Sunday, January 8, 2012

Africa Trip 2012: The Beginning

I am leaving for Africa in less than a week. I have told that to some of the important people in my life this week; the Starbucks barista, my nail tech, the pharmacist. Invariably they ask if I am going on a safari, and will I get to see some exotic animals? “Not really," I tell them, “unless you consider geckos and mosquitoes and rats to be exotic.” That always gives them pause. Anxious to move on to the next customer but still a bit curious they usually ask, “Then why are you going?”

And therein lies a story….

I was saved through the ministry of Good News Club when I was just eight years old. No one in my family at that time was a believer, but as a young teen-ager I began attending an Assembly of God church in Grants Pass, Oregon. One of the highlights of their church year was the annual missions convention, where different missionaries would converge to share their stories and pictures, hoping to gain financial support for the following term. They came… from Indonesia and South America and Mexico, but the ones I remember most were the missionaries from Africa. Night after night I would sit and listen to their tales and gaze at their slides, and from that early age I knew one thing….I NEVER wanted to go to Africa!

I grew up and went away to Bible college, where many of my classmates were training for the mission field. For some reason, most of the ones I came into contact with had one country in mind, Africa. I was quite thankful, as I figured if all of them were going, God would never need to send me.

A song that came out in the early 90s kind of summed up my sentiment; done by Scott Wesley Brown (you can catch it on You-Tube), it went like this, “Please don’t send me to Africa, I don’t think I’ve got what it takes. I’m just a man I’m not a Tarzan, I don’t like lions, gorillas or snakes. I’ll serve you here in suburbia in my comfortable middle class life. But please don’t send me out into the bush where the natives are restless at night.”

I could go on, but you get the picture. I have travelled many places …Israel, Greece, Turkey, Italy, England, Scotland, Spain, France, Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada, not to mention most of the fifty states, but you will notice they all have one thing in common…they are NOT Africa.

So it was I was sitting in the Sunday morning service at TFAB earlier this year when Marcel, from Burkina Faso, Africa, shared a message with the congregation. Honestly, I cannot even remember what the message was about, all I recall is when he was finished speaking and we started to pray, I heard a voice whisper, “I want you to go to Africa next year.” Since I knew that could not possibly be a message for me, I glanced around to see who might be the intended recipient.

But then I heard it again, “Robyn, I want YOU to go to Burkina Faso and teach the women.” It wasn’t an audible voice…indeed, it was much stronger than that. There have been only a few times in my life when I knew that I knew God had spoken directly to me, and this was one of them.

I quickly thought of ALL the reasons I could not go. I don’t do well with dust or heat or smoke or smells and I really DON’T like to fly. Pitiful, I know. I am so thankful that God is patient and gracious with us. Before the service ended I knew….I WAS going to Africa in 2012.

Several months later as I was preparing for the regimen of shots and pills necessary to make the trip to Africa half-way safe, the craziness of what I was doing hit home. I was sitting in my easy chair early one morning and again presented my case to God. I have to be honest, I really didn’t want to go. The thought of flying was terrifying, the thought of spending two weeks in a country that, as Loren says, “Is trying to kill you” just did not sound appealing. Surely God had something just as important here for me to do.

I began reading in the Word where I had left off the prior day, 2nd Corinthians chapter 11. If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, thinking life is a bit hard, read about all that Paul endured for the sake of the gospel. I was humbled and ashamed. While my life has not been without difficulties, I have never actually chosen to put myself in a position that was way outside of my comfort zone. I reflected on all that the new testament Christians endured to proclaim the name of Jesus and I knew, I WAS going to Africa in 2012.

That was a turning point. I moved from despair at the thought of going to acceptance, knowing God does all things well and I could trust Him to be doing what he deemed absolutely best. I began to pray for the people of Africa, for the women I would be meeting and teaching and for the children I would get to put my arms around and love. I downloaded a picture of a group of children from one of the past TFAB mission trips, making it the focal point of my computer desktop. Their smiles found their way into my heart, and I began to pray for them and for all the churches in Burkina. I began preparing the teachings I would be presenting, and I found myself getting really engaged and excited about what God would have me to share.

What started out as an act of obedience had now become a labor of love. I was amazed to realize I was actually anticipating, with great joy, my upcoming trip. I was going to Africa, and I couldn’t be more delighted. In my mind, God had already worked a mighty miracle.

Now we are just one week out and in spite of my excitement, I find the fear creeping back in. It has kept me awake the past couple of nights, my mind running wild with all the “what ifs?” Can I really get on that plane next Saturday and fly to that place which has always been so frightening to me? Can I leave the comfort of home for the unknown of a place half way around the world?

Early morning today found me back in my chair by the fire, pondering these very questions. It would be so easy, just a phone call to say I could not do it. God would still love me, my family would understand. And then the picture of Jude, my grandson, came up on our digital photo viewer and I was reminded of a conversation we had just last week.

We had pulled into the garage where Grandpa’s boat is resting for the winter. Jude looked at it and informed his sister “That is Grandpa’s boat, he catches really big fishies, Mary-Jane!”

Our dialogue ensued, “Jude, Are you going to go out in the boat with Grandpa next summer and catch big fishies too?”

“I don’t want to go out in Grandpa’s boat,” came the firm reply.

“Why not, Jude?”, I asked.

“I might fall in the water, Grandma. I don’t want to catch a fish, let Mary-Jane have my pole and she can catch the fishy.”

I reasoned with him, I told him we would watch over him. But NOTHING I said could change his mind, he has determined he would rather not catch a big fishy than to risk falling in the water.

The memory of that conversation played loudly in my mind this morning as I sat there, floundering in my own fears. I could just imagine the conversation.

“Robyn, why don’t you want to get on the big plane and go to Africa?

“I am afraid, Father. The plane might crash or I might get very sick, or even die.”

“I will watch over you, daughter.”

Like Jude, I am afraid. But as I hope Jude will one day do, I am listening to the voice of one who loves me, who is telling me He watches over me, He will keep me, He is with me always. I have made my choice. I will put my trust in the one who loved me enough to give His life for me.

I covet your prayers for this journey, I will continue to write, Lord willing, that you might share in the joy of what God is doing for His people there in Burkina Faso.

In the mean time, I will have more conversations with more people this week. I will tell them, “I am leaving for Africa in less than a week.” And when they ask why, I will say, “Let me tell you a story….”