I’m back in the USA now and it feels so good to be home. Yesterday I spent a large portion of my day unpacking my over-stuffed suitcases and backing up the 700+ GB of photos and video clips I took while in East Africa. I know you’re probably bored with my lack of posting photos or videos. Sorry. I haven’t even begun to sort through files or edit yet, and I don’t plan to for a few days as I settle back in to regular life. Deal with it. ;P
It was particularly fun showing off the gifts I brought back with me with my husband. I didn’t purchase many of the ‘usual’ things this time around, yet I still managed to have a suitcase FULL of African goods. From the goatskin drums and the traditional decorative gourd presented to me by churches near the Kenya-Uganda border, to yards upon yards of African print fabric and a few pieces of jewelry I picked up at the market, to the soapstone platter I had the Kisii curio shop custom-make for me, I enjoyed finding nooks in our home to display my little bits of Africa. I’m in love with them all. It’s no surprise, however, that the most prized treasure I carried from my journey is all the COFFEE I brought back with me. I always bring back Kenyan coffee beans, and this is a tradition I have no intention of ever breaking! I’ve brewed 3 pots in the last 30 hours or so, and at this pace the 6+ pounds of beans that I bought for myself won’t last very long. On the bright side, it’s helping me get over my jet lag quickly!
Today I’ll sort through and clean up my camera gear. There’s a fine layer of red dust on practically EVERYTHING. (Just ask Josiah how his laptop’s USB ports looked when we pulled it out! He might have killed me if he wasn’t so glad I’m home.)
Yet once everything is put away neatly, I expect the real “unpacking” will begin…
My brain. Is jam-packed. Full. Of experiences. I don’t even know where to begin processing it all. It’s incredibly overwhelming and I’m fairly emotional about many things right now.
Last night I headed to our church for worship practice as I’ll be playing piano this Sunday. Boy, did it feel great to be at the piano again! At the end of rehearsal we opened up for prayer requests, and after some internal debating whether or not I should pipe up, I asked for prayer for two things. First that I could be able to untangle this hot mess of Africa lodged in my brain and my heart. Then I asked for prayer for South Sudan, and I gradually began breaking into tears.
Call me exhausted. Jet-lagged. Drained. Those would be easy and valid excuses for my sudden lack of ability to hold it together.
If only it were that simple.
You see, this trip wrecked me.
I’ve been to East Africa several times now. I’m aware of the poverty. I expect to see it, and I always do. I know before every trip that I’ll see people with extreme joy despite their relatively sad circumstances. I know it will bring me joy and challenge me to not take my cushy life for granted. I anticipate being inspired by pastors who have immense struggles yet lead their communities with conviction and integrity. I don’t experience any negative effects of culture shock. I chuckle often as I repeat the words, “Only in Africa…” I revel in in the beauty of the differences between me and my East African brothers and sisters. None of it surprises me. It’s all very familiar at this point.
I keep up with the news about political strife in East Africa, as best I can. I knew things were bad in South Sudan, because originally I was supposed to go there during this trip. When the fighting started in December, it wasn’t long before South Sudan was off the table for me. I read the reports, knowing that hundreds of thousands are displaced and over 10,000 are estimated dead. I had a grasp of how bad the situation had gotten.
Then I met James.
James is CMA’s Christian Outreach contact in South Sudan. The first week I was in Kenya we received news that he had finally made his way out of harm’s way and was safely in Nairobi with his family. He came and shared some of his testimony at our staff devotional and I got the chance afterwards to talk with him.
I wish I could have recorded our conversation so I could play it back for you. It is seared into my memory.
James narrowly escaped death many times between the start of the conflict in mid-December and his February arrival in Nairobi. I will post his testimony for you to read soon. Everywhere he went, people were being killed all around him. His best friend died in his arms at the hospital after being shot in the spine. He hid in the ceiling of a house and listened as an entire family begged for their lives next door and were shot and killed, one by one. He was followed. Hunted. Yet miraculously protected by God’s hand.
His testimony in itself moved me to tears. Yet it’s not why I am wrecked.
The thing that has injected tumult into my heart is what James said to me at the end of our conversation.
“Hannah, no one wants to come to my country. It’s inconvenient. There isn’t much access to internet. It’s difficult and expensive to travel there. If you spent time there you would get to know the people and you would love them. But I know it’s hard for many people to go there. That’s ok. Yet I know how much it means to God if even I can bring one person to him.
The thing I want most right now is to get back there. It’s not possible to get a flight, but if possible I can head back up through Ethiopia to get back in from there. I just want to reach the people so I can tell them about Jesus. They are hurting. I want to give them hope.”
I don’t know about you, but if I had just escaped with my life to be reunited with my family, I would be praising God for his goodness and making myself comfortable for a while until things settled down. For goodness’ sake, James’ wife gave birth to a new baby boy last week. If I were him I wouldn’t be so anxious to get back to a war-torn area just so I can tell others about Jesus before it’s too late.
It was as if God shined a light into my heart and said to me, “Hannah, what really matters to you?”
I really felt foolish as tears welled up in my eyes last night at worship practice and my voice quivered in the microphone. “Pray for the people of South Sudan” sounded so weak and cliche to me. As I stumbled over my words it was as if I was repeating the mundane request to “pray for world peace.” Honestly, we do need to pray for South Sudan. We need to pray for peaceful leaders to rise up. We need to pray that hearts would be softened. That the gospel message would transform the culture of revenge into a culture of unity.
But my prayer looks different now.
Jesus, I am sorry that spreading the truth about you is so low on my priority list. I’m ashamed that I haven’t experienced a strong enough conviction about the gospel that I shy away from sharing it fervently. That I’m more sad about people being displaced than I am about people not knowing you. Would you work in my heart? Re-align my priorities? Would you give me the same kind of passion that I saw in James? Would you wreck more of us, so we can really focus on what matters?