All Nations family to tell them about our decision to return to the US, I choked back tears while I said, “It’s good and right, but the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  The sacrifice for us is returning to America.”

After I said this, Adi came running up to me while we were still up front, jumped in my arms, put her hands around my face and said, “Mom!! Are you alright?” She proceeded to wipe away a tear. Sweet girl!

So, as a tribute to this continent I love…I am going to attempt to put into words what’s so great about this place.

Bottom line…it’s a combination of having an amazing spiritual community, wonderful lifestyle and resounding sense of purpose. We feel so connected to what God is doing here and around the world.

In case you are dumb founded about how Africa has stolen my heart…let me paint you a picture of what I will miss the most about this corner of the globe.

  • Amazing friendships.  Hands-down these people are world-class friends.  Everything from house-church and “game night” to lunch dates and dinner parties – I just love the deep and transparent friendships we have here. I come alive hosting parties and will find any excuse to have people over (after dinner ice-cream parties in an attempt to recreate “Red Mango,” Passover, Christmas in the summer, 4th of July in the winter, anyone who needs a birthday party, make your own pizza night, gender-reveal party, create your own pasta night, baby showers, going away events, welcome back events, girls night in, etc.). You need a party thrown in your honor? I'm your girl!

Gender Reveal Party (that moment we realized we were having a boy)

Gender Reveal Party Goers

Good bye party


Showing the kids a new tradition (Passover on Good Friday)

You get the picture. As with anywhere, people here are not perfect, but nearly everyone seems to be working through their issues and pressing in to the Lord.  I have such a sense that the people here really want to be more like Jesus.

  • Life-style.  Cape Town is stunning.  We don’t talk about it much because we are usually in our little valley “doing our thing” with our precocious 4 children – but within a few miles we have 2 great beaches (we are on the “tip of Africa” so one side features the Atlantic Ocean and a 10 mile drive going right past our neighborhood takes you to the Indian ocean on the other side).  There is a “surf culture” here, because this area boasts some of the best surfing in the world. There is also an equestrian culture here – as we are far enough away from the city to feel a bit “country” and there are many horse stables.  Mountains for hiking, hundreds of world-renowned vineyards and of course a fun and fast-paced city center make you realize….yeah, this place is great. Kind of like the corn fields of Nebraska….kinda…

A trip to a local garden (of the thousands of plant species that are indigenous to Cape Town, 190 are known to be unique to the city - occurring NOWHERE else in the world)

Editable Flowers

Cape Town is home to a total of 19 different and distinct vegetation types.
(This enormous variety is mainly because the city is uniquely located at
the convergence point of a great many different soil types and micro-climates.) 

Gourdes hanging in the garden

  • Purpose.  Karl thoroughly enjoys working with youth who have been hand-picked for their soccer talent and chosen to join Ubuntu, a truly remarkable soccer academy that combines premier coaching and discipleship, with an outstanding education and housing for those kids in need. 
  • Julie loves spending time in deep friendship a group of girls from Ocean View she has mentored for the last few years, creating fun new businesses with and being a part of the Business for Mission team at All Nations (helping to launch business missionaries into hard-to-reach places).  Ummm Yeah.  It really is as amazing and as it sounds.

Wall Stencil Artists

Love this gray Moroccan stencil

All Nations Business For Mission Team (touring Living Way)

"Business Basics" Class

I mention all this so that you know that when we say, “serving here has truly been the biggest privilege and honor of our life,” these are not empty words meant to sound good as we head back to the comforts of the US.  

This is the truth about my real life: Being a “missionary in Africa” is AMAZING and I am trying not to go kicking and screaming on my way out…hanging on with white knuckles to the mailbox. Lord grant me grace!

Ken Primrose (pastor of Norman Community Church) recently said, “Remember not to confuse the dream and the assignment.  The dream is Jesus and the assignment is the assignment.  The assignments change but the dream remains Jesus.”

I must remember the dream is not Africa.  The dream is Jesus and He can change the assignment any time He pleases.

And so that’s what we have here…a change in the assignment.

That said…here is a list of so many things I will miss.  These “daily life” idiosyncrasies have somehow nuzzled into my heart…

How we talk…
  •     I’ll put it in my diary (I feel a bit like an acne-pummeled teenage girl with a silly secret when I say this – but this is what everybody says to mean “I’ll put it in my calendar”)
  •     Can I have your details? (Don't make a mistake and think this means they want the details of your life - aka your deep, dark past...your food allergies...your shoe size...they really just want your phone number)
  •     Shame! (Oh that is so sad!  Or Oh that is so cute! Depending on context and tone – sometimes it’s hard to know if you should feel offended or complimented)
  •     Pleasure!  (Instead of “Your Welcome” -isn't that so much nicer and more cheerful?)
  •     I have the flu (Don’t be alarmed….this is really just the common cold)
  •     I need to fetch my children (I know you think “fetch” can only be used for your dog…but expand your mind…it’s much more efficient than saying “pick up”- I love to save a syllable!)
(photo courtesy of Fetching Knowledge)

  •     They didn’t pitch (This doesn’t mean they didn’t throw a ball at a baseball game – it means they didn’t show up)
  •     I’ll be there “now now” (There is some debate on how quickly this means someone will arrive – it’s probably longer than you think – but it does seem to be quicker than “just now”) 
  •     Take your trolley and get in the cue for the till but don’t forget to pick up your rubber and throw away your rubbish (Direct Translation: Take your shopping cart and get in line for the cash register but don’t forget to pick up your eraser and throw away your trash.)

