***I think it’s fairly normal (though I’ve never been a good judge of normal) to cringe a bit when you read things you’ve written from the past. I do that a little with this “Pre-Africa Self” post but I think it’s important to share. There is a lot of honesty and brokenness shared. That is exactly what I was when I wrote this back in 2014…a bit broken.
Dear Pre-Africa Self,
I remember you well; ambitious and eager. All the years of planning, prayer, support-raising, thoughts of what your new life would bring finally came to reality. You embarked upon the adventure of your life.
I have some news that will be hard for you, in your enthusiastic state, to believe. You are going to fail. Almost two years into your life in Africa and you will wake up in the middle of the night feeling desperate and determined to go back home. It’s because you weren’t ready. You really weren’t ready to die to self like you thought you were. Sure, you were ready to leave home, family, familiar life and friends, a language you knew and a culture that you understood, but you weren’t ready for the complete and utter reliance that you would need to have upon your Savior. You had enough reliance upon yourself to last you at least…well, at least 1 year and 9 months.
I am going to list for you some circumstances and emotions that you are going to face. They will be hard but they are not the real problem. They are revealers, grace-filled revealers of your real problem. They will reveal your great sin of disbelief in the power and goodness of your Father to sustain you.
“Nothing can hurt you except sin; nothing can grieve me except sin; nothing can defeat you except sin. Therefore, be on your guard, my Mansoul.”
First, you need to know that you will struggle with things that you never imagined struggling with. You will feel so desperate for friendship and acceptance that you will almost lose who you are. The sins in which you already knew that you struggled with will nearly consume you and the sins you never knew would tempt you will come. They will come and you will be shocked. You will face spiritual battles and discouragement like never before.
The children whose pictures made you cry during your mission’s presentation will sometimes make you angry. Sometimes they will frustrate you and hurt your children. They will be ungrateful. You will struggle loving them at times. It won’t come natural anymore. There are times you will have to fight to show grace and compassion. This will shock you because you never dreamed that the day would come that you would need to look to God for the compassion that you lack. It used to come so easy.
You will see pain and death, a lot of it. You will comfort babies in their last days of life; whispering songs and verses and promises of heaven in their little ears. You will hold the hands of mothers who have just lost their children. You will watch in horror as women gather their children, gasping for air, around to share the only oxygen machine in the hospital. You will see the horrors of AIDS and pray over the frail body of a woman in her final days. You will see more death and disease than your brain will be able to process. You will have to tell people no. You will run out of money to give. You won’t have answers. You will be afraid. You will feel so desperate and angry at poverty and a broken system that the people you love are sinking into. You will feel helpless. You will question everything that you thought you understood about the doctrine of suffering and the Sovereignty of God. It will hurt.
You will have to say no over and over again to people that you love. You will constantly struggle with when to give and when to say no. You will feel like you are losing your mind when you literally don’t have one more dollar in your account left to give, but you still drive home in a car in which a tank of gas costs more than most family’s monthly income. It will confuse you. You will question why you have material wealth and those you love are hungry. You will feel sick and disgusted at all you have. But then, you will look at the lives of your friends on facebook and quickly find yourself wanting more. Your extremes will confuse you. You will start to truly understand that material wealth on this earth means nothing in the Kingdom of God and can offer no eternal hope. You will start to see how blinding and distracting wealth is and somehow grow sadder for your rich friends than your poor friends.
You will have your plans changed more times than you can count. You will have your heart set on things that the Lord sees fit to change. You will learn and hold dear to Prov 27:1 Don’t boast about tomorrow. You don’t know what it will bring. Prov 19:21 where we read about our many plans but the Lord’s plans prevailing above them all. You will understand why James 4 tells us to say “if the Lord wills we will do this or that.” Your will feel confused, embarrassed and you will be tempted to feel like a failure. People back home won’t understand and that furthers the distance you feel between your new life and your old.
You will miss your family more than your heart can stand. Your heart will break as you watch their lives move on without you. You will miss their hugs and laughter, their honesty and love. You will miss having people around that know and adore your children. You will be surprised that in selfishness sometimes you just don’t want to talk to them because it’s easier that day to forget how much you miss them. It will frustrate you and break your heart that there is so much of your life that is hard for them understand now. You will miss milestones and it will hurt. You will try to stay strong on skype so they don’t see you cry.
