You don’t realize how much you miss home until you return after a long time away.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been back from Africa for two weeks. The time there was wonderful and amazing, and I am so blessed by the people I met and the ladies on the team. I had missed Africa so much for the past ten years, and I now have a renewed longing to return.
As some people know, I got back earlier this month from a short-term missions trip to Zambia. Six other ladies and I had the incredible privilege of visiting the Children’s Nest Orphanage in Choma, Zambia. It’s funny how, though we traveled nearly 30 hours from Clifton Springs, and the scenery was different, I knew I was home. From the welcome by our gregarious hostess, our bus ride through the countryside dotted with baobab trees and blink-and-you’ll-miss them towns, to the friendly smiles, eager children, and streets lined with people, Zambia felt like home.
Thirteen years ago, when I first set foot in Africa, I had spent months reading about culture shock and how to prepare to cope with it. The sights, the smells, the scenery in Senegal were so different from my hometown in upstate NY that I learned to lean completely on God for the first time. The second time I visited Senegal was in 2004; Brian was there, too, and I was excited and comfortable despite the difference in culture.
Zambia and Senegal are quite different (after all, Africa is a continent, not just one big country), but I felt a sense of familiarity in Zambia. Part of what was familiar was relying on God for the unknown factors, like my suitcase not arriving with the rest, trusting I would be okay without it, then being very pleasantly surprised that it arrived with the next group of luggage, before we even left the airport in Zambia. (“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’…or ‘What shall we wear?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matthew 6:31-32)
Another way being in Africa felt like home was the expectation of new tastes and smells. I got to eat nshima (“shee-ma”) for the first time, a Zambian staple made by boiling fine corn meal and ends up the consistency of soft playdoh. It is kneaded in the right hand (you only use your right hand for eating); a small dent is made with your thumb, and then you use that as a scoop to pick up vegetables (kale, spinach, greens) or gravy (tomatoes and onions). A kind lady, Mrs B*, fixed our supper each day and left it in the oven for us. She is an excellent cook and a woman of quiet strength. While we were there, she left for a day and a half to attend the funeral of a nephew who died suddenly. Though certainly grieving, she was right back the next day calmly making supper for us.
Although it could have been overwhelming, with so much need and just some suitcases of supplies and ourselves to give, as a team we responded with God’s love, each helping the others. Each of my team members was a true blessing, each with her own strengths: humor, quiet spiritual strength, the ability to cheer others up and energize them, strong love for the children, dedication to helping the orphanage, the ability to look at a situation and express how it fits into the overall cultural picture. Each brought something beautiful to the team and, we hoped, to those around us.
And on our final day at the orphanage, one of our Zambian hostesses blessed us with a clearer understanding of how our visit could make a difference for the children and staff of the orphanage.
“Teams like this bring hope,” said a caregiver known as “Grandma.” “They are seen as a sign of God’s love and provision.”
It was great to be back in Africa, my home away from home, even for just a short visit. I long to be back there again, next time with Brian and the kids.
Then I will really feel like I am home again.