Two years later and I can still feel the gritty dirt between my toes and the scorching equatorial sun burning into my lily white arms.
It’s morning and I roll to the side of the creeking wood framed twin bed scooched next to my husband’s same creeking wood framed twin bed and place unmanicured cracked and dirty feet on the cool cement floor. I hear the nuns across the yard singing morning prayers. I put the kettle on our makeshift stove as I pray over an unknown day as peaceful harmonies rise heavenward. They say that New York City is the city that never sleeps but Ganta has not hushed once in the night with hollers of joy over a football game that saw Barcelona victorious and indistinguishable screams carried on Liberian winds from somewhere deep in the bush- places that we dare not go with our white skin. The electricity won’t come on until long after we’ve bumped down the road to our office. We will greet the guards and pray the internet works. We’ll also pray for our stomach’s sake that the man in town will have only used half a gallon of palm oil to make our egg sandwiches today. We lived to the rhythms of Africa. The beautiful, violent, raw rhythms that made our life there.
When we finally returned home to the familiar we were asked, “Did you have a good trip?” I had to choke back tears and indignation. Some folks thought we had just gone on a bit of a holiday, a couple of do gooders done with their good and now home. Most people just didn’t know how to ask so I quickly realized I couldn’t hold it against them.
But that place, the place God called us, left us utterly rearranged.
We’ve been taught to see those serving for the sake of the Gospel overseas as super-spiritual. We’ve fooled ourselves that they are a different breed, and in some ways they very much are, but in many ways they are not. They’ve chosen the path of most resistance and sometimes their own hearts can falter on that path. I saw mine falter over and over.
Some days it was simply the simple stuff that made the hard places- like the days when James at our favorite town market didn’t have the potatoes or the drunk chicken man (another story for another day) was out of frozen chickens or the days when stepping out our front door just felt like stepping onto another planet where we were undoubtedly strangers.
There was also the day that we buried a friend’s young son. Malaria. Again. And when I say buried I mean we paid for his burial because the family couldn’t afford it. That isn’t a fact we brag about, that is reality and it was hard and I heard my husband choke up in a way that I never had that day. That is the hard that leaves you changed. The hard that makes you a different person, unable to put it into words.
Then there was the loneliness. The distance from the ease of Western life and of family and friends within a day’s driving distance. The lack of fellowship with others. The difficult working relationships even with other believers. The toll it can take on a marriage. The toll it can take on the body. The days of uncertainty and oh, the puking. Yes, there was the getting pregnant and throwing up on an unlucky goat on the side of the road.
The days when I wished to be anywhere, but where I was.
God took my weaknesses and He used the guise of overseas work to expose it under a magnifying glass. He peeled back each layer and laid my heart bare on the shores of West Africa. He made me a stranger in a foreign land to show me that this life, this desperate scraping to live righteous and straight, is all just wandering in a foreign land.
So when we came home and we were asked about how our trip was you can understand the offense. It wasn’t a trip. It was our life and it was good and hard and a million other things, but it wasn’t a trip.
This is where I get to the point of this story, because my faithful readers know that I always have a point.
I’m going to talk plainly for a second because I want you to hear me loud and clear.
There are women on the field right now living the life I just described and the Church has made them into superheroes, but reality is that they are reluctant grace needy strugglers who need buckets of encouragement. They need you and me to reach across the miles with words and soul strengthening hope to wrap them in love. Love that will push them and pull them on to life where they are and doing what they are called to. They are single women, wives, young mamas, and older women and they need a space to connect.
I was praying for these women just last week and the very next day I stumbled (Thanks Lisa-Jo) across a new website and project with a vision to bring reality to the idea that my heart was sprouting. Danielle Wheeler of Not Yet There unfurled the dream of making an online community for women serving overseas. I read this and said, “Yes! Yes!” right away!
We’re calling it Velvet Ashes (more about the name later) and it is going to be a home for all of us scattered across the globe. One home to come to and find connection with other women walking the same nitty gritty path of hard obedience in a foreign land.
There is just one thing. We need to raise the funds to make the website happen. The goal is this Fall and we’re making progress, but we need more folks to catch this vision and put a bit of money where their heart is.
Could you dig between the cushions on your couch or forgo a dinner out to make this happen for hundreds, maybe thousands of women that are starving for connection from the places they serve on the field? If you can then click on over to the Velvet Ashes Fundly page and donate right now!
My heart is literally racing thinking about the women who need the encouragement that I believe the Velvet Ashes community, by God’s grace, is going to bring. Let’s make this happen friends.