Me and Africa. It's such a part of me that sometimes I am surprised, after months of getting to know someone, when I realize they don't know that I plan to move to Africa as soon after graduation as I can. It seems as obvious as the fact that I have brown hair, and more integral to who I am, harder to change. The craziness of a random white girl planning to move to Mali, West Africa, to spend her life playing barefoot soccer and fighting sex trafficking, demands an explanation. But the story behind it is long and strange, and over the last year of small introductions that are part of the everyday life of college, I've come up with an "elevator speech" version to keep it short.
The conversations would usually go something like this: "Wow, Africa, what makes you want to go there?" "Well, I went there when I was sixteen for two weeks with my dad, and I fell in love with it. There's no way I could not go back."
This version of events is all perfectly true; it kept it simple, easy, and more comprehensible than the real thing. But I realized that it also denies the complexity and strangeness of the real story, the glory of the storyteller behind it all.
So here's a truer "elevator speech" of my story.
"When I was 10, God told me to be a missionary. I was afraid I was going a little crazy. When I was 12, God was like 'Go to Africa' and a few months later, he added 'Mali, West Africa, to be specific.' At this point, I was certain that I was crazy, God was talking to me. But I decided to trust Him, and went with it. I got a job and saved my pennies till I was 16, when I went to Mali, and found out that neither God or I were crazy, this was what I was created to do."
It's an insane thing to tell people, announcing you were a twelve year old with a habit of having casual chats with God, that completely up-end your life. But I'm not going to deny it anymore, not going to try and make the truth easier for people. Because the truth is that a God who is anything but simple, or easy, or comprehensible invaded my life and turned it upside down. He called a small town girl who would have been happy to get married, raise babies, live all her life in a house next to her mamma's, to the other side of the planet. When I sacrificed what I wanted, chose to trust that His will (no matter how hard) was the only place I'd ever want to be, I was rewarded with more joy, purpose and passion than I could ever deserve. I fell in love with the red dirt, the white smiles, the strength of a people who choose to laugh in the face of hell.
Since the age of twelve, I wanted to move to Africa because that was what God wanted me to do. Since the age of sixteen, I've wanted to move to Africa because that is what I want to do too, because the stories He writes for us are harder, stranger and more improbably, incomprehensibly wonderful than anything we could dream up.
If you let Him, this hard, inscrutable God, who asks of us hard things, will tell a story with your life; a story no elevator speech will ever do justice to.