Category Archives: Ministry moments

The Story. [Unwritten.]

Just some of the girls that came to our goodbye party. More than forty came that day.

The secret thrill of reading any great work of literature is shrouded in the unknown. As the plot twists wildly and suspense intensifies and tantalizes the mind, we revel in the intoxicating ecstasy of uncertainty. The best stories-the ones that arrest and engage your mind and affections-those stories leave you trapped in the throes of your questions until the last page. The answers belong to the author.

 

If  life is a story, the chapter of mine set in West Africa has come to a close. Every chapter of a book changes the course of the story-and the past two years have changed the course of mine forever. I am indescribably thankful for the uncomfortable gift that my time in Africa has been to me. I think it will take a lifetime to understand exactly how it is that Jesus changed my heart and life in Senegal.

I moved to Dakar to share the gospel with Muslim students that don’t have access to it. What I learned during the

Michelle strung pictures of our two years in Senegal all over the apartment for our goodbye party, and the girls took them home as favors.

course of those two years, is that the gospel is not just for Miriam, Khadi and Fatou: it is for me. That Jesus is not simply good advice-He must be everything. God has not redeemed me and abandoned me, but rather is chiseling away at the calcified, gangrenous parts of my heart, making it come alive again. He is walking, healing, confronting, disciplining, caring, loving, being gracious to, and sanctifying me so that as I go, sin slowly loses its power as my life is ever so slowly conformed to the image of His Son. Every freezing shower, every time I got sick or missed home so much it was hard to breathe, every scorching, filthy day, every catcall, and every Muslim student that politely listened but never understood –those were all pieces of God changing my heart forever. The gospel is about relentless love, but I think it’s also about hope. That we don’t have to be what we hate.  And we no longer have to be afraid.

 

With Fama.

I cannot explain what it was like to walk away from the Muslim women that have left an indelible mark on my life, and still do not understand that. Women that are too afraid or too hardened to follow Jesus-at least for now. Watching Miriam walk out of my front door for the very last time was gut-wrenching. But in the midst of a flurry of goodbyes that make my heart ache, there is hope.

You see, this story doesn’t resolve. Miriam, Fatou and Khadi still don’t believe. Through tears and frustration, I cling to the simple truth that though I left Senegal, Jesus did not. Right now, audacious faith means believing that though I do understand why, or how, or when-God does not need me to reach those women. He never did. And while I do not understand why so many of my Muslim friends still do not believe, my joy is in who Jesus is and the glorious truth that His love for women like Miriam was measured at the cross, and His power to save them was measured at the resurrection. He can redeem her. He can redeem all of them. And I pray that He will.

The story isn’t over. And the thing is, I’m not sure how it ends. There are eight people [including Michelle! I’ll be giving you all of their blogs so you can still follow life in Senegal.] returning to Dakar to carry on what a team of five began

Miriam and Fanta looking at pictures.

in October of 2009. [And goodness, how long ago that seems!] Women like Fatou Ba, that are so close to making the choice to follow Jesus but are paralyzed by terror of what the consequences might be, will continue to have women that deeply love Jesus walking beside them as they come to understand that nothing but Jesus will ever satisfy. And there are, of course, Senegalese women that we’ve left behind in Dakar that follow Jesus and want to see their country follow Him too.

“I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19

Pray with me, that Jesus does this in Senegal. That the unwritten stories of women like Fatou, Miriam, Khadi and so many like them, do not end in unbelief. There is no heart that’s too hard, too far gone, for Jesus to rescue. He does it every day.

 

And so here’s to the next chapter-whatever it holds. Breathe in, breathe out, and with not a little trepidation and a whole lot of expectant faith, tentatively put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus into a new adventure.

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Filed under Ministry moments, Senegal

Hey, Soul Sister.

The beauty of being self-published, is that I get to do exactly what I want. And right now, I want to post a thousand pictures and help you step into my day.

In breaking news, Miriam and Coumba sat me down and explained a fool proof method to “make a man fall in love with you”. Are you ready for this?

…cook him chicken. Chicken. I mean, Godiva Chocolate cheesecake, I might be able to understand. Something with cookie dough? Absolutely. Fudge centers and I? Till’ death do us part. 

…but chicken? 

Well, shoot. Easy peasy! Somebody call Cosmo and tell them that they’ve got it all wrong.

These precious girls were at the market at 7:30 AM, and spent hours cooking for us. They paid for everything they used with money that they don’t really have-and spared no expense. The meal that they made for us today is a meal traditionally served at weddings and grand parties-every little piece of it, from the yellow rice to the chicken,  is simply more expensive.

Miriam.

Fanta.

Coumba.

