My missionary training had began in the Fall of 2008 and I just met him, but he asked me a profound question. John Rae, an international director of Mercy Ships, asked me “What do you think you need for Africa?” My new friend from South Africa followed with words of wisdom I will never forget. It was not a water filter system or a mosquito net that was essential. It was flexibility, patience, and most of all courage that I needed to pack for my journey over the ocean. After taking the required personality test, I knew I needed to work on letting go of some of my Type A traits. I understood learning to be flexible and patient in a place that was still years behind the western world. Leaving for a year to work in Benin, West Africa would be great practice. However, I thought I had already checked “courage” off my list. Quitting my job as an operating room nurse, saying goodbye to my family and friends, and moving to a country I never knew existed until I looked at a map- all fell under the bravery category. Why did he stress the need for courage more than malaria prophylaxis or sunscreen? Nonetheless, I turned the three: flexibility, patience, and courage into prayer requests.
Just weeks away from leaving for Benin, I moved to my parent’s house still pondering courage. Leaving the country was going to be easy. A friend of mine said she would store my craft supplies and beloved red corduroy couch until I returned. My sisters took what they liked back to their corners of Texas. Finally, a benefit garage sale received the eclectic leftovers minus a few cherished items left in three boxes to store in my parent’s garage. I said farewell over several Tex-mex meals, tears shedding more for parting with salsa than loved ones. Everyone praised me for the brave act of going overseas, leaving the comfortable life behind. I knew this was my purpose in life as a nurse. God had called me to be a missionary nurse. To go and help those in need of healing that is not regulated by insurance companies or any other motives, but done so out of love. I realized now to show this kind of love, you have to be brave enough to love every day despite the brokenness of this world.
Not a day goes by that Africa doesn’t cross my mind and the lessons I learned on the other side of the pond. Not only that patience and flexibility will help you in your frustrations, but to laugh at those “TIA” moments. When situations do not go your way and it takes twice as long, I was told “This is Africa”. I learned you cannot change Africa, but it could change you. Africa transforms your heart to love. Africa shatters your heart into a million pieces, but puts it back together in a way that makes you love even when it hurts. That is when you need courage to keeping doing it no matter how much the burden weighs you down. These lessons were not taught by scholars, but by my patients. Mawulolo, Afi, and my VVF ladies- just to name a few- showed me what love can do to this the world. That courageous love carried me not only that first year, but also a few more beyond my original plan of working in Africa.
Fast-forward five years and four countries later, I am stateside to start new adventures: graduate school and a new job. I’ve been in Texas for nearly five months and I realize I need courage even more so now. The motivation to get up every morning and go to work in American hospitals. Its not that I’m lazy and I don’t want to work, it’s just harder when you have been somewhere else. It’s difficult when you feel like you don’t fit in to the equation. I need courage to not only take care of my patients, but to stand up to a system that tells me its not about the patient anymore. Again, to love despite the brokenness. (I’ll end the healthcare system rant there). Also, I wait patiently to hear if I have been accepted into a Nurse Practitioner program. Then courage to face the years I’m in school until I can one day return to the mission field. I pray that I have strength each day to carry on and trust that God has a plan for me here.
So you remember those three boxes I packed away in my parent’s garage? When I moved a month ago into an apartment, I was hoping to find the same courage I had five years ago. It wasn’t in those boxes or the ones we later found in the attic collecting dust. Recently, a friend of mine encouraged me "to stay close to the One who understands and directs your steps" (Thank you Kiwi Liz). For now courage has come in the form of waiting on the Lord daily as I trust that I will see the goodness in his plans for bringing me home from Africa.
"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord. In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)