Learning a language will be frustrating and humiliating at times. You will say inappropriate things on accident and you will embarrass yourself and others. You will progress slow and each step will be rewarding. You will start to develop strong meaningful relationships. When you first get here you will hate not being able to understand what people are saying about you as you walk by…after a while you will wish for that blissful ignorance back. After almost two years you will still feel frustrated when you can’t understand your distraught friend on the phone. You will feel angry when you want to share Scripture with a hurting friend, but you only know it in English. Learning a language is way harder than you thought but also so much more rewarding then you ever imagined. Each new word and concept is a key that unlocks more of this new culture and a window into the hearts of those you love.
You will long for a day when you can look and feel like a normal human again. Your selfishness and pride will show through as you grow more and more tired and impatient of walking down the street and being laughed at, mocked, and beckoned. The word “Mzungu” (white person) will start to really, I mean really, get on your nerves. Sometimes you will have enough and you will lash back at people that “you do have a name and it’s not mzungu.” You will need to repent of your impatience. There are days when you will find it very hard to leave the comforts of your home. Those comforts of home will also become idols that you will need to repent of.
You will plead with your friend, Judy, a prostitute not to “go to work” that night…she will go. You will be tempted to become bitter at men who capitalize off of the desperation in which an impoverished woman feels. You will cringe and hold back tears at the stories shared by trusted friends of their home-abortions. You will want to help and then you will feel deep discouragement when you don’t know where to begin.
You will be discouraged by those that have done this whole missions thing here in Tanzania longer than you have. You will feel like a failure. They won’t mean it, but they will be one of the greatest discouragements of your time on the mission field. Pray for them. Serve them. They are hurting too. Remember to listen close and learn all that you can, but not to let the fear of man consume you. By the way, it will at times and your amazing husband will help you out with that one. Also, God will bless you by bringing some wonderful missionaries, full of wisdom, your way too.
You will be robbed. People you trust will hurt you. You will have police warn you that people you once trusted may be plotting to poison your well to kill your family. You will be afraid. You will be tempted to become cynical and distrusting of everyone. Your kids will get sick. They will get worms, lice, malaria, infections, typhoid, and have flies burrow in their skin. Your fear will tempt to overtake you. You will want out.
Speaking of children. They will struggle too. You will hate watching them struggle more than anything. They will cry for home and you will cry with them. They will feel like outcasts and struggle with fear. They will feel alone and frustrated. They will struggle with a new language and you will have to learn to let them struggle. You will start to understand that it is okay for them to be a little uncomfortable. God is doing a work in their hearts too. You will see HIS love and comfort consume them and you will see proof of HIS work in their lives. They will teach you about faith.
All these things and many more will fill your heart and your time. You will be tired. You didn’t know what tired meant until you lived here. You will give more of yourself than you probably should. Draw lines and make time for rest.
It’s 4:45 a.m. now. You will wake up and for the first time really, I mean really, want to go home. You will say to your husband, “We aren’t capable of doing what we were sent here to do.” You will be right. He will agree with you. The Lord will hear your brokenness and He will remind of you what you already knew. Psalm 138:8 “For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”
You have been haughty. You have tried to get away with your “just enough” Christianity long enough. Your life here demands and depends upon your deep abiding relationship with Christ. You will fail without it.
Stop writing your shallow newsletters back home and share the struggle. Share God’s faithfulness through hardships. Tell people that you, on your own, aren’t a very good missionary. Be humble enough to admit your trials so that others may learn and turn to God. Be confident in saying the words, “His strength is made perfect in my weakness.” Be free from fear of man and share the weakness. Know that God is at work and that one day we will look back at all HE has done and only HE will receive the glory.
That desperation and realization that “you can’t do this job” is God’s grace. It is a gift that awoke you this morning. Your Heavenly Father is beckoning you to give it up, cast your burdens upon Him. Repent of your lack of faith and turn to your gracious, merciful Heavenly Father. Like King David, let these bones that HE has broken cry out to HIM. Don’t doubt HIS goodness again. Remember the broken state of “self-reliance” and don’t go there again.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30