It’s hard to believe that I’m already writing this blog. It feels like just yesterday that I first stepped off the plane this year in West Africa, ready to discover a new country and its people. Now we are back again after our second trip with a murky future and memories that will be held in my heart forever. Capturing my time in this beautiful country is difficult when my soul is filled with too many words to say.
During our first trip in January we went with a team of adults as the youngest members. This time the tables were turned and we led a group of 8 students from our church to the same place we had first visited. In a lot of ways I still feel like a big kid trapped in an adult’s responsibilities, so changing my mindset to lead instead of follow was difficult – yet so very rewarding.
Each day the schedule was fairly similar. We spent the morning in the community talking and getting to know the people there through our AMAZING team of translators. In the afternoon the students ran a ‘kids camp’ for local children who walked to the center where we stayed to participate. They rotated through crafts, games, and story time with children ages 3-12 (approximately).
I have to take a minute to brag on these students. A few people shook their heads at me when I described long layovers in the Brussels airport and a week in a foreign country with high school juniors and seniors, but this team truly could not have been more fun, hardworking, and overall a joy to be with. They treated one another with kindness even in insane heat, and they quickly fell in love with the people and the children. When I say they ran the kids camp I truly mean it – they did at least 95% of the work and with only a few bumps and bruises (quite literally!) along the way.
The days blend together in my mind, but the highlights stand out loud and clear. One of the most beautiful things I got to do was return to the friend I had made the first time around. This African woman is one of the kindest people I know – last time she invited us into her own home to feed us, though she has so little. Seeing her smile as I walked up the road to visit her again is a moment I will never forget.
Beyond that there were so many stories of God at work in Africa – even (and sometimes especially) when we weren’t there. The people of West Africa are welcoming beyond belief. They will gladly stop whatever they are doing in the middle of the day to talk for even an hour or more about anything. Their faces light up when they see pictures of my family. They constantly make themselves less comfortable in order to be hospitable. Sometimes we would be invited into someone’s home just a few minutes after meeting them, be introduced to their whole family, and talk about everything from the weather to stories from the Bible. I can’t imagine many other places or people who are so very welcoming and kind.
Another huge highlight of the trip was our translators. I can say without exaggeration that, despite difficulties I can never imagine facing, these four are some of the most joyful men I have ever met in my life. Several of them face persecution and suffering for their faith. One of them speaks 8 languages fluently (which still blows me away). All of them were patient with us for even 12 hours at a time, being a mediator so that the language barrier between us and the people we built relationships with no longer existed. If we had come to Africa and just met these four incredible people, we would still leave blessed beyond measure.
So what’s next? I wish I could answer that question. I wish I already knew the dates I would be returning. I know that this will not be my last trip overseas, whether I travel again to West Africa or adventure somewhere new in the near future. My heart has been changed forever this year, but ultimately it’s not about me – it’s about what God has for me and for our future and where He wants us to go. I can’t wait to see where that may be and until then I will simply pray for the people we met, our translators, and the students whose lives have been changed for good.
Side note: A few people have asked why I don’t share about going to Africa until I return. I mulled this over until I realized that there are a few things so close to my heart that I’m not willing to share them until I have processed them myself. When I visit Africa I don’t want it to be about me and what pictures I can post on social media – I want it to be about the people I am there to serve from the moment I wake up until my head hits the pillow at night.
Thank you for always following my adventures, friends!