Three years ago, I was busy packing my life into two suitcases. I was only a week and a half away from departing on a plane, preparing to move to Africa for the next two years. It was the start of an adventure that I never could have imagined, full of both heartache and joy.
It was a journey I said “no” to, more than once.
I remember in high school, hearing about the Peace Corps. I thought it was a cool idea, but it terrified me. Two years in a foreign country? It was definitely something I could never do. I pushed it out of my mind.
It lurked there, the next several years. Until my senior year of college, which I felt an inexplicable urging to apply. After prayers and listening for answers, I finally got one and sent in my application. It still scared me, but I felt compelled to go.
And then I sat down for my recruitment interview. With Peace Corps, you don’t really get to say where you want to go (you can try, but it doesn’t really matter much in the end), so I decided to let the Lord determine where I would go. After telling my recruiter I was willing to go anywhere, we sat down to nominate me to a placement, which was the next step in the application process.
Long story short, he brought up one placement he felt was right, teaching English in a Sub-Saharan African country, which required volunteers to be comfortable with “death and dying”. When I questioned this, he said it likely meant it was a country with a very high HIV/AIDS rate.
That scared me, and I selfishly said “no” and took the placement for an Asian country. I didn’t think I could handle Africa. I didn’t want to see things I couldn’t unsee, and experience extreme poverty. I didn’t want to face the difficulties of the world head on, and rather than just see them, live them.
So I said “no” and chose a safer option.
But the Lord pushes us out of our comfort zone for a reason. Sometimes it’s just a toe outside our comfort zone, and sometimes it’s like being catapulted from your comfort zone, flung so far you can’t scarcely remember your old normal.
Outside my comfort zone, I found growth, flexibility, patience, understanding, and sympathy. I found host families who opened their homes to a very strange American. I met children who had never interacted with a “lekgoa” or “mulungu” before (white person). I lived without running water or a vehicle. I learned new languages, new cultures, and new foods.
Three years ago, I was writing about wildesbeests and elephants. I had no clue what life would hold for me in South Africa, but a few days later, I stepped foot on the 16 hour flight that would change how I saw the world.
And it all started with a “no”.