Washing the rice-a necessity if you’d prefer not to chip a tooth on the tiny rocks hiding amidst the grains. That, and there’s always the rat poo-poo. Western snob that I am, I prefer poo-poo-less rice.

I love this girl. I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that after two years, I have to say goodbye to her tomorrow.

The neighborhood…

Is this goat not the most pitiful thing you’ve ever seen? I wanted to take him home, name him Frank and never, ever eat him.

…but I don’t think they’ll let Frank through customs next week.

I’m sorry, Frank.

Plating the food! Senegalese women are all about presentation-which I love.

And this? This was to die for. You’d be amazed and what kind of damage a couple of  Senegalese women can do to that much food. [And by “that much food”, I mean more than a pound of rice per person. Help me, Rhonda.]

Christy, Michelle and I got forks-but the rest of them went at it Senegalese-style and ate with their hands. Call me a weenie, but it’s the one thing I simply can’t stand! In Senegal, it’s the hostess’ job to tear off pieces of meat with her hand [a hand that she’s been using to squish rice into the oily balls she’s popping in her mouth] and place them in front of the guests gathered around her platter. Well today, each one of those sweet girls fancied herself the hostess-and for the life of me, I couldn’t scoop rice and chicken into my mouth faster than they were each throwing food towards my piece of the platter!

Swimming. Up. Stream.

It was perfectly lovely.

And tomorrow is goodbye.

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Filed under Ministry moments, Senegal

Mangos and Magnolia Trees.

Packing last fall.

Ten. There are just ten more links on the yellow paper chain hanging by my window. Ten days from right this moment, I’ll be driving in North Carolina. I see Magnolia trees, unsweetened peach mango iced tea, baseball games and a bed in my very near future!

I finally broke the news to Mohammad the Fruit Stand Man yesterday, on the way home from my run. I confessed that next week I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back this time. His chocolate eyes widened as he uttered a dismayed, “Ah, BON? Oh, cheri!”

Then he asked me to dinner.

Persistent until the bitter end, that one. His consolation shall be that though I refuse to marry him regardless of the number of animals that he offers to slaughter on my behalf, [thoughtful man that he is] he has endeared himself to me in a way that no other fruit stand man has. Mangos and pineapples have always engaged my affections more easily than dead mammals, anyways.

Two years ago, “getting ready” to move to Africa entailed buying an impossible number of Hello Kitty bandaids and carefully packing my practical stilettos, polka-dotted rainboots and cowgirl boots [clearly all necessary footwear for life in a third world African country]. I stock piled veritable vats of blue Crest Mouthwash and deep-moisturizing hair conditioner. I read stacks of books about Islam, bought enough Tylenol cold syrup, hand sanitizer and mosquito repellant to fill up no less than three kiddie pools, and allowed a travel nurse to pump me full of every recommended drug known to man. Undaunted, I scoured endless aisles of medications at Target and tossed bottles and boxes of pills meant to treat every disease that I might possibly contract during my African hiatus. I even faithfully started taking my malaria medication the required three weeks before I hopped on a plane.

I had no idea how unprepared I was. Not a thing in this world could have readied me for life in Senegal.

And now, two years later, I find myself sorting through dusty boxes-finding partially-burned pumpkin spiced candles and an embarrassing number of those Hello Kitty bandaids. One-by-one, half-empty bottles of shampoo and lotion are being carefully zipped into plastic bags and tucked away into my oversized blue duffel. Target t-shirts are tossed into the “give” pile, and my holey running shoes are headed towards the trash. As I sort through the remnants of my past two years, I find myself at a loss as I try to understand what it will mean to leave this place that I have loved and hated. To walk away from the sweet Muslim women that I will never see again.

Tomorrow, Miriam, Fatou and some other friends are throwing Christy, Michelle and I a Bon Voyage party. We’ll be cooking Yassa Dienne [fish, onions and rice] at Fatou’s house all day long. On Wednesday, we’re throwing ourselves a goodbye party-and it will be the last time I see all of the precious girls I’ve been working with for two years. The last time I get to tell them why I picked up and moved to Africa-the last time that I explain who Jesus is, and why they desperately need Him. Wednesday marks my last day of work in Senegal-after that, my team is taking a week to pack and clean and close out life in Dakar.

Not that I have the foggiest idea how to do that.

In the face of walking away from Muslim friends that don’t know Jesus, I am unspeakably grateful that Jesus doesn’t need me to change hearts. Heart change is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit-and not something that I conjure up on my own. And in the midst of heart-wrenching goodbyes, I choose to cling to the truth that God loves those women more than I do. His irrational love for Miriam, Fatou, Khadi, Amy, Aida, Sophie, Awa and the rest of my friends was measured at the cross. His power to save and redeem them was measured at the resurrection. Second Corinthians 5:7 says “We live by faith-not by sight.” What I see right now is a group of Muslim women that are too afraid or too hardened to follow Jesus-but by faith, I believe that God can still redeem even the hardest heart in the group.

