Posts Tagged ‘Tanzania’

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)

I feel like I often get to tell the stories that nobody shouts about. The media picks up on how unfair certain situations are, and they also look the other way often too. The stories I tell are so often unfair, but that doesn’t mean they’re always bad. Here is one that is so good and sweet but mixed with one so bad and sorrowful that even though I’ve lived it, it’s still hard to understand…good luck…

Once upon a time when I lived in Tanzania I came way to close to a black mamba. I don’t know if you understand what that really means. It means…I should be dead. Black mambas are known for being one of (if not the most) deadly snakes in the world. They are big, fast, territorial and aggressive. They bite, and without the right treatment immediately, you die. I lived 3 days from a good hospital…depending on the bite you can die in less than an hour.

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

To me He hath made known,

Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love

Redeemed me for His own.”

I still get flutters in my heart when I think about that day. I remember I was climbing on a cliff with my friend Sierra and we came to a point where we couldn’t go any farther because it was too steep. We had to go back up. Then we saw it. A black mamba. Maybe 10 feet to our left and a little above us. We had to climb back up…closer to it. That’s too close. I could see his face, his mouth, his eye…he could see me. He could’ve easily reached us. We could have easily died that day. And while it would’ve been sad, it happens. People die. We were given grace and mercy that we didn’t do anything to earn.

“Come Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.”

Back in my village, just this week, another little girl got too close to a black mamba too. But she died. My life was no greater than hers. I don’t know why I lived and she died. It’s horrible. It’s unfair. It’s part of life. More often than not things don’t go to plan. And yet I truly believe that God’s mercy is still never ceasing. That God still deserves loudest praise. That God’s faithfulness is still great.

 “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

 There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

 Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”

As God has been…gracious, merciful, giving me chance after chance at this life…He forever will be…gracious, merciful, giving chance after chance. He is just as faithful to this little girl’s family as He is to mine. I don’t understand. It hurts my heart. I wish she could be alive. But I know that God is good…no matter what.

Her story will never make the news. She will be mourned in her village and life will go on. But for me, she is one more reminder of God’s grace in my life. He has saved me physically many times, and so much greater than that, He has saved me spiritually. God has shown me grace and mercy and at times I probably didn’t/don’t even notice. But every time I think of this little girl, I will strive to show grace to those around me. Her life made an impact, and she will not be soon forgotten. Pray for her family as they learn to cope without her.

Lately my job ok, life, has been nearly consumed with CityServe. CityServe is a huge weekend of service we plan with the help of 3 other local churches and is completed with volunteers from several more! It is an incredible opportunity to see God at work in our community. And a wonderful chance to share God’s love with people who maybe have never heard about it before.

I’d say it’s a bit overwhelming, but then so incredibly worth it. I’ve been pushing back against it a little bit and being shown lots of grace from the team as I keep running off to jail, and other meetings that are not directly related to this crazy event. I try to make up for my absence by working in bits and pieces here and there. Sometimes early, sometimes late. I think after this I could learn to juggle. =)

Tonight I came home earlier than I was expecting and needed to just not do anything for a while. I needed to process. So I decided to write, because you may have noticed the silence on here lately…it’s been one of the things that just doesn’t get the time. But it seems that the rest of life just refuses to be put on hold during CityServe. So let me tell you a few of the things that made me “take a break” from CityServe work, but just don’t always count as a break…

  • Meeting a new woman in the jail who told me heartbreaking stories and didn’t believe that she deserves to be forgiven. It’s so humbling to be reminded that she is right. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. And it was such a sweet time explaining to her that she can’t earn forgiveness, but she can have forgiveness because of Jesus.
  • Getting a phone call from one of my older friends who comes to our months dinners, and doesn’t have any family in the community to learn that she received some medical tests telling her she is terminal. I tried to hold back my tears as we chatted about her options…will they try chemo? surgery? radiation? …no. I told her I couldn’t imagine how scary that must be, but she is a believer and she seemed to be at peace…at least that day. It was again humbling to remember that we are all terminal…the only difference is she knows her expiration date. She is very excited to be getting a group from CityServe coming to her home to help her this year.
  • Hanging out at the shelter: holding a puppy, chatting with friends, ignoring whatever crazy movie was playing, getting interviewed for a student’s photo journalism project, entering a ton of names into our database, and giving one of our girls a ride to her new apartment with a box full of food and a pillow and some of her few belongings. It was encouraging to see how many of my homeless friends are signed up to serve as volunteers during CityServe.
  • Going to another friend from the monthly dinner’s house unexpectedly. I got a call from her saying, can you please get a group to come help me because I was really sick and there’s …(insert all types of bodily fluids here)… in my bed, and I can’t carry all of that down the stairs to the washing machine while I’m still not fully recovered. Well, I couldn’t very well call the hospitality team to see if someone wanted to go over, so me and one of my amazing co-workers who is the one in charge of CityServe peaced out of the office after staff meeting to go strip her bed and wash it and remake it. She’s excited for her upcoming CityServe project…and I’m sure the volunteers will be glad we were there for the pre-CityServe work to make it a little cleaner for their arrival.
  • As I was getting ready to head over to my Life Group tonight and lead our study, I got a call saying one of my friends was in the ER. This friend is an addict and unfortunately the thought of him in the ER brought more frustration than fear. But I know that it’s really hard to stop being an addict, and that most things are harder when you think your alone in the world. So I made a few calls, and got my awesome co-leaders to fill in for me, and headed over to sit at the hospital and talk about making good choices and to give him a hug when we parted and tell him I love him. He can make me mad, sad, and disappointed, but he can’t make me stop sharing Jesus’ love with him.

So I get lots of distractions, some are emotionally draining, others are life giving, some are both. But I also have lots of emotionally filling things in my life! The moments when I come home and my sweet littles see me before I get in the door and yell, “Shelby! Shelby! Shelby!” or scamper off to hide behind the curtains waiting to be found. A friend I hadn’t seen in over 3 years dropping by on her drive from NY to OH and spending the night. Phone calls that work (even if they are short) to my family in Tanzania and the U.A.E. Encouraging words from so many friends. Lots of prayers. Watching our need for volunteers for CityServe go from 900 down to almost none! It is an incredible time. It is a crazy time. But mostly, it’s a time to remember that God is in control…just like He always is. And that He is going to do big things…just like He always does. Feel free to be praying for the nearly 900 volunteers who will be serving in and around our town this weekend at almost 170 different locations, and for all the people mentioned in this post. I love serving with a team…thanks for being a part of it!

“I’ll see ya next year!” he says as I hug and kiss him goodbye. “I can’t wait,” I reply, holding back the tears. We hope it’s next year, but we don’t really know when. We don’t have a plan, a date or tickets. We say goodbye and I walk away. I hear him call out, “Hey Shelb!” so I turn around to wave, and from that security line in the airport he calls out, “I’m gonna blow you a kiss!” He sends one my way, and I catch it in the air and put it on my cheek. Willing it to last until next year. The goodbyes suck, but the joy in the times we have together make it worth it. Knowing he’s growing up in the same place I did makes it worth it. He runs around in the same field. Has the same monkey bars in the living room that our dad built. Helps take care of other sweet momma-less babies like the ones I used to carry around. It’s hard to be so far, but it’s worth it. And twice in year 8 was pretty special. I can’t wait to see what he’s like in year 9. One of us is going to have to plan a trip across the pond. Thanks for visiting Mom and Bu! Hug Baba for me when you get home! All my love!

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