img_8513I always wear my Africa. Africa is my strong. It’s my symbol to remind me to pray. It’s my tiny map so when people ask about home I can point out where it is. I wear it like armor, it makes me feel brave. It has led to laughter when people try to figure out which state in the USA it is. It has opened up multiple conversations with strangers. The other travelers in a crowd can find me and start an easy conversation. When it is around my neck I feel like home is close to my heart. That family isn’t so far away. That I will be back someday. That it isn’t over 7000 miles and several days of travel to get home.

But the other day I took it off. Sure, I take it off to wear a different necklace sometimes, but it always goes right back on. Not the other day. The other day I took it off with no replacement necklace. I set it on the dresser and walked away. The other day I took it off because I was afraid. I was angry. I couldn’t make words make sense and I was reminded of that every time I heard it jingle around my neck or felt it move against my chest. I just couldn’t take it…so I took it off.

As a reader, you’re probably thinking, “this girl has lost it” or “where are you going with this one, Shelby?” or, “have you made this thing an idol?” even, “can it really be that strong of a force?” I think the challenge of this post (and all writing) is to get to a vulnerable enough spot that you can understand the thoughts swirling inside my head, but I’m going to warn you right here…they are swirling through the mud and it’s messy, it’s confusing, I’m not sure I can win this one and make it all make sense. I’m not sure it will look nice on the page or be smooth on your tongue as you read it. And even now, as I write this, I’m not sure of the emotion I want you to take away after you’ve read it. Probably, as with all my writing, this is much more for me than for you. But please read. Read it because though I’m not so clear in my writing, it’s even harder in talking…but I want you to know. I might cry if we talk, but I want to talk. I might say I’m fine, but the truth is I’m hurting and confused and I want you to know. You are allowed to ask. If you read this we will at least both be at the same starting point if we ever do try to talk about it.

I took off my Africa when I heard that my family moving away. I LOVE my family and I LOVE when they are close to me, but this time, they were coming closer but it felt so far. It felt wrong. It felt broken. See this time they were being “removed” from Tanzania. What does that mean? We didn’t really know. Lets be real, we still don’t really know. But they were told they have to leave and so they will leave.

There are times and places where culture seems to be stronger than faith. Where people’s desire for power and strength looks better to them than following Jesus. When someone wants to be on top, sometimes they feel a need to push others down before they get there. It sucks. A lie that I have been fighting since I was a kid is that God is the cause of the mess. Sure, God meets us in the mess, but it is not His intention to hurt us. He will help us grow through it. But the mess is made by humans. We are broken. Sinful. And not always the smartest.

This is just one example. Brokenness, messes, trauma – this stuff happens all the time.  I took my Africa off because I was angry that so quickly this token of love and hope and overcoming could become a carrier of loss, hurt and feel overwhelming. Something I wanted to fight back against. But I’m not a fighter. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I just took it off. “This is a personal battle,” “I’ll show them,” “I don’t care,” and “I’m stronger without it,” I lied to myself. I wanted to believe it too. It would be easier if I could believe that I could just walk away and block it out. I wouldn’t have to feel the hurt. I wouldn’t have to remember the loss. I could avoid going back to the other times people in the church had hurt me. The time the mission made us leave our house and village when I was 14. The time a boy studying to become a pastor treated me as if I didn’t exist when I was 20. The time a man wrote me a letter that fell into the stalking category and I had to bring it to the police when I was 27. There’s more. But other people’s stories are too closely tied into mine for me to share them publicly. There is a whole lot of junk in the church. There’s a whole lot of pain. It’s pretty easy to look at all those things and so many other things that happen ‘in the church’ and believe that God is mean, bad, evil. But then I have to stop and remember…I invite all my friends to church. Church is about God…but it’s full of people. People are risky. People mess up. People are broken. God’s not bad. That’s a fact. I also don’t want to just give you a list of bad things others have done and ignore that I have hurt so many. I’ve said the wrong words, been uncaring, insensitive and ignorant. There are people who could add me to their list and I must remember that. I’m a person. People are broken.

I don’t know what it means that my family is leaving. They don’t either. We are trying to process it. We are trying to figure out next steps. “Can they go back somehow?” we don’t know. “What will happen to all their stuff?” it is already sold and given away, other things are in boxes that they hope they can get to America in the future. The last of my childhood has been packed up. The walls I painted, the posters I hung, the clothes I left for when I go home to visit, the dogs. They’re gone now. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took my Africa off.

But then I realized, if I take it off and block out the pain, I also block out the joy. Did I want to give up the memories of mud fights? The hours spent painting nails, watching Princess Bride, making beaded bracelets with Hekima, Jenny, Grace, and Alice? Did I want to forget about playing ‘nage’,  the best game in the world that no Americans know how to play? Did I want to give up roof rack riding? Picnics at the waterfall? Swimming in the catfish pond? Did I want to give up goat roasts and pig roasts? Hunting with my dad? The 30+ foster siblings my family has cared for? Did I want to give up hours of eating sugarcane and kumbikumbi (bugs) with all the other MKs? Did I want to give up the country I called home for over half of my life? Could I give up the country of my brother’s heritage? If I couldn’t take the pain, I’d have to block out the joy too. I’d have to forget that I already overcame lots of those battles I’ve mentioned above.