Even if I never get to see it.

I write for a myriad of reasons-and as of late, I write to make sense of my life. Thank you for letting me process.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Ministry moments, Senegal

Why I Moved to Africa.

There is something irresistible in the secret thrill of the unfamiliar.

As a little girl, I used to eagerly scour the pages of any exotic National Geographic that contained pictures of villages in rural Africa. My eyes were captivated by proud women with garish head wraps and more arm bangles than my Barbie doll-by gaunt faces of children with resigned eyes that somehow seemed much older than my own. I couldn’t tear my gaze away from lean-to shacks fashioned out of abandoned construction materials and cardboard boxes standing precariously in the midst of a dusty, desert wasteland that stretched far beyond the brilliant orange and yellow sunset skyline.

Like a meteor shooting through my imagination, Africa captured my daydreams.

In high school, I got to step into the pages of the National Geographic when a starry July night found me on the outskirts of just such an African village, in Botswana. It was a place crushed by poverty, deadened by hopelessness. Squawking chickens and bleating goats competed with the distant sound of beating drums that together comprised the ebb and flow of a symphony unlike anything I had ever heard. The overwhelming stench of raw sewage and trash strewn haphazardly about tickled my nose as I sat wide eyed in the back of a rusty pick up truck.

My team and I were showing the Jesus Film in the village that night. I don’t know if you’ve seen it; but it’s a movie that depicts the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We set up a rickety screen in the middle of an open, dusty field, and a small projector provided the only light for miles. [In a place with no electricity, nightfall becomes an altogether different thing.] In the murky black of that night, one of my teammates stood in front of the gathered crowed just before the movie began, and explained that the man they were about to see in the film was the Son of God, and the answer to the sin that separated them from Him.

And then the grainy film flickered to life.

There’s a shot at the beginning of the crucifixion, when the camera shows a nail being pounded into Jesus’ hand.  As the hammer dealt its first deadly blow that night, a sharp scream pierced the darkness.

I’d never heard anything like it before, nor have I since. Gut wrenching and agonizing-the scream seemed to come from everywhere at once. Echoing off of rocks and dead trees, all-consuming in its grief-it was only clear that someone, somewhere, was breaking.

It took several minutes to find the source-but finally, we stumbled across an inconsolable older woman doubled over, hopelessly rocking back and forth as desperate tears made rivers down her withered cheeks.

Through her broken sobs, we could only make out the heart-wrenching phrase “He’s dead! He’s dead! He’s dead.” Over and over, like hopeless waves of grief that threatened to lose her in their tide. Slowly, we came to understand that she’d never before heard about Jesus.

Not once.

And with typical Western naiveté, we had presented a glimpse of the gospel before the film-but an incomplete one. We’d told the crowd that the man they were about to see was the Son of God, the answer to their problem of sin and the only way to know God-…and then we’d started the film. Something in that woman’s heart had resonated with the truth that she needed Jesus as enthralled, she’d watch Him be born, she’d watched Him live…but suddenly, she was watching Him die. And she thought that was the end of the story-that there was no hope.

I have no memory of not knowing who Jesus was, or what He’d done for me. Do you? Yet somehow, that sweet woman had gone sixty plus years without ever hearing His name.

Khadi.

She heard His name that night-His name, and the end of the story. And that was the night that she decided to follow Jesus.

That was also the night that I got angry. It was very simple in my mind-the fact that she had never heard the gospel before was inexcusable and unacceptable. And that was the night that I decided to change the way I prayed. Instead of “God, if you call me to go, I will”, I began instead to ask Him to allow me to go.

In a world where at least 1.6 billion people don’t have access to the gospel, those of us that claim to follow Christ needn’t ask God elementary questions about what He wants us to do about it. If we really believe that Jesus alone can save, it ought to drastically altar the way that we live our lives. We know what God wants for those people-the question is not whether or not we are called to reach them, but how. Those 1.6 billion people have arrested and engaged my heart in a way that nothing short of Jesus Himself ever has.

That woman is why I came back to Africa-where I’ve met countless Muslim women that share her story. Women like Aya, who after hearing the gospel told me, “You’re so lucky, because Jesus died for you.”-without the foggiest idea that Jesus had died for her too. Or Sophie, who just this week commented “Everything I know about Jesus-I learned from you and Christy.” Or Awa, who after holding and

Aya.

reading a Bible for the first time in her life, looked at Michelle and I with wonder and said “This is good! Who wrote this?!”  Or Khadi, who after finally understanding for the first time why Jesus had to die, wistfully commented “Vraiment, He must truly love us.”

