Friday, February 14, 2014

Everything I Learned In Africa (A Year and a Half Late)

It has been a year and a half since I boarded the plane to Lusaka, Zambia, and every day I wish I could relive those three weeks.

Going to Africa had always been on my bucket list. I'm not really sure why. Maybe because I wanted to make a difference. Maybe because I love to travel or because I love children. I don't know. Whatever the reason, I am so thankful that God opened the door for me and ten others to venture across the world to serve Him.

To be honest, it wasn't the kind of trip where I came home and sold all of my clothes to those in poverty, ready to become a missionary, completely changed and transformed. Although I was hoping for that kind of life-altering journey, that's not what it was like for me.

When I first came home, I was able to answer the typical questions with typical answers. "What was Africa like?" "Amazing.""Was it hard to see so many people in need?" "Yes." ""Do you think we take for granted everything we have here in Canada?" "Definitely."

But I wasn't really sure what I learned. I usually gave answers like "I learned to be thankful every day for my house" or "I realized that I'm so blessed" and it's all completely true. The thing is, a lot of people that we interacted with had houses, and food, and even families - maybe they didn't make up your typical nuclear family or live in your typical suburban house, but a lot of them were surrounded by people they loved (side note: we did visit a village that would fit your "African village" image, and that was incredibly eye opening). Anyways, I spent 21 days on the other side of the world, so there had to be something that went beyond the classic mission-trip-experience answers.

Over the past year and a half, after having lots of time to reflect, there are some things that God has shown me about those days in Africa.

I am so small. 
I don't mean that I'm just a simple young girl, 5'7", in between adolescence and adulthood, living in Ontario. And I don't mean that I'm just one person in a world of millions (because that can make a person feel small too).

I seriously mean that I am small. 

It sometimes leaves me speechless when I think about how God created all these mountains and waterfalls that are incredibly massive. Victoria Falls is only one place, in one continent out of seven. It's even small in comparison to the rest of the world.

And somehow, we think that we're entitled to everything.

We become upset when things don't go the way we planned. Hurt when people don't pay attention to us. Bitter when people get in our way. We act like we're so big.

In reality, we are just a vapor. (James 4:14).

And still, God thinks the world of us.

Do you know what that means?

Each one of us is individually as important as the entire world and all of its wonders. In His eyes, we are as beautiful as Victoria Falls. When people stand there with awe-struck smiles, cameras out, wanting to capture every detail and treasure it forever - that is a picture of how God feels about us.

Although we are small, we are worth treasuring. We were chosen. (Ephesians 1:5-8)

We need to humble ourselves (because we really are small!), but we also need to realize our worth. We have a special place in this world.

We can always worship.
Africa changed my perspective of worship.

Sometimes I forget that it's okay to praise God outside of a sanctuary. I get so caught up in having to go to church each Sunday morning so that I can sing. It is really important to do that! But it's not the only place for it.

Africa is known for its music and dancing, and there's no question why. They really do know how to sing, and they know how to dance. Even beyond that - they know how to worship. They don't hold back. No matter where they are. No matter what the circumstance.

How many of us would be singing and dancing if we didn't have homes? (Honestly.)

I don't think that I would be.

The people that I met did.

They sang on buses, they sang in fields, they sang while children were crying, they sang inside, they sang on hills. And not just a little Sunday school melody. They sang with everything in them. From their hearts.

By the end of the 21 days, my team and I were singing (and dancing!) too.

They taught us how to worship.

Let them praise his name with dancing. Psalm 149:3

When we slow down, we can hear His voice. 
I struggle so much with unpredictability. I like knowing what is going to happen next, and I like consistency. When people change plans I get very uncomfortable, and when there isn't a schedule I become anxious.

This was my challenge on the trip.

Most people in Africa aren't as considered with schedules and time. They make some plans, but they also go with whatever happens. And more imoprtantly, most of the people that I met were incredibly in tune with God's voice.

So while I was there, I really had to learn to slow down and take time to breathe.

We don't always know what is going to happen in the next hour of our lives. And when choose to be okay with that (when we choose not to plan everything), we allow God to take over.
It's okay to not always have a plan. It's okay to be 2 minutes late. It's okay to spend a little bit of extra time talking to somebody even if it interferes with your schedule. It's even okay to take a night off to reflect, to laugh, or to just hang out and eat chocolate (we did that a few times).

It's actually better this way.

When we take time to breathe, we allow God to have control.

When we slow down, we have time to listen to God's voice.

(Proverbs 22:17-18, John 10:27, Romans 10:17)

Nothing is the end until God says it's the end. 
Looking back, God's power is more evident to me than I ever realized at the time.

There are so many stories that I could re-tell (the story about how we nearly missed our connecting flight, or the one about how my friend was attacked by a baboon... seriously), but there is one thing that I never truly realized before now.

God is supreme.  

During my last week in Zambia, I received an email from home informing me that my dog had died.

That really put a damper on my African-adventure excitement.

According to the world's medical expertise, he shouldn't have died. He was fairly young. Full of life. Crazy and alert. And ever his strange, fluffy, 17-pound self.

I'm still not really sure what happened, but I cried for days after I received that email. One of those days was the day we went to Victoria Falls.

For a while, I walked around this natural wonder without smiling or talking to anyone because all I could think about was how broken my heart felt. And how empty the living room chair would be without Scooter.

I never really 'got over it' as some say should have happened. To this day, I still miss him.

But what occurred to me at the Falls was that God really is always in control.

He controls the water that crashes over the rocks, and He calms the water that trickles across the stones. He controls the howling baboons that line the top of the mountain-like structure. He commands each side of the Falls to stand up straight. He could silence all of Victoria Falls. And despite His supremacy, not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him caring (Matthew 10:29).

He cared about my little dog.

I have no idea why He allowed him to die when I was on the other side of the world (or why He allowed it to happen at all).

But what I do know, is that I am small in comparison to the world.

I know that I can worship despite the pain.

I know that when I slow my racing, worried thoughts, God's voice can be heard.

And I know that despite the chaos of life,

He reigns. 


"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8