I don’t have the words yet.
Oh, I have pictures. Lots of them. But the words and the thoughts are coming at their own pace. Slowly. Almost as slowly as the jet lag has dissipated.
It feels trite and not even close to sufficient to say that my time in West Africa was amazing, though it certainly was. Any and every trip I’ve been on overseas has rocked me, this trip probably more than others.
But why so amazing? Well, I could spout off funny anecdotes and memories. Like the time I was bitten by a monkey. Or wound up OH SO VERY LOST in the African bush. Or was gifted chickens by a generous village chief.
I could sing praises of my awesome team- of a surgeon and nurses and physicians and administrators- who came together with a united rallying cry: “My gifts are yours. My talents are yours. Have thine own way, Lord.”
I could go on and on about the missionaries on ground in West Africa. Sweet goodness, could I speak of sacrificial love and the holy and good work they’re doing in a difficult land.
But most of all, as the words trickle in and my heart continues to process through big feelings and hard questions, the overarching and unmistakable theme of it all is that our God is so much greater than we can even fathom. As I stood on the ground of what truly felt to be the “ends of the earth”, I couldn’t shake these verses:
“The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him…
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations…
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22: 26-28, 31)
He is doing it, y’all. Turning hearts toward His greatness. In big cities and remote villages. In the darkest places and at the very ends of the earth. His faithfulness never falters, and His righteousness is sure. As the local church and lone believers cry out, “He has done it!,” the poor are being fed and the sick are being healed and hearts are being turned to Him.
And, you guys. It’s a sight to behold.
My bags are packed. (And teetering dangerously close to my 50 pound limit.)
My visa is signed, sealed, and delivered. (And good for five years. Boom.)
And one of my children just vomited all over the place and all over the people at my Mexican send-off dinner. Par for the course. (Oh my gosh. Pray for us.)
Speaking of which. Prayer. I have had a number of y’all ask how you could be praying while I’m in West Africa over the next ten days. THANK YOU. I believe with everything within me that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Not because we’re anything awesome. Or because our prayers are anything special. But because our God is completely holy and wholly righteous. That He hears and He sees and He cares.
So, with that in mind, let’s pray y’all. Specifically…
- For hearts softened to the good news of Jesus. We’ll be working in a country that’s almost entirely Muslim and in a region where many have never heard the gospel. Pray that we would have opportunities to clearly articulate the extravagance of Christ’s love for us. Pray that it would be well-received.
- For safety. With any travel comes risk. Pray for safe travel and good health.
- For productivity as we work to build and prep an operating room– the first and only OR for many, many miles– in the small, rural village where we will be staying. THIS IS SO HUGE, you guys. Having a local operating room (coupled with, Lord-willing, a local surgeon) would save countless lives. Near and dear to my heart is the fact that it would prevent so many maternal deaths- and, consequently, so many orphans- through the availability of C-sections.
- For wisdom as we see and treat patients in the clinic. I, for one, feel overwhelmed at the thought of providing medical care with so few drugs and treatments even available to offer patients.
- That we, as a short-term medical missions team, would be quick to listen and slow to speak. That we would show utmost respect to the culture in which we will be living and working. That, while we may arrive feeling like we have so much knowledge to impart, that we would first and foremost come as learners, recognizing that the local villagers were there first and will be there long after we leave.
- That we would be a source of encouragement to the local church and missionaries there. That they would be refreshed and encouraged by our presence.
- For team unity. Because, let’s face it- we’re all still practically strangers at this stage in the game. Pray that God would bind us together quickly as a team and that we would work as one body. That we would “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- For the families we leave behind for the week and a half. For husbands, wives, and children whose routines are going to be thrown off. If you think of it, I would love prayers specifically for Elizabeth, as separation can be very, very hard for her little heart. We’re already seeing some of this manifesting itself in recent days- just pray that “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) would be so near and that she would trust that I’m coming back to her.
I am just so grateful for your prayers. You have no idea.
And I’m off.
(But, first, to get my kid to stop puking. Because motherhood.)
