It’s strange being back here, in this place.
I can still see the Nile directly out the window, though my husband and I actually stayed in the banda next door that night. They still leave in triplicate the same brand of packaged soap in the bathroom. I remember how the Nile had stretched before us in the morning, pink sunlight pooling on its surface while men fished from canoes hollowed from logs. On the banks, monkeys leapt like kamikazes from limb to limb. The scene is the same four years later. I remember crying, weeping, actually, from this very porch that night after dark under a spangled sky. I had been so very excited; so very afraid.
I was wondering if God was asking us to come to Africa.
Tonight I stood on the same small peninsula to which I’d walked with my husband. But on this night, our group from the refugee center sang worship songs, and I bumbled along when it was in languages I couldn’t even identify. There was something wholesome and good about hearing praise authored in their own language, spilling from someone’s heart like that. We sat on woven mats and talked about the love of God, about the lies we believe about it, about the stories He writes in our lives. And—looking how far he’s brought my family and me—I marveled.
Moving to Africa, as much as I was flabbergasted that the dream would come true, also crumpled me with fear inside. Even more than my fear of the harrowing traffic (which, let’s face it, still holds its own little flame of terror in my heart): my fear that God would take the life of one of my children.
My trepidation was enough that six months after we moved here, when my son fainted as we measured muffin ingredients for breakfast, I screamed and woke the entire house. I actually remember thinking, Is this it? Is this when God takes one of my kids?
Four years later, we have weathered malaria, weird tropical illnesses, a terrorist threat, and troubles closer to home. But even listing them out now honestly feels a little lame. Something about living around people in poverty, or working with refugees who packed only a suitcase and shattering losses to cross the border, makes you realize you are most certainly not the hero here. (He’s much bigger.)
Nevertheless—there is nothing like God writing your family’s story. Somehow four years later, with this place holding very little fear and so much promise and beauty, I comprehend Jesus’ words more than ever: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). I get how it’s fuel for the soul. I know well how it sustains and comforts and invigorates in unthinkable triumphs and unspeakable pain.
As a writer, I carry a keen appreciation for the creative mastermind behind a rip-roaring story with a timeless moral, with perfectly tuned characters I could never dream of myself. My Kindle books are full of highlights of brilliant turns of phrase, of vocabulary and characterization I applaud. But as I sit back and look at the stories God authors, each one far surpasses the human mind. Truth is so much more astounding than fiction. No novel could ever adequately appreciate the ways God’s engineered the intricate, elaborate paths that make up us. How He handpicks circumstances and conversations to mold lives into striking works of art our younger selves wouldn’t recognize. How he architects the world for the sake of His great name.
The African worship leader there on the peninsula did interpret one of the songs’ lyrics, Wahambanati, written in Zulu. (I think it was after she insisted that us three white ladies needed to dance out of the fullness of our hearts for God just like everyone else.)
She explained, “It means, ‘God, you have walked with us this whole way.’”
For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art],
created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works,
which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set],
so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].
Ephesians 2:10, Amplified Bible