I came to Africa with mixed motives.
I came because I love my Arab refugee friends and I wanted to learn to love them in more culturally relevant ways.
I came because I wanted to get over my ex. But also because he loved Muslims and I wanted him to be proud of me.
I came because I’ve never felt as close to God as I wanted to. As a kid, I idolized overseas workers, imagining that they had a special trust relationship with God. I thought that maybe if I went overseas, I’d have that kind of relationship too.
I came because going overseas was my childhood dream. As I was getting ready to shift gears in my career, I realized there was nothing standing in between me and the dream—so why not?
Like I said, mixed motives.
But going overseas isn’t magical. It hasn’t changed me in all the ways that I wanted it to. On the down days, I wonder what I’m even doing here. If it’s all about following Jesus from inside our own cultural contexts, shouldn’t I be following him back home where I’m best equipped to do so? Is this trip just a convoluted self-discovery project?
Yeah, I’m a kind of a mess at the moment.
But I keep coming back to a conversation I had with Jesus on our Ignatian adventure last year. It was dark outside and we were sitting together on the deck of a ship. We were staring at a snarled mass that I had dragged up from the ocean floor in a previous prayer session. I described it in my journal like this:
I am sitting on the deck, knees pulled up to my chest, staring at the dark, tangled mass. It seems even bigger now than it was when I carried it up from the ocean floor, and tangled up in the fear, I see resentment, anger, unforgiveness, doubt—everything that’s wrong with me. He is sitting next to me, looking at me, looking at it.
“Jesus,” I say, “if you want to, you can make it clean.” But I think to myself—we’ve been here before. He doesn’t want to—not now—that’s what happens when you die.
But he looks over at me and he says, “Ang, I want to.”
“Really,” he says, getting up and then reaching down to lift me up. We walk across the deck to the mass.
“Let me show you,” he says and he reaches out to pull at a dark little tangle till it comes away free in his hand. “I want to do it together,” he says.
My eyes fill with tears—he wants to do it together. I get so frustrated with him for not waving his magic wand when he wants to do it together. With me.
“Let me show you,” he says, “Give it a try—see that piece there? Pull it to the left—just gently—and it will come free.”
I obey and it comes off in my hand.
Immediately I’m overwhelmed. “This is going to take ages—ages! And I’m such a distracted person—it’s going to be so painfully slow—” I’m apologizing ahead of time but he interrupts me.
“I know,” he says, “That’s ok. I just want to be with you Ang.”
I just want to be with you, Ang. I just want to be with you.
I keep playing those words over in my head. I may be sitting here in Africa filled with questions and mixed motives, but I’m on this adventure with Jesus and in the end, that’s the only thing that matters. I’m definitely not doing everything right, but Jesus is with me and we have the rest of my life to figure things out together.