This post is dedicated to my high school friend Bernie. He went to Europe the same summer I went to Africa, then we traveled the following summer with our youth group to work in a school next to the Guatemala City dump. He fell in love with Jesus through his trips, and followed Him wholeheartedly until he went into God's presence this past December. This earth is poorer because he left, but he's made heaven richer.
And to my Mom and Dad, who allowed me to go to Africa.
When I was a not-so-sweet sixteen I got an itching to visit Africa. Never mind that I'd not been on a plane, let alone knew what a Jetway was or how to navigate a large airport. No, my limited experience included growing up in a small farm town and traveling as far away as Disneyland. Once. When I was five. In a car.
So when I sent out support letters and my family all knew of my crazy plans, people began to ask questions. I remember standing in the farm shop, maybe trying to put away tools for Dad, when Grandpa, dressed in coveralls, asked if I really needed to go to Africa to serve God.
Of course, the answer was, and is no. No one needs to go anywhere but where they are to serve God. But now, nineteen years later, I answer his question in hindsight. Because it's a good question, and one that many people ask.
Twenty Things I learned (this is not exhaustive):
1. Family is vital. I gained a deep appreciation for my relationships with all of my family members, even my "strict" parents and little sister.
2. One pair of shoes is really enough.
3. Our enforced 30 minute devotional time taught me that 30 minutes is not enough, and set me in a pattern of spending time in the word regularly for the past 19 years.
4. People worship God all over the world, and despite the language, Jesus is there in the midst.
5. Consider the team, not just myself.
6. Don't pair off. Include others and get to know them, not just those I like best.
7. 40 Bible passages I can still spout off at a moment's notice.
8. Jesus is more important than all my other dreams.
9. You can give money or sugarcane, depending on what you have.
10. There is nothing much better than sitting around a fire worshiping Jesus with fellow believers.
11. It is a privilege to be ridiculed for sharing the gospel.
12. Putting a tent up and down, when practiced, can take about 30 seconds.
13. Lots of things taste better than I realize if I give them a chance. (I was a picky eater until then.)
14. Washing clothes by hand isn't so bad when I don't have many clothes.
15. It's really nice when it doesn't rain while the aforementioned clothes dry.
16. Water is precious.
17. African children singing is one of the best sounds in the world.
18. Jesus performs miracles today, too.
19. I can pray to Him all day for everything.
20. Saying goodbye to people I'll probably never see again who love Jesus too makes heaven more and more appealing.
All these lessons in just ten weeks.
The question, "Do you need to go to Africa to serve God?" is an easily answerable no.
But, "Will you serve God and jump out of your comfort zone without going?" is one I'm not sure about.
I have to add a couple disclaimers.
1. God used my Mom and Dad and church family to prepare my heart to receive the lessons. I'd watched my mom and dad study their Bibles, faithfully attend and serve at church, love others, pray, work hard, and love God.
2. During my freshman year of college my Resident Assistant became a good friend. I was certain, the first time we went for coffee, that she must have gone to Africa, too, because she exuded Jesus. I was wrong. God drew her to Himself entirely in the United States.
How about you, Sister and Brother and anyone else, did I miss any lessons that you learned?