Stretching

Str-e-e-e-t-c--h
Str-e-e-e-t-c–h

“But you moved to Africa to be stretched out of your comfort zone,” my friend said. Yeah, but, I thought, I can take only so much change. I wish God would place me in “time out” for a while.

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling to Tanzania in order to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior. As I read through the training manual, I only get more excited about my trip. I’m thrilled and honored that I will be trained in this powerful and transformative discipleship course for older children and young teens and that I will be bringing back this course to South Africa so that we can introduce the course to Sunday school and confirmation teachers. People in South Africa are already asking for training, so it’s quite exciting.

At the same time, I’m a bit nervous about the trip. I will be totally stretched out of my comfort zone, as I travel in rural Tanzania. In a way, I feel as though I will be hurled out of it. This American city girl is about to get the American city girl knocked out her. I will be traveling with a training team from the UK, and we have to bring our own water and loo rolls (toilet paper). In one of the places, we’ll be using something called a “long drop toilet.” (I think I’ll let this one surprise me.) I had to get several inoculations for the trip, and I’ll have to take malaria medicine and sleep under a mosquito net. I have been invited to preach at one of the parishes; and this, in a way, makes me more nervous than anything. Talking with my friend about my anxiety led to the snippet of conversation with which I opened this blog post.

I have no doubt that my trip to Tanzania is going to change me in some profound ways. I keep hearing about how hospitable the Tanzanian people are, and I know that I will be met with some mind-blowing hospitality. I look forward to visiting Rooted in Jesus Junior groups and to meeting the children. I look forward to being trained in the course and to helping out with the training during the second week. I’m praying for God’s direction as I start planning my sermon.

Yes, I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone. Like physical exercise, it is tiring and at times painful; but it is also exhilarating.

Too Young to Die

Within a matter of minutes, I received news this morning that a childhood friend of mine and a cousin of mine passed away. They were both young men, my age. The day has been wrought with emotions—shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, despair for the families. Young people are not supposed to die.

As a SAMS missionary, one of the things I have to do before I depart for the field is to make a will. I had this task on my to-do list for July, but I still haven’t done it. I have been putting it off. I don’t like to think about my immortality. There is something unsettling thinking about my demise. I should still be dreaming about my wedding, not thinking about my funeral. Young people are not supposed to die.

I plan to live for scores to come, and longevity runs in my family. I picture myself being a grumpy, but lovable old woman full of spunk. And I see myself “going out” at the ripe of old age of 100+ doing something I enjoy—playing tennis, belly-laughing at an I Love Lucy episode, traveling.

But the events of today serve as a reminder to me that life is a precious and holy gift. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Life is precious and holy. Let’s never take it for granted.

Scared

Driving back from Memphis Sunday evening, fear and worry began to overwhelm me. Every negative thought that I could possibly imagine entered my head. I admit it; the past couple of weeks have been rough, as the reality of my move begins to settle in. But Sunday evening was particularly hard. By the time I returned home, I was more exhausted and emotionally drained as I was before I left on Friday to spend the weekend with my best friend.

As I said from the beginning, this blog is real. I won’t sugarcoat my feelings. Although I am confident and at peace about what God is calling me to do, it is still hard; that’s just reality. I have less than six months before I move, and I feel the weight of spending every possible moment with my family and friends and those I love. The time is not long enough; it will never be long enough.

Joey Goes Home
Joey Goes Home

I’m beginning to understand why the Bible talks so much about fear. It can mess with your mind so much that it cripples you. Perhaps excitement and fear are two sides of the same coin. Mary was excited and scared when Gabriel showed up with his big announcement. The disciples were excited and scared when they learned that Jesus was alive. Take it down a thousand notches: Joey, my puppy-nephew, was excited and scared when he met his momma (my sister) for the first time. He was so scared that he trembled; but when my sister put him in the car to take him home, he was as happy as a lark. I’m excited and scared about moving to South Africa. On the one hand, it’s exciting to start over: do meaningful work, live in a new city, make new friends, attend a new church, have a new community, live a simplified life. On the other hand, it’s scary: Will I fail at my work? Will people like me? Will I make good friends? Will I be able to overcome the homesickness? I’ll be living on a 1/3 of my current salary.

