This week, another group of women from my University in Texas came to Zambia on a very similar trip to the one that I went on to Kenya almost five years ago. Of course, there will always be a special place in my heart for memories of when I was first introduced to Africa. The goal of these trips is to promote women’s leadership in Africa, little did I know that a short term trip would eventually open a door to where I am today — living and working in Zambia to promote cross-cultural experiences for young adults, while my husband studies theology at an African University.
Although our time here has been more difficult than I would have imagined as well, I am so thankful for the way God has woven my story here, and I was honored to share a bit with these young Baylor women and the Zambian women they came alongside during their time in this beautiful country. God has plans for all of us that are much better than we can imagine. He places dreams inside our hearts and gifts upon our hands and weaves it together with whimsy and perfection that can only come from the amazing Author of the universe. He designs every good and perfect thing we can experience in this life.
My story starts in Oaxaca, Mexico on my first international mission trip right before my freshman year of high school. Although I was committed to following Jesus before the trip, it was here that God opened up my eyes to his heart for the nations as I came face to face with a completely different culture for the first time. I fell in love with people’s stories and God began developing desire and skills to communicate and live cross culturally. I will never forget the message one of the missionaries shared with us as he went through the entire Bible and recounted God’s pattern of blessing people so that they could be a blessing to others, and in turn, glorify God and fulfill our overall purpose in life.
In the same way, our lives should also be shaped in such a way that we look to God with open hands, asking what he would have us do with our talents, dreams and any other gift he has given us. As I went on to University, I tried to keep my hands as wide open as possible and chose to pursue a degree in International Studies. You really can’t get broader than that, I wanted to study the whole world! One of the only requirements for my degree was to study a foreign language for two years. As I considered where God was leading me, I chose to study Arabic as I was told it was the 3rd most widely spoken language. I felt a call to reach out to the Muslims in my classes and at my school, and figured that God would call me somewhere in the Middle East.
Out of nowhere, my now dear friend, Melanie, spoke about this women’s leadership mission trip to Kenya. I felt like Africa was just the trendy place for young adults to go, so I wasn’t particularly interested in that aspect of the trip, but I loved the idea of empowering local women to take leadership and make the changes they wanted to make in their community rather than someone else making change for them. I figured I would just apply for the trip and see what would happen. Melanie selected a small team of women to join her on the trip and I ended up being one of them.
Our trip was amazing, Melanie’s heart for Kenya was contagious, and much to my surprise, I fell in love with Africa. I loved the colors, the people, the culture, the smells, everything! When I took my first breath every day, I was so amazed to be waking up in AFRICA. Ten days just wasn’t enough, and I had this deep sense that I was supposed to come back. I didn’t know exactly where or how, but I knew that I wanted to come back to this continent somehow some way.
The following year I asked Melanie if I could help her lead the trip to Kenya with her, and she was so excited to train me to lead University women to Africa. We went around announcing the trip to people in different clubs and recruited an amazing team of young women. We starting fundraising and dreaming about our trip, but all of the sudden, my peace about the trip was gone. It just didn’t feel right. I began getting this sense that this was not what God was calling me to at this time, and so I finally told Melanie that I didn’t think I was supposed to go. We were both heart-broken, but couldn’t argue with this feeling I had.
Melanie ended up having an amazing trip with the young women, and I spent my summer leading mission trips near my home town in Denver. I ended up working alongside my, now husband, Drew who felt a similar call to return to Africa one day. We fell in love, got married and God opened up the door for Drew to study in Zambia. We packed up the few things we owned and 4 months after we got married, we started a new life in a country I had never been to before. God continued weaving in such amazing ways and though I had to navigate through complicated immigration processes for the first time, I got experience working for an international nonprofit and then landed my dream job helping young people in Zambia and other countries spend a year learning and serving abroad in the name of Jesus.
These are just a few of the twists and turns God brought my way, but I am so thankful for the ways he used my story and my open hands for His glory. I am so thankful he didn’t allow me to be content with just leading another short-term trip, but instead fulfilled my even deeper longings of living cross-culturally and introducing others to the beauty of serving in another culture for an entire year. I still can’t believe it when I think about it too much, and the best part is that this is just the beginning. This is the amazing part I get to play right now, but God is doing even more.
Where has God blessed you, and how can you use that to be a blessing? I want God to show me more of that every day, and in turn I know he is taking me to the best place that I can be to display His glory. My prayer is that he will teach me to open myself up to the magnificent plans he has, not only for my life, but for our entire universe. I love Paul’s words in 1 Timothy,
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
May we lean in to this promise. God took me beyond my expectations on taking just one short-term trip to Africa and paved the way for me to meet and amazing man and serve alongside him for at least the next four years in Zambia. And this verse promises so much more than that. God is going to take us for who we are, in our deeply sinful state, and use that to show others the amazing gift of eternal life. How is God using your story? May we open ourselves up more to be used by him and see each blessing in our life as an opportunity to overflow those blessings onto those around us.