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Blistered hands, bleeding heart.

Date: 9th October 2013

I wake to the sound of silence. Not a single man-made sound. The sky changes colour above me, from teal to blue to pink to yellow, and I lie watching. There will be only 5 more mornings such as this. A ring-necked turtle dove stirs above in the tree beside me, rolling its gentle cadence across the coolness. I turn towards the light, tucking my blankets and sheets into my neck, and smile as molten gold slowly flows over the eastern horizon.

With a grated cock-a-doodle-do, Ben and Olga, my rooster and hen, descend from their own hiding place high amongst the branches. Today they will be relocated into the village. The same is true for my three-legged calico, Macch, though I’ll admit I’m slightly more attached to her curious ways than the scratching and squawking of my feathered friends.

My blistered hands remind me that today will be another sweltering day of hard work. Yesterday a small group of us dug out a garden in the village, setting up some self-sustenance for the mother of my much-loved twin boys. Its gruelling work as we dig a hip-deep ditch and place palm fronds as a natural, and easily repairable, wall to keep ducks, chickens, cows and goats out. The hoe is hard on my unaccustomed hands, and the palm branches cut and scrape their jagged teeth unforgivingly over the red-hot bubbles littering my fingers and palms. But there is work to be done. And the day will be short.

We pause to toast peanuts in their shell under burning grass, spreading them across the earth to disperse the flames and the heat, huddling in a circle, on buckets, basins, and bare ground, to crack the charcoaled cases.

This is what I needed. A good honest day of manual labour. My head is full, turning over unsaid goodbyes, complicated conversations, and approaching adjustments.

 For the last time, I head to Dabgue, my faithful family and friends. As I say my final prayer, my voice cracks under pleas for new light, new life, and new strength as our time together draws to a close. I leave their spiritual wellbeing in its infancy in the hands of God and the help of Dangele Jonas, my trusted friend, respected guard, and big brother. I know that he will follow through, and that this is part of their plan too, not just another landslide consequence to the changes in mine. It has been 2 years that we have been studying together, praying together, laughing together, and supporting one another. It has been 2 years of small steps towards eternity. I sit in silence, tears suddenly finding their fought freedom, as Jonas presents his own petitions in prayer. The familiar rise and fall of the Nangjere phrases wrap themselves forever around this moment’s memory, capturing the epitome of why I came here to begin with – the people, the culture, the language, the love, the light.

And once again I am overwhelmed by such intense desire never to forget. This moment. This place. This people.

Reasons why

Date: 21st September 2013

Amidst expressions of relief, excitement, and joy come many questions of reasons why.

Because it’s time. And even I do not fully comprehend the reasons why.

I’m not going to hide behind the picture-perfect, romantic, or idealistic ideas of what mission is, or what the mission-field is like, because it’s not picture perfect, it’s not romantic, and it’s not idealistic. It’s difficult at times, frustrating at others, and seemingly impossible regularly. Things do not always go the way they should, the outcome not always the way you wanted, and the desire to give up often overwhelming.

But these are not the reasons why. They are a real part of life, as I guess they are anywhere. But they are not the reasons why.

It’s been more than 6 weeks since I began to feel somewhat unsettled and unsure why. I started to look deeper inside and started to ask myself some honest questions. I started to question my effectiveness here, and the impact I am having. The more questions I asked, the more questions I had. And through all my questions, one sounded louder than all the others: Is this where I am still supposed to be?

Rather characteristic to my walk with God, there was waiting, with much thinking and more praying. Life-changing decisions are not ones I choose to make on my own. And once all was considered, I was still unsure as to where God wanted me. The fact of the matter is that He knows the end from the beginning, and where I will make the greatest difference for Him, even in the ways that I cannot see or comprehend.

