Socks and shoes and learning French season is over, but amongst the apparent chaos of the streets of Conakry, Guinea, there is deep joy! Even the drive back from the airport tells the story. It thrusts you from a world that felt so much calmer, one where I was deceived into thinking I was in control, to one that is noisy, and dusty and stinkin' hot and one where traffic comes up the road the wrong way towards you and leaves you in a spin; but one that fills my heart with joy.
I’m back. Somehow home but yet the transition this way seems harder than it was the other way. Home home is home and despite its craziness and all the parts that feel a little unattractive to me, it’s home. But I missed this crazy beautiful place. What a naïve statement to say about such a vast continent that is so varied and for the most part, I do not know! But somehow I love what I find here, and yet it challenges every part of me and often pushes my patience to the limits. The blaring taxi radios and the dust and furnace like heat don’t exactly fill my heart, put it that way. But the people do, of that there is no doubt.
… 2 weeks later and I’m waking up in Dakar, Senegal in a guesthouse found in the middle of an industrial zone not too far from the port. Even the leaves of the trees are coated with dust and each excursion leaves me with a layer of dirty sand all over. My hair has found new ways to stick out at awkward angles as the dust carefully attaches itself to every strand. I guess we are near the desert! The dappled sunlight landing on my bed and the chirps of carefree birds bring rest to my soul. It’s been a busy first 2 weeks as ‘Country Director’ – our first task, ‘to prepare the way for the ship to arrive in 4 months time’. It’s a ridiculous title for someone who has little clue of what they are doing. You have no idea how many times I have thought of, and clung onto, the stories of how God uses the weak these last weeks. I’ve pictured myself as Gideon facing big giants and known that this is just how God seems to work. It’s senseless, but somehow it brings me strength. I know my heart is good and I know I am willing and I know I can be brave and I know I have good experience to bring to the table. But who would have thought that this 4-eyed little girl would have rocked up here?
I'm always hungry to be in situations where I can see God’s power at work, to look up at mountains and know that if they move, it’s only God who can make them move, and even the quote on this very blog, ‘life is meant to be an adventure, when we cease to reach out and stretch ourselves, something in us dies’ reflects the longings of my heart. But this stretching is hard! I felt I was drowning at French school and I have felt way in above my head in previous mercy ship roles and I feel those familiar feelings all over again. Forcing myself out of bed and reaching into the depths for my brave face, believing – every day – I am where I’m meant to be. I landed in a Country I don’t know, with a team that I haven’t worked that closely with before and am working in a language I am understanding well but still am slow to speak in professional settings. I’m learning about the need for a ‘ship consigner’ and ‘shipping agents’ and all sorts of other terminology like ‘bill of ladding’ that I have had no need to know before now. I’m letting go of the beauty and comfort that surrounded me these last months in France and at home, and I’m letting go of the myth of being in control and finding it’s once again, another opportunity to trust.
And yet in between the long long days, the twinkling sunlight and sweet birdsong call my name. I think I can honestly say that I’ve felt God closer than ever before these last 2 weeks. It’s not from anything I have done, but my eyes just seem to be open and I guess my desperate cries for help have had Him running. We have an amazing team of 6, which will grow to 12 in June. The welcome here has been warm – from the Government and even the Minister of Health himself, to generous expats sharing their experiences and time, to locals sharing their hearts and skilled taxi men who brave ridiculous traffic every day. Last week I was at a meeting of local Pastors and throughout the meeting, one man caught my eye. He had been silent throughout and right before the end of the meeting, he began to pipe up. He had been a patient on one of our ships in 1993 and had a facial tumour removed! He spoke of how his life had transformed and how the burden he had carried around for years was lifted. He spoke of the freedom he had found and the new future he had walked into. He summarized our message of hope and love better than I ever could. Once he had finished, I had to give a response, but how could I? Humbled by this man, humbled by the experiences of so many who don’t have access to the care they need and in awe of a God who cares. Privileged to be a part of bringing hope, knowing that all I have to bring to the table is crumbs but that my God would multiply them and prepare the way for many more like this man to know His love. There are moments I would jump on a plane and come home tomorrow and there are others I would lay down my life forever, and this was one of them. I’m so grateful for the small glimpses we see of God’s heart and the sheer privilege it is to walk with Him.
Our former patient friend and Pastor here in Senegal
The task ahead of us is huge. It’s tough, it’s messy, it is overwhelming and there’s a whole load of sticky situations to sift through in the coming months in order for the ship to arrive safely and for all our programs to be ready to start in full swing. I suspect sleep will get cut short and there won’t be so many mountain views, and I’d like to say there’s no place I’d rather be... but it’s not totally true! It’s a choice and a sacrifice but I can say I am very happy to be here, but I won’t pretend it’s comfortable. It surely is another opportunity to trust again and be reminded I was never in control anyway, even if I thought I was. And it surely is yet another time to appreciate the depths of relationship and the rich culture that I have only found on this sweet sweet continent.
I’m already looking forward to seeing the ship sail in and I’m praying every day that light will shine into every nook and cranny of this nation and that hope will be birthed in so many people’s lives and in ways that we wouldn’t even dare to dream of.
To Him be the glory.
Letting go of control, trusting and believing. Love always, KWW
Senegal Advance Team