africa · Faith

When My “No” Means God’s “Yes”

Even 9 months later, it rarely leaves my mind. Unbidden images and memories arise throughout the day, a wonderful and painful reminder of my time in Africa. Wonderful because despite all the hardships, I truly loved what I was doing. But painful because my goodbyes were all rushed, intertwined with uncertainty, pain, and fear, after an injury that forced me to depart a continent I had come to call home.


Learning to say goodbye has become an impossible task, and the yearn to return hasn’t lessened in time. I know I’ll be in Africa again someday, because the heart strands connecting me to the dusty ground of Africa are strong. Within my fully American, born-and-raised-Iowa heart beats a slightly different pattern, one full of drumbeats, foot stomps, and ululations.

It’s comical, because I started off saying “no” to it all.

I’ve written a little here and there about Africa on this blog, and I’ve delved into its impact on my  life and my worldview. But I haven’t shared the day-to-day, crazy-but-comical realities of African life. Like the marriage proposal of “If I change my shirt, you will marry me!”, or the time I was asked to dance in front of all my school officials and village elders. There are moments uncountable that I could write about from my 2.5 years in Africa, and it’s about time I did.

If you’re part of the super awesome Christian blogging world, you might have heard of the “31 Days” project that is hosted yearly by “The Nester” (who has some AWESOME DIY skills, by the way). I’m diving into this project with my 31 Days of African Memories. The more I think about this, the more I excited I become. Not to show off or say “Hey, look what I did!” But because African is near and dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to share some of the memories that impacted me the most. Those little, everyday memories that still bring a smile (and sometimes a look of disbelief/horror…remember the dancing?) to my face.

This is the space where I share my heart for Africa with you, and show you how the Lord changed me through a “yes” that I nearly flippantly gave on a bus ride through Washington, DC. That “yes” was the start of a journey that I never could have imagined. It involved many other “yes’s”, to living with a host family (EEK at the time), to eating goat nose, and to embracing projects I didn’t feel 100% comfortable managing.

And it started with a big, fat “NO”. 

You see, after I had said “yes” to the Peace Corps, I was sitting at the desk of a recruiter in Alexandria, VA. He had decided I was a good candidate to serve, and he was looking for nominate me to a specific region. This normally happens after the interview, but he was a pretty cool guy and took my input into consideration, choosing to nominate me while I was there. After narrowing down a few things, this happened:

“Well, I have a placement leaving in June to Asia, teaching university English. I also have one in Africa, with a note that you should be comfortable with ‘death and dying'”.

I looked at him oddly, saying, “What does that mean?”

“Um, it probably means there is a lot of HIV/AIDS or TB. Which one do you want?”

“Well, I’m not too comfortable with that, so let’s go with the Asia one.”

God gave me a chance to say “yes” to His plan, and I said “no”. Yet He changed that “no” to a “yes” just a few months later, and in July 2011, I found my shoes touching African soil for the first time. I’m so grateful God gives second chances, as I wouldn’t wish away my time in Africa for anything.

He works in incredible ways, and these memories are now a part of who I am. I’m so grateful He brought me to my African home, and though I miss it some days almost more than I can bear, I am grateful to have been there. And someday, I look forward to returning.


Today I’m linking up with Holly, as I share how the Lord changed my heart for Africa, all through a simple “no”.  Read along with the other #TestimonyTuesday ladies as we share how the Lord has been working in our lives.

Holly Barrett



14 thoughts on “When My “No” Means God’s “Yes”

  1. As one former ex-pat to another, I am very glad that you are going to take the chance to reclaim all the wonderful memories of your host country in a public and positive way. I hope it goes a long way to helping you feel at home again in America.

    1. Thanks Helene! Readjustment to American life has been REALLY difficult, and I haven’t been in a place to really write about it all. But now? Here we go!

  2. Jen,
    Tell, tell, tell us ALL about it! Can’t wait. I entered the Peace Corps and was assigned to Mauritania – which was the highest ranked (red flagged) for that “death and dying” deal at the time. God ended up redirecting me, and I didn’t go. (longer story) – but would love to hear about your Africa days – I dream of the day I will go myself!!!

    1. Ginger-isn’t that fascinating? The whole “death and dying” thing creeped me out a lot, and so I chose the “easier” route. But God has ways of making His plan work out after all!

  3. I love our defiant “no’s” because God just chuckles and reminds us once again He is in charge and when He says “yes”, He means “yes”! I look forward to hearing more about your African moments. Have a beautiful week!

    1. Yes, He does what He wants with our “no’s” sometimes, all for our benefit. How amazing! 🙂 Though at the time it doesn’t always seem that way. 😉

  4. Yay! So excited for this! And our minds must be on the same wavelength .. I’m planning to do my 31 Days this year on “31 Days of Life in South Africa.” Can’t wait to see how our stories merge and overlap! (Also adding a twist to my 31 Days this year, which I’ll announce in the Five Minute Friday post tomorrow night.) 🙂 Happy planning!

  5. Greetings Jen! The excitement and love for Africa and your time there jumps from the page! May God bless every word as you meander through your memories during 31 days in October. ~visiting from Testimony Tuesday~

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