A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa

I’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.

You see, we’re leaving Africa.

(For now. …Or so I tell myself.)

So many factors, really, have sifted out what feels like the remaining solution. Among the factors: My husband’s job. My kids’ education. Other family factors we’ve batted back and forth, scouring for solutions until it seems this is really the only way to love well. And in many ways, the poor and this work God’s been doing in our midst will be better served as my husband performs his leadership role from Engineering Ministries International’s home office in Colorado. (Colorado! I should be thrilled, right?!)

And yet.

This may clarify why I’ve penned (probably too many) posts recently on delightful topics like Christian grief, my Grinchy struggles at Christmaskeeping your heart soft when what you really want to do is give up and get bitter, what to do when your season of life feels…off, and how to work through our own issues of unbelief and their ties to what we think about how God loves us. Y’know. Fun stuff.

Living here is an odd paradox of the most exhausting, dangerous, and angering part of my life—injustice (…and lack of utilities) can do that to a girl—but it’s also been the place I feel most throbbingly alive. It’s where the rumblings of God’s work are keenly felt for me. As lean and muscular of a time as it has been—the purpose of it, the accessibility to helping people and working with the down-and-out has propelled me as I’ve found that rare privilege of the spot where I best connect to God’s heart. It feels like a gold mine to me, to cultivate this field, uncovering the treasures He’s implanted in the poor and nurturing it toward a blossom. I love who it’s made my children; my husband. Who it’s made me.

Even more, I love the Africans I know. Like Oliver, an AIDS orphan, who’s been a constant companion in our work and has labored to succeed in obtaining her counseling degree. Or Yokanah, who at a scrappy, compact 5’1” works his tail off to provide for his family, continually builds his community, and does it all with an infectious 1000-watt smile. Or Hope or Hattie or Pauline, whose intelligence, wit, and courage as brilliant African women use their gifts to serve the poor. Or Helena, or Gilbert, or Ashellah…

(Right. Eight hundred words.)


…all the sparkling Ugandans more than capable of leading their own country while we wheel our bags onto a 757 and go back to a more anonymous life with a consistent electrical supply, like so many missionaries before us. Because we’re not heroes. This is God’s work to complete.

Sometimes: God says no.

But as much as He is the God of the thunder in Job, so utterly “Other” and above my ways–He’s also a God of wounds. He intimately knows what it means to suffer, and suffering is His enemy. Ann Voskamp, who shares her path of reconciling the senseless death of her two-year-old sister, concludes,

[God] gave us Jesus….If God didn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need? If trust must be earned, hasn’t God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips? How will he not also graciously give us all things He deems best and right? He’s already given us the incomprehensible.*

And if He asks me to step down, or perhaps I should say away, no role is too insignificant. God knows what He’s doing, I keep telling myself. I’ll step down from my dual roles as homeschool/refugee teacher (though I may still work with refugees; stay tuned). I’ll be freelance writing full-time (insert gulping, gasping noise), which holds nearly as much terror for me as possibility. I’ll continue to write to you, hoping as always that God has an idea for whatever loaves and fishes I lob into cyberspace.

As they say here, Katonda amanyi. The Lord knows.

I don’t yet have much of a vision beyond the one for my husband and kids, who are infinitely worth this decision. But I have the hope for a vision. Recently I rediscovered the words of C.S. Lewis penned in The Screwtape Letters. In them, a senior demon writes to his protégé:

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause [the Devil’s cause] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will [God’s will], looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Sometimes the loss rolls over me in waves, my head tilted just above water. If you see me, I’m grateful for your grace that allows my sadness, occasional lack of direction, and even passivity or anger in a season I struggle to interpret. My goal is faithfulness; courage; to love well.  To finish well, hopefully with work that will continue when we’ve clanged our gate closed for the last time. I know at times I’ve failed already.

But His power has always been perfect for what He’s asked of me. May He give you, too, the strength for whatever He requires of you. Never forget you are dearly loved.


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*Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts.

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  1. Janel,
    Once again, your honesty is so refreshing. I don’t know if that is your personality, a gift of God, or a byproduct of living in Africa (or a combination). It seems that here in the U.S., the default is plastic Christianity. Well-meaning people (myself included) feel pressure to prove they (we) are good Christians to the rest of Christendom by having no struggles, sins, problems with God, family issues, etc. We all have a perfectly “facebook-sanitized” life. Except we don’t. It’s just a façade, and we are doing ourselves and each other an enormous disservice by maintaining this lie. We could be dealing with our struggles by being honest with ourselves, and we could be supporting one another by being honest with each other. But we are content to avoid the embarrassment, maintain our Supreme High Virtue of “Privacy,” and continue wandering aimlessly in the shallow waters.

    So whatever path God has for you, please stay honest, and keep wrestling with God! (Judging from your posts, I’m sure you will do just that.) Jacob wrestled with God, and limped the rest of his life. We are not guaranteed a limp-free life. But what else can we do, but engage God honestly? Who wants a limp-free but shallow, or worse, Godless life? We may look at God through tears and ask, “God, why did you hurt me?” But as a two year old who has received a spanking from a loving parent, what else can we do except run into the arms of the one who hurt us?

    • Thanks yet again for your encouragement, Phil, and for your passion for truth among God’s people. Yes, one of my go-to verses in all this has been Job’s “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.” Can’t help but think that as I veer away from my own understanding, He’ll help my heart to follow.

  2. Praying for you in the pain of this transition, sweet sister!

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