Africa in photos

I’ve been back from Africa for over a week now, and am very much back to the grindstone here in New York City. It’s been a busy week, with not much time leftover for processing all of the things that have happened and the things that have changed in me since leaving for Johannesburg. I’m still struggling to find the words for what I experienced (much to the dismay of my friends here, who are very tired of hearing me describe everything as amazing and incredible). There are other things that I enjoy holding close to my heart and just don’t feel ready to share yet. And that’s OK!

But pictures exist. I may not have words, but I have hundreds of pictures – and indeed, I shared a handful with friends and family while I was on the road. Here’s an overview of my trip, from the perspective of my Instagram feed.

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Our trip started out in the most relaxing and touristy way possible: With back-to-back safaris in Kruger National Park. We spied ALL of the Big Five (lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, leopards), which is apparently very rare for spending less than three days – thanks Jesus!

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The next day we drove into Swaziland, which I have to say is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’d heard from others who had been that the landscape was stunning, but you really just have to see it for yourself.

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We visited our first carepoint with Children’s Cup and saw for the first of many times how happy you can make a kid with a lollipop and a selfie.

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The next day, we went into Madonsa – a village of Manzini, the largest city in Swaziland – and my heart burst (with joy!) into a million pieces (most of which are still lying around Swaziland somewhere). This beautiful little girl is Hlob’sile, and I have the great honor of sponsoring her through Children’s Cup. Meeting her in person and seeing her life firsthand was absolutely a dream come true.

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After Madonsa we visited New Village, where our local missionaries spend most of their time. We were able to help prepare and serve the kids’ daily meal (including a live chicken slaughter, which was… interesting). The kids at New Village were so very joyful – and some got very attached!

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On Saturday we were in a rural village to put on a family fun day. I helped lead a group of 6-12 year olds (120 of them!) in games and Bible verses. Oh, and a lot of them didn’t speak English. They were crazy well-behaved, though – as were most of the kids we encountered throughout the week,

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This is Monkey, and she lives at an orphanage called the I Am Not Forgotten Home with six other children and the woman who is raising them. To be honest, I don’t remember what day we visited. It’s all a blur. But I do remember Monkey clear as day: She did not utter a word to me the entire time we were there, but as we were getting ready to leave she ran over, scaled my body to perch near my shoulder, and grinned for the camera. I guess that’s where the name comes from!

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Sunday was a rest day, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was struck down with food poisoning. I still managed to drag myself to church and then out shopping though – this marketplace was right behind our hotel, and can you imagine a more beautiful setting for picking up some souvenirs?!

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Finally, on our last full day, a few of us snuck off to visit Madonsa and our sponsor children one last time. Leaving was not easy.

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I’ll be back with more words as they come, but for now, suffice to say: I love Africa, and I don’t think it will be long before I’m back again.

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Thoughts on going to Africa

I’ve been on exactly one mission trip in my life, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, when I was 14. I hated it. I cried myself to sleep every night in our little cabin because it was cold and smelly and I missed my family.

Later that year in school – my freshman year of high school – I took my first (well, my only) geography class. When we were learning about the cultures of Asia and Africa, I remember thinking just how big this world is. The things we were learning about were so far outside my realm of experience that they may as well have been on another planet, rather than the other side of my own. I knew at that point that I would like to travel to Europe someday, but I just assumed that I wouldn’t leave the Western world. It didn’t help matters that I didn’t personally know anyone at that point who had been to those faraway places.

I first started thinking about Africa as a possibility a little over a year ago, when I read Doing Life Differently, a memoir by Luci Swindoll. It only came across my radar because my mom sent it to me, and she did so because I was already doing life differently, having quit everything to move to New York City.

Among other things, in the book Luci describes her frequent trips to Africa. She started traveling there when she had retired, and as she talks about the safaris and the mission work, I started thinking, Maybe I’ll do that. Maybe once I’ve done everything else, and I’m retired, I’ll start traveling to Africa.

In November of last year, God challenged me to spend 2015 in obedience. Basically, He had some pretty big plans for me and wanted to make sure I’d go along with them. I laughed. For 2014, He had challenged me to be happy. Couldn’t we do something fun like that again? Nope. It was to be obedience.

In April, He told me I’d go to Africa this year. I laughed again. Please, God. I have a full-time job. I make very little money. I’m only 25. I just don’t see how this is possible. In May, my church announced they were taking a team to Swaziland in the fall. Of course they were. I struggled with it some more and finally went to an info session in June. Maybe this will be enough. Maybe I’m just supposed to learn more about Africa, get to know and pray for the team, and go myself some other time.

I booked my ticket the next day.

Somehow, it’s all worked out. My boss wasn’t amused, but he did eventually (two weeks ago) approve my time off. My team members turned their schedules upside-down to cover for me. I dropped a big chunk of my savings on airfare and fees, but there’s still plenty left. I started sponsoring a child so I’d have someone to spoil, and I already love her more than I thought possible.

If I could go back in time and tell my 14-year-old self, the girl who hated mission trips and couldn’t fathom a world outside the United States, that she’d be boarding a plane to Johannesburg at 25, that she’d be excited about it – well, she’d probably have a panic attack. But this is just a testament to how people change, and how God starts preparing us for our purpose long before we even have an inkling of what it is.

We leave tomorrow! I’ll hopefully be posting on Instagram as much as possible. I won’t be blogging until I get back mid-next week – thanks for understanding!