Perhaps this is an unconventional confession for a church-going, Jesus-loving, pastor’s wife, but it’s a true statement all the same: Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and live for myself. Sometimes, I grow weary of the surrender.
Case in point: in exactly three weeks, I will be flying out to a remote region of Africa for a medical missions trip. We’ll be bringing life-saving medicine and the life-giving message of Christ to people who desperately need it. And yet. Shortly after opening my eyes yesterday morning, one of the first sentiments that escaped from my lips was, “Why did I even say yes?”
You see, my friends, here’s the deal. Leaving the country, the kids, the husband, and the (very new) job for ten days- at the height of the holiday season, no less- is beginning to feel increasingly CA-RA-ZY to me. The unknowns feel overwhelming. And my flesh cries out, “Oh, God. This is way too hard.”
If my flesh is good at one thing, it’s precisely this- doing things MY way. And, if you’re wondering, my way is efficient and smooth and logical. It’s easy and tidy. Void of hardship or sacrifice.
However, it’s Christmas time. And every Christmas card I read and every carol that I hear reminds me that Jesus did not exactly share in this way of thinking.
While I long for comfort, Jesus was born in a barn.
While I cling to my strength and ability, God came to earth as a helpless baby boy.
While I strive for control, Jesus surrendered Himself to the cross.
While my sights are often cast inward, Jesus lived- and died- for everyone else.
Jesus’ life was anything but my idealistic fantasy of a neat and tidy, smooth and easy life. Every iota of His existence modeled humility and sacrificial love.
You guys, it has been quite the year. It’s been a year replete with “I don’t wanna”s followed by “fine, God. I’m scared, but I’ll go.” It’s been a year of speaking when I preferred to stay silent and of going when I preferred to stay. It’s been a year of saying “no” when a “no” seemed outlandish and saying “yes” when I just wanted to quit. Submission and open hands and, even more than any of that, a year of digging deep, so deep, into the character of God. Desperately leaning into His strength and sufficiency when I had none of my own to offer.
But isn’t that what it’s always about?
Just yesterday- after my brief and admittedly melodramatic meltdown over my pre-Christmas, pre-Africa to-do list- I overheard the words of Joy to the World ringing out through my iPhone. “Let every heart prepare Him room,” it sang. And those words- they’ve been bouncing around in my head ever since.
Prepare Him room.
Sounds pretty benign, right? Or not. Because when we truly begin to see God for who He says He is and for all He’s come to do, we start to understand this phrase to mean something a whole heck of a lot more radical.
We prepare Him room, understanding that this God of whom we speak doesn’t just want a chunk of space in our hearts and lives. He wants all. of. it. All of us. We’re talking complete and total surrender. An open-handed proclamation of, “Hey God, I’m yours.”
Prepare Him room, but be forewarned. He’s bound to jack a few things up in our lives. Because this God who humbled Himself to human flesh born in a barn isn’t particularly concerned with our comfort. Safety isn’t the highest priority for the Great King who obeyed until He hung on a cross. Worldly success is of little import to the One who flipped everything on its head when he taught that “the first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31)
Prepare Him room because THIS. This is the One who came.
The One who is anything but safe and tame. Who may get all up in your business and who may completely mess with your notion of comfort and stability.
The One who is not just some meek and mild Sunday-morning-only Jesus. The One who is strong and mighty. The One who is a good, good Father, yes. But the One who is also a Warrior King.
This is the One.
So, as we prepare Him room, let us sing with a deeply-rooted conviction that He does indeed rule the world with truth and grace. May our eyes be opened wide to the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love, and may our surrender flow from that space. From a first-hand knowledge of who He is.
We prepare Him room, knowing that the Immanuel has already come. That He’s here. In the hard and the joyous and the stressful and smooth. In the extraordinary and in the mundane. He is here and will continue to be. And man, if that’s not something worth celebrating.
Yes, the Lord has come. The Savior reigns indeed. So, go. Prepare Him room. Clear out and make space for Him to move, work, break down, restore, keep, send, and be.
But things might just be about to get real and get real fast. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I know from experience.
And you know what else I know from experience? He’s so worth it.
