When I was 18, I made a life changing trip. I took my little white-girl-from-Montana self and boarded a jet for the first time. I hunkered down in my seat, taking in all that was around me as I watched my mountains fade from view outside my tiny window, and my horizons open to things I not yet knew possible. It was a long trip, thirty six hours, to be exact. I made transfers and caught adjoining flights. I sampled airline food and spoke with strangers from all over the world. I saw technology from places I thought to be third world, and would soon learn that the third and first worlds can live side by side, separated by a street and an ocean of privilege.
I knew it would be hot, where I was going. But I hadn’t anticipated the sweltering heat that took my breath away when the hatch doors opened. I realized about half way through my journey that I hadn’t made another contact with my soon-to-be roommate recently, and I prayed that my mom had had the foresight (like most mothers do) to ensure that a ride would be waiting for me when I disembarked. What would I do if she didn’t? I wondered. Here in this country where I might be able to pick up a few words of the imported tongue, my French rusty from two years of neglect. How would I find my way to my new temporary home? I had never ridden in a taxi before, let alone one which would travel down main roads riddled with potholes and with a driver who may look at me and see exactly who I was: a privileged white girl, naïve in her wonderings of the world. On her own.
But my mom, bless her, and followed through where I had not, and when I stepped foot on this new soil, so different a continent than what I had known, I was not alone. I was met by our church missionary and a couple of her friends, and they took me to my new residences, a small apartment on a walled in campus, in Lome, Togo, West Africa. at eighteen you think you know it all, and I quickly learned that the world was a much larger place than I had given God credit for. I remember driving to WAAST (West African Advanced School of Theology) as the night began to grow dark, and the streets filled with candle and lantern light. Not like the streetlights of my home. Here men and women had shanty booths where they sold there wears, and lacking the electricity of a typical storefront, they lit their world of commerce by fire.
The streets were so crowded here, in this capital city. The population here alone was greater than many of the larger cities of my home state combined. And for the first time in my life, I was the minority. I didn’t really see racism in my youth. Being a northern girl, and in a large state with few people, there wasn’t just wasn’t segregation around me. But I knew that in other places in my country I would feel the tension of racial discord. But here, surrounded by the people of Africa, I felt for the first time what it might be like to be the minority. It didn’t bother me, I don’t think I’m a racist person, but it did set me aside. I would learn in my short time in Africa just what it meant to be white in not only the US, but there as well. In Togo it meant that I had money, even though to my standards I didn’t. I was paying to be there, to volunteer for my church, not the other way around. And yet, the pennies that I had to may name were far greater than the salaries of those who habituated this land. Because I was white, and wealthy, I received marriage proposals like nobody’s business. Fathers of students would come to visit their sons and ask me if I would be interested in marrying them. Now keep in mind, I might not necessarily have been the ONLY wife, let alone the first. (And mamma don’t share) I even had proposals from moto drivers and salesmen at Le Grande Marche (our open-air shopping market). While initially flattering, sure, it was all a bit surreal. But my pale skin didn’t only afford me marriage proposals. I quickly learned that white women were prime targets for kidnapping-our parents would pay a ransom quite large for our return. And it also meant something to the children I saw. One morning, while walking through a neighborhood with a dear friend of mine, I saw a sweet little girl who couldn’t have been more than four. I waved and smiled at her, but her response to me was to run off screaming in terror. I looked to my friend for explanation, and she told me that the child was frightened of me, that she’d never seen a white person before and was afraid I was a ghost. That broke my heart. But she would not be the first child in Africa to do so.
Though I lived in the capital city, poverty and political discord surrounded me. There was trash lining the streets and our neighbors lived in structures that I would hesitate to call a shack. And the children, oh the children. It was difficult to see the beggars in the street. The ones who were adults and hardened by a life that was far from fair. But the babes that lined the streets, begging for money or food, the ones who were orphaned, or claimed to be so, those are the ones that tore at my heartstrings. Those are the ones I wanted to take home with me, who I would have given the world and all my coins. Those are the ones that still call to me.
When I returned home, I promised myself that one day I would make a difference. When I changed career paths and chose to go to nursing school, I vowed to one day do medical missions. My heart has always wanted to travel back, to go and work in an orphanage and take comfort and food, love and medicine. To help those who cannot help themselves. And life has taken it’s own turns. I can’t leave right now. I can’t take that trip across the ocean and devote my life to an orphanage, my hubby says I’d never leave, or that I’d bring them all home with me. And the reality is that he’s right. But my heart aches to fill a need. And today I’ve learned of a way to help.
I’ve talked before of (in)Courage, a partnership with DaySpring and a wealth of support for the hearts of women. I’ve mentioned that I’ll be co-leading a study for Adoptive Mommas (message me if you are interested!) and that I join up with these fab girls for Five Minute Fridays and have met some kindred spirits among their ranks. Well, (in)Courage is taking things a bit farther, and have created (in)Mercy. I watched the videos about Mercy House this morning to learn more, and I was captured by the women I saw there, and their mission to help the Mommas and babies of Kenya. You see, when I was eighteen I went to Africa, and I left a piece of my heart there. I can’t go back right now. I can’t fulfill those promises that I made to myself. But I can help.I’m praying to make a difference for these women, and I so hope that you’ll join in and help too.