In the fall of 2007, I returned to South Africa. This time I went on a outreach trip with my church. We helped our “sister church” with their ministries by planting a garden to help support their feeding scheme, in which they feed 200 orphans a healthy meal once a week.
We also helped to build a new home for a family of six who lived in a nearby informal settlement. I have never felt more fully alive as I worked on these projects and interacted with the South African people. I felt a deep-rooted joy like I have never experienced. I was blessed to return to South Africa several more times on outreach trips, and each time I had this same sense of joy. Sometimes it was so hard to come back home. As the plane left South African soil, I would feel as though a part of me was being ripped apart, being left behind in South Africa.
Over time, this sense of being called towards something began to transform into a nudge, a gentle prodding to do outreach work in South Africa. But life went on. I worked, played, met another guy, fell in love, and got engaged. Yet in the midst of the excitement and stress of wedding planning, every now and then a voice would speak to my soul, saying, “What about South Africa?”
For many reasons I ended my engagement; and at the same time, I decided I needed to pay attention to this nudge that wouldn’t go away. In the following weeks, I went through an epiphany. I know this sounds nerdy (hey, I embrace my inner-nerdiness), but I distinctly remember spending a few evenings thinking and writing about my life, the American life, and the life we are called to live as Christians: The American way of life is one big cycle. Where’s the meaning in it? Our parents work hard. Why? So that we can we attend good schools, be involved in activities, be well-rounded. Why? So that we’ll get into a good college. Why? So that we’ll land good jobs. Why? So that we’ll marry, have a family, and work hard. Why? So that our kids will attend good schools. . . One reason I broke up with my fiancé was that I felt boxed in, confined, stifled. I was getting trapped into this cycle of life I didn’t want. I wanted out.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with marriage and a family (and yes, I still want these things for myself), but I feel as though God wants much more for us than that—whether we’re married or single. (Yes, even singles fall prey to a similar cycle of life.) I believe God wants us to step outside the cycle and to make a difference in our little corner of the world. Through Jesus Christ, we have abundant life, and God wants us to enjoy it. I think we often sell ourselves short.
After a few weeks of my philosophical and theological musings, I started to carve out some intentional time of prayer. If God was calling me to do outreach work in South Africa, I wanted to be certain. Packing up and moving away from my family, friends, and comfortable way of life to live halfway around the world was no small thing! I wanted to make sure that it was God’s voice I was hearing and not my own. I spent a lot of my prayer time reading “calling stories” in the Bible—Abraham and Sarah, Gideon, Jonah, Jeremiah, the Twelve. I would end my prayer time listening in silence, which was hard for me. A billion thoughts raced through my mind, and I often fell asleep. But I felt I needed this time of silence to listen to God, since I don’t have much silence in my life. It would have been easy for God’s voice to get drowned in the noise of my life.
Turning aside to pay attention to this nudge to do outreach work in South Africa was both exciting and scary. A few days into 2009, I mustered up enough courage to meet with my priest. “I believe God is calling me to be a missionary in South Africa,” I said.
NOTE: This is the second post of a three-part series that recounts my discernment process to become a cross-cultural Christian worker in South Africa.