Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Final Thoughts on How My Heart Changed in South Africa

It's the beginning of January, and I am looking back on 2016 with fondness and also relief that it's over.  It was a good year and a hard year.  The end was particularly difficult--with a scary health diagnosis (more on that in another post) and the fundraiser for South Africa that took so much of my time and energy.

But the fundraiser is over, and it was a success.  Thanks to the generosity of a lot of people, we raised $25,000, and I am thrilled.  So thrilled, humbled, and grateful.  We still need $10,000 to finish the community center, but I have complete faith that God will provide.  If being in South Africa taught me one thing, it's that God works miracles--and it's not always in the ways that we expect or through the people we expect--but He always has a plan.  He is faithful.

During one of evening discussions with the volunteer group in South Africa, Crystal was telling us about how much she had wanted to raise the money to finish the building at Reagoboka the year before.  She had decided to donate a portion of the proceeds of one of her products to the building, and she thought if she worked hard enough and had enough faith, it would happen.

But then it didn't, and she was a little disappointed, until a distinct impression came to her: God intended for someone else to help finish that building as well.  He wanted someone else to be part of that story too.  It wasn't all about her.

I loved that.  I was so touched by her humility.  I was also surprised to realize that too often I leave God's will out of the equation when I am looking at outcomes in my life.  I simply rely on my own hard work.

Evening discussions like that one are a huge part of why my trip to Africa was so impactful.  I knew going into my trip that I would be going with a very religious organization.  I also knew that I would probably be the only Mormon and that I would be with born-again Christians who would introduce me to different ways of talking about God and talking with God.  That's a huge part of the reason why I applied to go!  Honestly, I was feeling a little stale in my beliefs and I wanted a little life and fire and "glory hallelujah" in my prayers.  Ha!   In my daily life, I am surrounded by people who share my faith tradition, and sometimes I feel so insulated.  I love to be introduced to different ways to worship and draw closer to God.

Oh how the members of my group touched me.  These people know God.  I already wrote about Pete, who prays so fervently it brought me to tears to listen to him plead with his Father.   There was also Candra, a volunteer in my group who is a mother of eight--yes, you read that correctly, eight--five of whom are adopted.  Honestly when I first heard that, I thought she must be some sort of "holier than thou" whacko--but when I met her, she is the most normal, down-to-earth, likeable, real young mother you've ever met.

She told me her story of adopting her four sons from Africa and her daughter who has Cerebral Palsy out of foster care, and it was just so touching and relatable.  She and her husband were truly lead by God and followed Him one step at a time into this life that He laid out for them.  And it's been hard.  But she and her husband are a team.  And they rely on Him, and their mantra is "Risk is Right," and I have never met anyone (other than Pete and Wanda) who lives with such faith.

I am so blessed that I got to meet these people.  Deciding to go to Africa was not easy.  You should've seen the pros and cons lists that I made.  I mean, who up and leaves their tiny children for ten days to go across the world to Africa?  It felt insane!  And on top of that, I struggle with anxiety.  So getting on that airplane was not easy.  In fact, on the days leading up to my trip, I called my doctor and asked for a Xanax prescription.  (I wish I was kidding.)  But then when I started to have a panic attack on the plane, I couldn't get myself to take the Xanax because I was afraid that it would make me feel or act crazier, so I just suffered through the anxiety without medication!  (Ummm, hello, serious personal problems!)

When I was recently in the Salt Lake Airport with Ryan I started having flashbacks to how nervous I was the last time I was there, when I was on my way to Africa, and I said to him, "Ryan, I don't ever want to do something like that again.  I am so glad that I did it, but never again.  If I ever go to some far flung region of the earth with complete strangers again, you are coming with me."  Ha!

But it was worth it.  It was so worth it to go and meet those people, both the other volunteers, the South African leaders of Take Action Ministry, and the local leaders like Gogo, Mokgadi, and Pastor Norman.  They changed me and taught me so much.

I will never forget on one of our last days, we were all meeting together and Crystal asked the leaders of Take Action--Wanda, Annelien, Jonna, and Darrin--how we could pray for them individually.  It was such a personal even sacred question, and she had no hesitation asking it.  Then they each shared their hearts with us, told us about their struggles and their fears, the ways that their ministry was impacting their families, their hopes and dreams.  And we gathered around them and joined hands and put our hands on their shoulders and took turns praying for them.

It was incredible.  I have never been part of a prayer like that.  It was the embodiment of true community.  Why don't we pray for our family and friends like that more often?  I think we often feel the desire to show our support in such heartfelt ways--but we are afraid.  We are afraid to go there--to open our hearts to each other in such vulnerable and true ways.  Being in Africa, I felt a part of my heart open up.  And it felt scary but also so right.

Coming home was so good.  I wrapped my arms around my babies and held them so close.  My heart was so ready for them.  I was different, and I knew it.  I wasn't sure I could hold on to the ways that I had changed, but I desperately wanted to.

I brought home a little African dress for Sal, and she looks so precious in it!

In the months since I've been home, I have to be honest and say that I've mostly gone back to the way I was before--life has a way of doing that to you--but I still feel a little chamber in my heart opening up in a way that it wasn't before.  I feel it pulling at me, asking me to slow down and listen.  And I feel like 2017 is the time to make that happen.

So here's to a more vulnerable new year.  Here's to reaching into the hearts of my loved ones and pulling out prayers, putting my hands on their shoulders and bowing my head and sincerely pleading for them and with them.  Here's to coming to know God in a way that I haven't before, listening to Him and hearing Him and asking about His will for my life, instead of just plowing forward with my own plans.

I end 2016 on my knees--a little defeated, a lot exhausted, but mostly just very ready for whatever change God has in store for me and my heart.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. I agree about learning from other religions new ways to think about and talk to God. I think it's really valuable and really IMPORTANT! I feel like our LEADERS would embrace that mindset wholeheartedly, but our MEMBERS sometimes get caught up in their own little bubbles and insist that no one should pop out. I'm glad you went and did all of this - you're a remarkable human being, and I'm proud to have you as my sister! xoxo


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