The day I officially became a full-time missionary to Africa was full of one of those weird mixtures of anticipation and terror. Tears blurred my vision as I stared out the airplane window, avoiding the gaze of the stranger next to me. Part of me felt that rush of excitement as I thought of the children that had won my heart just ten months earlier. Yet the rest of me (some would argue the sensible part) was feeling the dread of leaving my home, my family, and my country indefinitely.
Now being a missionary is nothing new. Generations of Christians have given up their homeland to bring the message of hope and healing to people that would otherwise never know, and often they die anonymously. There are countless amazing missionary biographies out there that tell of greater courage, faith and sacrifice than you can expect to find in my life, let me tell you. But I want to tell you my story, because it is a story of how simple obedience to God has led to extraordinary things that I could have never imagined. I believe each of us that are willing has amazing things we can do for God, if we’ll only be open to obey.
I am an African-American missionary. You may have noticed that there aren’t that many of us. Reliable numbers about anything are hard to come by, but by most estimates there are 250 full-time African-American missionaries in the world. Ironically, I am NOT, nor have ever been, one of those black people that felt an emotional or spiritual connection to “The Motherland.” For better or worse, I have a lot of friends who have been passionate about Africa their entire lives and haven’t made it over there yet. The fact that I had always expressed a desire NOT to go to Africa is understandably a source of much laughter for my close friends these days.
So why did I do this? How did I get here? Well, for one, I have never been one to conform. If people tell me that the appropriate thing for me to do is hang around, wait for a husband and get married, I am liable to try to do exactly the opposite. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I am probably not considered the model of demure femininity; some would call me stubborn, others opinionated, and they would be right. Still, as hard as I am to convince of anything, once I am convinced, I will act; and through a strange turn of events, God convinced me to go to South Africa.
Although my father is a well-known minister and our family has been in ministry my entire life, my decision to go to Africa wasn’t met with the enthusiasm you might imagine. By the grace of God, my parents were supportive and gave me their blessing. Yet some others were surprisingly critical. Some urged me to stay at home until I was married; then, I could follow my heart with a husband. I also had people telling me that I needed to just stay at home and help the thousands of Americans who needed help. What was the big deal with Africa anyway? Other people have told me that I am just trying to get earthly rewards and the praises of men for doing something that seems self-sacrificial. Believe me when I tell you that there are much easier ways to get ego gratification!
However, in reality, I am not here to feed hungry children, although they need to be fed. I am not here to punish myself or to seem selfless to others. I am not here to make sure that these children can learn or achieve some semblance of the American dream, which I myself reject. I am here for only two reasons. First, I am here out of obedience to the Lord. I know that it is the direct intentional guidance of the Lord that has me here for this season and at this time. I know that I do not have the courage to choose something like this on my own.
Second, I am here to bring the Gospel to these people and these children because I believe that it is the only way for a person to ever have true peace and purpose. I have learned that talk alone is cheap, and so I am using all I have and am to tangibly demonstrate the love that Jesus has for the people of South Africa. I am feeding them, entertaining them, and teaching them so that they can also find love and life in Christ as I have found love and life in Him. Ultimately, I know it is through His love and His life that they will find a brighter future, not through any service I could provide on my own. And so, even though I still have pangs of that initial anxiety on the airplane, and I face a truly overwhelming task, I have great hope. It is that hope that I share with you.