And then I met him.
On a bus.
I was having a hard time getting my chair on the bus down, and with the whip of his hand, my seat was now functioning. I looked up.
Our eyes locked, and I couldn’t pull away. “Where?” I thought, then verbalized.
Sudan. His words sang softly and silently, openness.
Nothing registered in my head, blank.
Tell me, I breathed, your story.
And he did. Five minutes on the bus, turned into an hour in our hotel lobby. Those poignant eyes, dark and lovely, spilled stories of love and horror, of families, his family, torn apart- children walking across deserts with no food, mothers murdered. Devastation, loss, war. Of refugee camps in Ethiopia, then Kenya. Of chaos swallowing his country, his home.
“I am a lost boy” he says.
No words. Wide eyes flooded, I was beyond lost in his scars. I couldn’t shake the inevitable thoughts, “How does this happen? How do I not know anything about it?”
For the rest of the week at the conference, I shuffled close to Amal. He invited me to African dance night, where heart and soul and love for the mother land was palpable in the air, and I breathed it. Over 20 countries in Africa were represented, and with each drum beat and praise and prayer, a part of my heart began to beat differently. New eyes.
I will forever be grateful to Amal for sharing his story with me. His words, his courage and perseverance, but mostly his trust in God in the face of horrific pain, stitched a new story for my life.
And soon that fabric added Africa to the map in my mind, and my globe seemed to revolve around it.
I went back to college and started studying African history, and soon it easily became my favorite subject to study, it would be an understatement to tell you that I couldn’t get enough. I studied African film, I became entrenched in apartheid South Africa, I mulled over UN accounts of child soldiers from Liberia and Sierra Leone, I memorized geography and could tell you all sorts of facts about the Hausa and Fulani of West Africa.
And then I went. I spent a summer in South Africa and God continued to stitch love into a little heart. I was a sponge and just soaked. I saw the rhythm of the Holy Spirit move in ways I’d never experienced, and my South African friends ministered to me in ways I could have never imagined. They shared their hopes and dreams, and I literally saw beauty rise from the ashes of a system based on hate and prejudice. It was as if God’s redemption story was unfolding in front of my eyes, bold and brave and trusting in the only one who could give strength.
One night back in California, I showed up late to a Bible study and saw the end of a documentary that God used to stitch and stich more, Invisible Children. I had studied the LRA in my classes, but to see the devastation play out ruined me. I showed everyone I knew, hosting screenings on campus, and rallied a jog-a-thon, knowing that every little bit helped! A few years later I worked for Invisible Children for a year, and stories of transformation continued to unfold before my eyes. (As a side-note, if you have more questions about IC after all the Kony 2012 craziness, please don’t hesitate to ask!).
When I look back on these formative years where Africa and I collided most epically, I am drawn to the conclusion that God will forever surprise us with ways that draw us back to Him.
If I am called to love my neighbor and if we are called to carry each others burdens (which, newsflash, we ARE), then who I am if I ignore the rest of the world and live comfortably in my own little orbit filled with starbucks and the bachelorette?
But Abba calls us into a BIGGER story, out of ourselves, and into HIM. Where relationships and action and prayer for the world usher in HIS Kingdom.
And that is where I begin with Africa.
Part 2. Not only am I excited to continue sharing my story, but I also have a fun and meaningful give-a-way for you my dearest of readers of a product that is ever so near and dear to my heart.