Exactly four weeks after I graduated college and exactly two weeks after I got engaged, I was offered a position at Answering the Call as a Development & Community Outreach Coordinator for 2018. After a brief overview of what my job would entail, David Fuller ended the text with, “So… you in!? If so… pack your bags to go to S. Sudan on Jan. 29.”
It was January 6th, which meant I would be leaving for Africa in just over three weeks. I replied with just two words.
And quite suddenly the trajectory of the next year of my life changed.
That day David purchased the tickets for our 13.5-hour flight to Addis Ababba, Ethiopia and two-hour flight on to Juba, South Sudan. The following Monday, I filled out a visa application and mailed off my passport. Two days after that, I sat in a white chair at one of only five clinics in Virginia that administers the elusive Yellow Fever vaccine. I read the PSA posters on the wall with quips about typhoid and malaria while I received not one, not two, but three immunizations. A few days ago, I took the same wrong turn in D.C. not one, but two times before I parallel parked at a broken meter and walked professionally (but quickly) to pick up three passports and visas fifteen minutes before the office closed.
I have also purchased various essentials for my time in South Sudan, like a purifying water bottle and freeze-dried food. I have Google searched things I never imagined I would, like “women’s convertible pants” or “best hiking boots for the heat.” (I am positive I have thoroughly thrown off Google’s algorithm with that one.) I have walked into multiple outdoor stores on purpose, and yesterday I bought my very first pair of hiking boots. I have Malarone to fend off malaria, wipes for the bathroom, and azithromycin for any surprise diarrhea. All this, and my bag weighs less than 35 pounds.
And there is a strange excitement that for all the things I have packed, there are about a hundred and one things I have not. No makeup. No laptop. No accessories, besides a small band that I will wear in place of my engagement ring. No pajamas. No pillow. No books, which I always—and I mean always—over pack. It is more than a physical reality, all these things I am leaving behind.
There are things I’m leaving behind that I’m glad are temporary—the freedom my country offers, my fiancé, my family and friends, my favorite coffee shop and my cute little studio apartment.
But I’m sure I will realize—when I am surrounded by children, women and men who have been ravaged by civil war, displaced in their own country, or are staring at a callous death by starvation or violence—that I have attitudes, ignorance and conceptions of the world that I want, no need, to leave behind permanently. I pray that as God shows me what things to leave behind, I will make space for qualities and mindsets that have eternal value and do much more good for others.
Also in these twenty short days, I have learned very acutely that everyone has an opinion about my going to South Sudan. Some I expected, but many take me by surprise. For example, at a cupcake shop in Richmond, an employee’s blue eyes did not blink, did not break their stare, as he pleaded with me to be careful in South Sudan and advised I take a gun named some combination of letters and numbers—while simultaneously opening a bright pink cupcake box.
For every opinion though, there are more questions. Many are easy to answer, like “How long will you be there?” — 10 days.
“What will you be doing there?” — Buying cattle.
But there are a few that are a bit more difficult to answer. Like, “Are you ready?”
I can say—and I’m sure you will agree—that I am prepared. For diarrhea (But let’s pray against it!), stepping on rocks (That’s what hiking boots are for, right?) and river wading (Zip-off pants are kinda my new thing.)
But I can’t help but wonder if anyone is ever really ready to discover firsthand that his or her concept of reality is so disparate from someone else’s? Or to enter a country where civil war is happening outside homes today, instead of in reenactments on battlefields? In the areas I am not ready, I choose to lean into God’s grace and comfort.
Another question I’ve gotten from nonbelievers and Christ followers alike is, “Why would you go there?” Sometimes, this question is followed up with a pointed reference to all the areas in the U.S. that need mission efforts and love, almost as if they are supplying me with a more suitable alternative.
Well, my simple answer is that there are people there. Kids—my goodness I can’t wait to meet the kids—women, and men. Humans, just like me, living in the squalor and the violence and the food insecurity. They are there, and many are in need. So why shouldn’t I be there? Especially if I can offer some shred of relief in the form of two herds of cattle, or some shred of Truth in the form of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
And as for the areas of the U.S. that need loving, then I say that someone go and give them loving! And I believe that with the vast number of believers in the U.S., God will lay it upon the heart of someone, the right person He has equipped, to do so.
We live in a broken world, and like a broken body, it needs ministering and healing.
And if our body were covered with wounds, areas that need care and compassion, would we direct all our efforts to the ones we see, only those that are easiest to reach?
I hope not!
I would hope we would stretch ourselves, bend and move until we touch all the areas that are hurting. South Sudan—among other aching nations— is that little strip between the shoulder blades where a wound has throbbed for years. It is a difficult to reach place that needs to know that Someone cares deeply about its healing.
Ready or not, I am humbled and eager to be stretched—in South Sudan and wherever God may lead ATC this year.