Today is my African three-year anniversary. On November 20th, 2008, I was on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, headed to Africa for the very first time. My feet touched Liberian soil on November 21st, 2008, and from that moment on, my whole world was turned upside down.

Growing up, I had always dreamed of Africa. I can remember being a little girl, watching World Vision commercials at Christmas time, weeping at images of poor, dirty, hungry children. Even at my young age, something inside me knew that it was wrong, that life wasn’t meant to be that way. I wanted to go, I wanted to help, I wanted to fight against whatever had stolen away their childhood, their innocence, their hope. I didn’t have a plan whatsoever; I had no idea where I’d go or what I would do once I got there. But from then on, there was always this thing inside me, deep down within my soul, pulling me towards Africa. It was some magnetic force that kept drawing my thoughts there. And it wouldn’t let me go.

Over the years, Africa remained a dream of mine. The problem, however, is that it seemed like a completely unrealistic one. Africa was far. It was expensive to get there. Like I said, I didn’t have a plan, didn’t know how to even begin coming up with one. So I let the dream die. I had no idea that, years later, God would resurrect it from the ashes. I had no idea that the dream had been His from the beginning.

2008 was a rough year for me. I was in the midst of going through an incredibly messy divorce and, because of it, I lost a lot of what I thought were some of my closest friendships. Then, to top it off, the school I had been teaching at for several years was being closed down unexpectedly. I suddenly found myself without a job, without many meaningful relationships, alone, depressed—and desperate for Africa like never before.

I can’t explain it. All I can say is that God reawakened me during that time to His calling and plan for my life. In the midst of my pain and utter brokenness, He was asking me to live a life outside of myself and my mess. He took my already shattered heart and began to break it again, break it anew, break it for the things that broke His. I can remember many sleepless nights, where I’d lay awake praying and sobbing for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the orphaned. “Send me, Lord,” I’d beg. “I don’t know what I can do or how you can use me—but please, Jesus. Send me.”

And He did. Suddenly, all the pieces came together, a plan was formed, and before I knew it, November 20th came around, and I was on my way to Africa for the first time.

Liberia was a place that nothing could have prepared me for. The war was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Liberia still bore the markings of a nation that just undergone incredible tragedy. I thought that my heart couldn’t possibly break any more than it already had, but I was wrong. As I held dirty, sad and starving children in my lap, tears would stream down my face and into their hair, and I knew, I absolutely, inexplicably knew—I’d be back.

It took me a year, almost exactly to the day, but I did in fact return to Liberia. I was thrilled to finally be getting the chance to live the life I knew God wanted for me—but I was also torn. Life in Liberia was hard. There were many days where I felt like I could have collapsed under the weight of the need all around me, and I wondered if I could really handle it. I was homesick. I was exhausted. Some days, I was jaded and bitter and questioned whether anything I was doing was actually making a difference at all.

But it was. God taught me to be faithful in whatever job He placed before me and, as a result, I began to see change. Progress. Hope. In the kids I served. In the people I interacted with. In myself. I had been broken for such a long time, and I finally started to feel like God was beginning to put me back together.

Last year, on November 20th, I celebrated my two-year African anniversary in my beloved Liberia. It was a day of looking back, remembering, and celebrating how far I’d come. It was also a chance for me to dream about the future, looking forward to all the things that God was going to do, and where I would be in another year’s time.

Today, I can’t help but thank God for this crazy, beautiful adventure I’m on with Him—three years and counting. It’s hard to be spending November 20th in any place other than Liberia, but I also rejoice in knowing that He is going to send me back. I look around and count my blessings and celebrate how good He has been to me, how faithful He is to fulfill His plans and promises. How He could take a broken nobody like me and use me to love Liberia’s orphans with the love of the Father. And in the process…well, my entire life, my entire self has been changed. I never would have thought that I’d be where I am or who I am today. I never would have believed that it would be possible to be in one place with your body while your whole heart was overseas, waiting for you to return. I never would have guessed that I could say yes, keep saying yes, I will go, I’ll keep going…until I hear ‘stop.’

Happy November 20th, friends.

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  1. Pingback: four years in « elena.teresa.ann

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