Yes Khadi, vraiment He does.

And those women? They are why I hope that if you walk with Jesus, you will consider how He would have you reach those that do not yet.

[Spending some time here will forever change the way you look at the world, and help you better understand what I’m talking about. ]

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Filed under Ministry moments

Fragments of My Imagination

Our "living on a prayer" picture in Milan. Note the floating hand.

There are just twenty-four days left in Dakar. My frazzled nerves and scattered mind have made it impossible to tell you just one cohesive story.

Brace yourselves.

It started with the laundry. I did laundry in the bathtub yesterday, and the murky, rather sinister charcoal color of the swirling water left me with the distinct impression that I owed every member of my team a personal apology. I feel like Pig Pen on Charlie Brown. And speaking of laundry, I am quite forward to wearing clothes that don’t look something that Grandma Moses would wear.

Which I can do in just twenty-four days. Has it hit you yet? I’m still wallowing in disbelief.

Yesterday, a group of Talibe boys were begging for spare change near a local bakery. I bought as many pain au chocolates as would fit in a bag, and promptly began to place them in the grubby, excited hands desperately vying for my attention. Without warning, I suddenly found myself mobbed by a group of approximately 15 hungry boys-each of whom wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss out on a chocolate roll. All 5’2 of me tried to look larger than life as I held the bag over my head and used my best stern “Senegalese Mom” voice and each of the seven words of Wolof I could remember at the time. [It’s baffling how little “Crazy no in the name of Allah!” did to deter them.] Indifferent to the petite brunette babbling incoherently, little boys scaled me like a jungle gym while older ones successfully ripped rolls out of the bag over my head. Michelle played the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress, and I left covered in over-eager, sticky chocolate finger prints.

Last Sunday, Michelle, Christy, Karen and I braved the relentless African sun and crammed our sweaty bodies into a rickety, rather suspect looking yellow taxi. In a stroke of cultural brilliance, we decided to ask our Wolof-speaking taxi driver to stop on the side of the bustling, dusty road so Michelle could hop out and buy a carton of eggs on the way back to our apartment. These, mind you, are open cartons containing thirty filthy eggs that are covered in a thick layer of gray feathers and chicken poo-poo that can only be removed by enriched plutonium. Michelle successfully managed to procure just such a carton, and cheerfully rejoined the rest of us waiting in the oven masquerading as our ride home. I was sandwiched in the backseat between Karen and Michelle, absentmindedly observing the bustling, dusty African ghetto we were slowly sputtering through, when Michelle’s scream pierced the relative calm. Startled, I turned to find her holding the oversized egg carton towards me as a giant roach crawled out from between the eggs. Horrified, I began to holler at the top of my lungs as I lunged on top of Karen and begged Michelle to simply toss the whole mess out of the window-indifferent to her panicked pleas for help. [I would give that dear girl one of my $160,000 kidneys if she needed it, but she’s on her own with the roaches.] Meanwhile, our taxi driver was busily attempting to ascertain what in the name of Allah was causing the hullaballoo in his back seat. As the crescendo of our shrill, white-girl screams stopped passerby’s in their tracks, my Wolof Prince Charmant pulled stopped the car in the middle of the dirt road, wrenched the carton from Michelle with an indifferent eye roll, and promptly squished the offending roach with his fingers. He then proceeded to hold it up for us, as if to say “Hey, pansy white girl-it’s just a bug”. [And let me tell you, that little gem translates across languages and cultures all over the world.] Undaunted, we enthusiastically applauded him and sung his praises the rest of the way home.

No, really. I actually sung.

I have run literal holes in my tennis shoes. Help me, Rhonda.

We’re hosting a STINT recruitment night for our summer project on Thursday. I’ll tell them about Mohammad

Sophie Bop.

the fruit stand man, team chocolate chip pancake nights, roach eggs and mangos.

I’ll also tell them about Sophie Bop. She came over for lunch this week, and quietly told me “everything I have learned about Jesus, I have learned from you.”  No one had ever told her about Jesus before Christy and I moved to Africa two years ago.

Which is inexcusable, and heartbreaking. Those are the moments in which I wonder how on earth I’ll actually leave this place.

Sophie’s story will come later this week. But for now, my frazzled nerves need a break. And my feet need a pedicure.

Just twenty-four days. Half way there, and living on a prayer.

…a prayer, and mangos. So many mangos.

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Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, Ministry moments, My ghetto-fab life, Summer project, The daily grind