As angry as I was (am) I couldn’t give those up. I couldn’t let them go. That is my life. It’s my heritage. It has molded me into the woman that I am today. And this…this really painful and confusing time…this will continue to mold me. It can lead me to bitterness. It can lead me to strength. I get to choose. So after a few days I put my Africa back on. I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. I still haven’t made it through many days without tears. But, I choose to trust.

My word for the year of 2017 is trust. I chose the word trust the day before I heard about my family being kicked out of Tanzania. I was nervous to pick the word trust, because I know that learning to focus on trust and trying to learn more about it is risky…we learn to trust through trials. Our faith is strengthened when we persevere. I chose the word trust and then I wanted to give it back. I didn’t want it anymore. But I do. I believe that God didn’t change when my circumstances did. I believe that God is faithful. There have been times I’ve taken out my anger on God instead of trusting God and being angry at the situation. I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s hard times in life. There’s hard people. Life is messy. God is good.

I’m still hurting. I still might cry if you ask about this. I still don’t know what it means. I still don’t have closure. But I’m telling you this, I’m choosing to trust. I’m willing to share. If you want to ask more then ask. If you want to pray then pray. I’m sharing this here, because I need to face it. Africa may not always be on my neck, but it will forever hold a piece of my heart. It might not always be my home, but it will always have been my home. I may be from Pennsylvania now, but I grew up in Africa. And that’s okay.

Below are some of the verses I’ve been clinging to these past couple of weeks. Hope if you’re going through something, they might help you too.

  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)
  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
  1. Karen says:

    Those verses hold precious promises! Much prayer, love, and hugs for you and your family each and every day.

  2. David L Rachoy says:

    Dear Shelby,

    Thanks for baring your soul so candidly. You put into words what many of us are feeling, though to a lesser extent. You are certainly on the right track to let the turmoil of your heart turn to trust. God didn’t make this situation, but He’s on top of it. You’re right–it is a choice we must make. Somehow we must not let these crumby, evil things of life make us bitter instead of better.

    Know that you and your family (and the others uprooted by this shameful action) are loved by many and are being bathed in our prayers. We’ll see what good God will make of this–it’s the
    outrageous, unlikely way that He often works.

    Love in Christ,

    Dave Rachoy

    P.S. I have gotten much encouragement from Psalm 94:19–perhaps you will as well.

  3. Gary Cloud says:

    Dear Shelby,
    After reading this beautiful, heartfelt letter I was deeply moved. First, when I think of Shelby I think of a young girl who, with her parents and sister, left Michigan all those years ago, and I still remember how I felt to see you all go. Being so close to your parents, and somewhat close to you and Casey, I was excited for you guys, but sad to see you leave. But, no young girl wrote this letter! As I read it out loud to Patty it was obvious to both of us that God had shaped an incredible, mature, sensitive young woman, “into the woman you are today.” My heart aches for all of you, but your words of wisdom didn’t fall on deaf ears. We too know those same feelings of anger, hurt, and confusion from our experience of 2 1/2 years ago when I was let go from the church I was pastoring. As I listened to you share your heart I empathized with you because answers don’t easily come as to why? And then to hear your understanding of how you would lose the joy as well as the pain I was nearly moved to tears. God has been showing me these same things, and where I don’t have a necklace to put back on, Patty and I have gone back a few times and worshiped with those same people. We are broken people, you are right, and God is good, right again, and He has shown us some of how He is working things for our good, and our prayer for you and your family is that you see His loving heart working through all of this mess for your good.
    You have a gift dear Shelby. A gift for writing, and it shows in this letter because you chose to share with all of us your deepest emotions, yet God used you to encourage us regarding whatever messes we might be floundering in. Thank you so much for having the courage to publish this and I also pray that many will read this, pray for, you and your family, and those in Tanzania who have caused all this pain, and also take to heart the truth that we must let go of the anger, and the I’ll show you attitude, and let God change our hearts so that we might be the witness for Christ that you have been to us! And I hope we will share this letter with many others so they might grow as well.
    Thanks again, and know that even though we don’t get to see you, hardly ever, we love you.
    (Maybe not as eloquent but written from the heart.)

  4. Maryanne says:

    Shelby, I can’t even imagine the pain you are feeling. There are no words to be said to comfort you nor your Dad and Mom, it seems like an impossible story. The only thing that I have to keep telling myself God is in control and he feels your pain. You are loved. Praying for God’s strength for you and that you will feel his arms around you.

  5. Bob and Carolyn Raymond says:

    Shelby, dear Shelby… I’ve been crying as I read your eloquent post to Bob. We remember being at the Grand Rapids airport, and crying as your family first left for Africa. Thanks for sharing how you are working through all the emotions you are struggling with. We love you and your family and thankful we have a God we can “trust” to work all things for your/our good.

  6. NR says:

    Dearest Shelby,

    I haven’t had a chance to write until now. I had read it to Grampa Bill (and I wept as I read it) and he said he had called you.

    I wanted you to know – I also wear Africa around my neck. I have ever since our trip there. I have three small things hanging on my chain – a gold cross, Africa, and my mother’s diamond. j I wear this necklace every day.

    When I first saw your post, I was going to remove my Africa. If Shelby does it, so will I. but then I read your piece. I love it. And not to mention, I still have my Africa on the necklace and will continue to wear it.

    I DO pray everyday and will continue. I actuallly pray for the missionaries there, not the country itself. But I will add that part too.

    Thank you for your words and for your heart. You are “one of a kind” and I’m glad we know you Love you so much. Gramma Nancy

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