 I know it’s a rough time that I’m going through, and it will get better. It’s just a part of the process. The hardest choices in life involve risk. I’m willing to take this risk with God’s help.

 

Six Months Away

As a child growing up, I always heard that time goes by quicker as an adult. I never believed this until I became an adult, and this year seems to be going by in double-quick time.

In approximately six months, I’ll be on the plane to South Africa. I’m excited and scared. Where did the time go?

There are two quotations that have had significant meaning for me this year.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
–Frederick Buechner, Theologian

In my journey to become a cross-cultural Christian worker to South Africa, God has led me to the organization, Growing the Church, where I can serve with deep gladness through my two passions: working with young people and publishing. I am truly thankful for this opportunity to serve others.

For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes.”
 —Dag Hammarskjöld, United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize recipient

I love my life the way it is. I have the best family and friends in the world. I attend an amazing church, and I enjoy my current job. I have an active and good life. As the saying goes, “life is good.” At the same time, I am ready for a change. I can echo Hammarskjöld’s sentiments: Thank you, God, for everything that has been. And “yes” to this new chapter of my life. It’s going to be good.

 

Bon Voyage–in Less Than a Year

indigenous flower
an indigenous flower of SA (Please don't ask me the name!)

“Hello, Short-Timer,” greeted a colleague as we walked to our cars after work today. “When do you leave us?”
“Next . . . in January,” I replied.

Suddenly, it hit me. I have less than a year before I move to Cape Town! As I drove home, feelings of excitement, fear, and being overwhelmed hit me like waves. Sometimes I wonder how I am going to get everything done while still working full time and while still trying to have a life. Sometimes it seems impossible; at other times, all the factors of my transitioning life seem to operate like clockwork.

So why am I going through all this bother? Why am I giving up most of my material stuff, my way of life, my comfort zone? Why am I leaving my family and friends to move literally across the world? I think these are the questions most people really want to ask when they ask me, “Why are you becoming a missionary?” At times, it is even hard for me to imagine a life without Starbucks and my iPhone.

Since this blog is about my journey to become a Christian cross-cultural worker (missionary), I thought it might be helpful and interesting (and perhaps entertaining) to hear part of the backstory. So in the next couple of weeks, I plan to start a blog series that tells about my discernment process, how I was able to discern God’s call to mission work.

Stay tuned.

Preparing for Placement Visit

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comes to mind when I think of all the preparations I still have to make for my placement visit to Cape Town. (Leave it to Dickens to say it best.) Getting sick last week threw me for a loop and got me behind in everything. I’m still not hundred percent, and I’m trying not to get overwhelmed as I begin to hash out my to-do list.

While I was sick, I started to think about the true purpose of my placement trip. I have been so busy with the preparations that I haven’t had much time to think about the reason why I’m traveling to Cape Town in the first place. Yes, I’m going there to visit four organizations–Scripture Union South Africa, Growing the Church, Anglican Youth South Africa, Anglican Students’ Federation–with which I may work for the long term. But what do these visits really signify? A lot, to tell the truth; and I’m somewhat nervous. My skill sets and personality needs to match their needs and vice versa; my placement needs to be a good fit.

I think my fears go back to the old elementary school fear with which we adults still struggle: Will they like me? Will they want me to be a part of their team? I’m praying for God to help me lay aside these fears and to trust him to lead me to the right organization. In the end, that’s where I want to be; there’s where I can make a difference, give, receive, learn, and grow. God has been guiding each step of my journey to become a cross-cultural Christian worker, and I know God will continue to do so. I just need to listen.