Note "now = not now": Today I was going through a McDonalds drive-through and the order-taker said, "I'll take your order now" so I started to tell her my order...naturally. 

She interrupted and said, "No...I'll take your order now!" so again I started to give my order...a little more quickly and loudly this time so there was no confusion. 

After she interrupted again and said "No...I'll take your order NOW," I had a startling epiphany: "now" does not mean "right now" it means "not just a second."  Is this obvious to everyone but me? Am I even speaking English here? So I waited for a bit...and then magically she was ready. Somehow it took me five years to figure that one out. I'm loving it!

What we do…
  •      We have yet to meet a South African who does not personally walk you ALL THE WAY to your car when you leave their house.  I’m not talking about waving to you from the front porch…I mean TO YOUR CAR to let the conversation continue while you get in and maybe you should roll down your window as you pull out of the driveway to say one important thing and throw in a final good-bye while you’re at it. I think it will be a shock for us to go back to America and have our friends wave to us from the couch and say, “Thanks for coming!” Be prepared, we may not leave until we have a personal escort out and about 11 good-byes.
  •      I love the Afrikaans greeting with a hug and cheek kisses (don’t go the wrong way or it could get intimate and sloppy).
  •     When you have people over you always offer to make and prepare their tea…”Rooibos or normal tea”  Rooibos is a red tea with many health benefits (I’m still a bit hazy on what is “normal tea” but know that it is NOT Rooibos – the usual favorite).  One must ask if they want milk and how many sugars. Sugars are measured roughly by spoonfuls.  So if you have a group of friends over you may need to remember, “one with milk and 2 sugars, just milk, milk and 4 sugars, black, 1 sugar only, etc.” And don’t forget the rusks (hard little bread-like things).

  •     Don’t forget your R5 (this is roughly $0.20 - $.50) to tip the “car guard”– these are the very nice men in the parking lot who will help put your groceries in the car and guide you in backing out of your parking spot – I don’t know how I will function at Target without them.  God forbid I try to give change to the wrong person.  Awkard!

  •      Wondering how the dollar is doing. Living internationally makes you realize how crucial the exchange rate it…it’s a REALLY big deal. When we first moved to Africa and were setting up our house from scratch and bought our truck… the dollar was at all-time low of R6.5 Rand to the Dollar. Painful!!! Now it’s R12 to the dollar. What’s the big deal?  I’ll tell ya, sister! R1,000 in 2010 would require us to take $153 out of our US bank account. Today if something costs R1,000 we only need to take $83 out of our US bank account.  That makes a HUGE difference. Some may remember we had to return to the US for a 6 month “regrouping” after our first year here – that exchange rate had brought us to our knees.
  •      Check the daily load shedding schedule.  This one is a little crazy.  The government can decide at any point to invoke “load shedding” which means your power will usually be off for 2.5 hours (sometimes more than once a day). It’s not too bad if you know it’s coming. If not, you can be stuck with dinner half way cooked or no coffee in the morning. Serious mama crankiness.  We had a friend who experienced load shedding during their wedding reception – right in the middle of the dance the lights and power went out.  Most people do not have power generators – so they had to improvise with some candle-light time of prayer. 
Dinner during load-shedding (gotta love candle light)

I’m sure it’s obvious… I need Africa much more than she needs me. There is nothing like this place and I have learned SO much from these remarkable people.  I have fallen, deeply and madly in love with her. I’m certain this love affair will last a lifetime.

Once again our move to another country (even though it’s back to my home town) feels sacrificial and scary…but I know this is what the Lord has for us. I will choose to be thankful for the gift of Africa and open my hand to our next step.

Graciously, the Lord is starting to stir faith for exciting things to happen in Omaha and ways to stay connected to All Nations.

We are expecting a life of purpose, joy and passion.

So America – when I pitch up to your house and start to break out into cold sweats…you may have to kiss me on the cheek, make me some tea (with milk and 2 sugars) and walk me all the way to my car on my way out. If I try to hand you a quarter for helping me back my car out of your driveway, you may have to immediately put me on a plane back to Africa.

And that’s a wrap, people.  I’m about to take a little bow and call “Curtain!” on this chapter of my life.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Makes me even prouder to be Capetonian & sorry I didn't meet you when you were here. 😃