Sixteen years ago, I went on my first overseas missions trip. Montego Bay, Jamaica, baby. I signed up because I had FOMO before FOMO was even a thing. Every one of my friends was going on the trip, and I was not about to miss out on the fun. Little did I know that God would use that very trip- and my iffy motives for signing up- to wreck my teenage self for the nations. For the marginalized. For him.
(Please note how serious we were about laying rebar and spreading the love of Jesus. I even went to the trouble of purchasing a black and white disposable camera for the dramatic effect of our tireless efforts. We were clearly HARD AT WORK, you guys. #allforthemission)
Flash forward a few years to 2004 when I first stepped foot on African soil. This time, I signed up because, hello, KENYA. I was also a college student who was sick and tired of the status quo. I loved Jesus, craved adventure, and longed to step outside of my privileged college experience and put feet to the faith of which I spoke. Once again, wrecked.
Shortly thereafter, I graduated and promptly (read: one week later) started grad school and bought a house and got hitched. (Go big or go home.) Had babies. Launched into a new career. In other words, LIFE HAPPENED. And, aside from a few crucial trips to Congo, I haven’t made it back overseas since.
Well, actually. Actually, I have a dozen reasons why now shouldn’t be the time. Because, money. And the holidays. And jobs. And can my kids even survive without me for ten days? I DO NOT EVEN KNOW.
(A tiny sidenote for all of you high schoolers and college students out there. Want some unsolicited advice from Aunt Catherine? Go overseas NOW. Get involved in God’s mission around the globe NOW. Take a gap year or a summer or a few years after college and GO. I know, I KNOW, life seems so crazy right now. It feels like it’s a rat race out there to score the best internships and summer jobs and whateverelsethereis, but lean in close while I fill you in on a little secret: LIFE JUST GETS CRAZIER, PEOPLE. Take full advantage of these years before you get married, before you have kids, before you are knee-deep in a career, and consider going now. You’re welcome. XOXO, A “Wise” and Increasingly-Wrinkled Thirty-Something-Year-Old)
Y’all. I’m a master of conjuring up lengthy lists of “what if?”s. I can think up seemingly legit (and sometimes really lame) excuses with the best of them. These days, there just seems to be a limitless tally of details to work out and unknowns to think through before saying “yes” to, really, anything. And a trip overseas? It’s felt so complicated. Almost paralyzing. And still, I felt a quiet voice saying, “Catherine, it’s time.”
I am learning that the white-knuckled grip I have on MY plans and MY life and mymymy doesn’t exactly resemble the type of surrender to which we’re called. And that following Jesus looks a lot like, oh you know, following Jesus period. Putting our “yes” on the table PERIOD. End of story.
So often, I wait for the unknowns to be made known and the details to be perfectly ironed out before I make good on my promise of “yes, I’ll follow.” Over the years, I’ve watched others come and go. And sometimes go and stay. I’ve cheered them on and sent some checks and lifted them in prayer and silently thought, “Well, it’s good thing they’re going. Because it sure doesn’t make sense for ME to go. Not right now. Not with kids. God, I know you’re faithful, and I know you’re good, but just not right now, mkay?”
And then. This trip. Gracious. Medical missions in West Africa with a group of medical professionals from our church.
Partnering with local medical providers who work with clinics where neither medical care nor the gospel message would otherwise be available.
Providing clinical guidance and support to those working tirelessly in these rural clinics.
Devising an EMS-like system to transport the sickest of patients.
Laying the framework for converting a small clinic into a larger referral hospital.
In a country where infant and maternal mortality is astonishingly high and the desperate need for the gospel even higher. Over the New Year’s holiday, people. I mean, I’ve spent some quality time in the African bush before. But never have I ever celebrated New Year’s in the bush.
And, despite all of the uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s, I’m really, ridiculously pumped.
Want more details? Interested in supporting this trip? Send me a message, leave a comment, shoot an email, or send off some smoke signals. There are some pretty stinkin exciting things happening in West Africa, and I’d love for some of you guys to be in on the excitement!
It. Is. Time. Let’s do this.