Some suggest that you weigh it all up and make a simple straightforward decision, much like a line of best fit. The problem with this for me is that people do not fall into a line of best fit. Many may, but what if the person, the one person I am supposed to reach in this moment, this day, this year, or this lifetime, falls outside of that line? And how am I possibly supposed to know when, where, and how when I cannot conclusively see past the moment that I’m in? Thus I rely on a God outside of time, with comprehension far beyond mine, to direct my steps, because I cannot see what I should to be able to simply “pick” a path.

What I would like to clarify is that I’m not leaving because I have been working too hard, or because I have been too sick. Though these may be true, they in themselves are not enough to drive me from this place. The same is to be said for solitude – I am not leaving to find a spouse. I have trusted, and will continue to trust, that God is quite capable of providing for my every need, irrespective of which corner of the earth I’m dwelling in.

Let me put it into perspective: I have rebuilt my life here in a place that is impossibly hard sometimes, but which I have come to love none-the-less, with people I would give my life for. I have grown accustomed to the culture, learned the language, and settled into a steady rhythm of life – a life that I love, a role that I will struggle to relinquish, and a purpose that I have grown attached to. My first choice, when I considered my options, was to stay here. This is what I wanted. But my absolute choice, however, is to follow wherever God would lead – this was my promise to Him, and this is still my resolution.

I will not lie – I am excited about what’s coming next, the anticipation to see what God has in store for me and what His plan will be. I am very excited to be heading back to base, though I am under no illusion that this will be indefinitely – I simply do not know. But as I wrap my head around the impending change, start wrapping up life as I now know it, and prepare myself for the unknown possibilities, I can feel my heart tearing in two yet again because of what I leave behind. I fight emotions of guilt for leaving people, places, and projects; though I know that even for these, it is all part of their plan, provided I am always earnestly seeking to follow the Author and Finisher of both my life, and theirs.

So when you ask the reasons why, the simple truth is this: because this is what He is asking of me. Beyond this, there will be many reasons why – but none greater than this.

Never forget

Date: 17th September 2013

I never want to forget this moment, this feeling.

Blessed beyond belief, I sit surrounded by packets, bottles, papers, photos, and I’m completely overwhelmed. This is my first care-package, no – 2 packages, a letter, and a memory stick – in the longest time. Unexpected and utterly indulgent, it’s packed with goodies I have long forgotten about.

It’s almost tainted – “You will never want for anything in your life again the way you do here” I have said to others as they prepare to leave. This place has a way of concentrating every desire and emotion. And as I look at everything laid out around me, I know that I do not deserve any of this, but that I still get to enjoy every mouth-watering moment of it. And perhaps this is the make-up for the many packages that have never found their way here.

Deep inside I feel something inside twist ever so slightly as the reality of this moment dawns – this is not something I will experience again. Not for a while at least. It has been less than 48 hours since finding my decision to return to the UK.

I struggle a deep breath and choke back tears that already spring to my eyes when I think of not being here. This has become my world, my life, my struggled existence in the most primitive place I ever imagined. This has become my refiners fire, strengthening my walk with God each day. This has become my pressing conscience reminding me of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And now I will leave it all behind. Just like everyone else.

But I will not forget. I will not forget the cool tinge to breeze just before the rain comes. I will not forget the dirty feet that trace overlaid patterns across my heart. I will not forget the shouts of ecstasy from children’s lips as I pass their mud-brick houses, nor the silent whispers of grief in the wake of unmoving infants. I will not forget the firm clasping of my hand in friendship, desperation, and gratitude. I will not forget the laughter in the eyes of those whose language I have not yet mastered, whose words twist my tongue, whose culture I still strive to embrace. I will not forget the solitude that strangles silent nights. I will not forget the simple pleasures that satisfy you right down to the middle of you.

I promise. I will never forget.

And I know that it will be ok.

In the next breath my heart swells in love and fondness for the familiar faces I have not seen for far too long, staring back through photographs, promising many more moments than those we have missed.

I smile through my tears and my juxtaposed sentiments.

I know, somehow, that this will all be alright.