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Note – all pictures in this post come to you thanks to Carolyn Hochstedler – or the people who were borrowing her camera…haha.
Visiting a different culture has a way of modifying one’s perspective on life. I definitely experienced this phenomenon during my trip to South Africa in February. The Briana that came home on the first of March wasn’t the same Briana who flew out of Dulles on February 9th. God used this trip to shape me and steer me in a slightly different direction, and I’m so thankful for His continuous mercy – and His finger on my life.
Yes, the SA trip was a mission trip, but I feel like I was ministered to just as much as – if not more – than I ministered to others. The trip taught me so much about myself. It pointed out many rough edges in my responses to others, in my willingness to be a servant, in my openness to share the Gospel, and in my trust in scary situations.
(Below: the girls in our group were just amazing. Love them so much!)
My dad was teaching at a Bible school when I left, so I hadn’t seen him for a few days. While I was in Dulles airport getting ready to fly out, he sent me this reminder: “Be a blessing to those around you. Don’t always step to the front. Be content to be in the background. Be at Rest. Schema. Shalom.” He knows me so well. 😉 Those words echoed through my head throughout the entire three weeks. Sometimes I followed them better than others, but I thanked God often for that reminder!
Some of you probably saw my “Notifications Can Wait” post before I left for Africa. In that post I explained how I was hoping the SA trip would help me refocus on what truly matters in life instead of being so caught up with business – and busyness. On the other side of the trip I can tell you that God used this trip to change my perspective in an amazing way. Before I left I had just gotten through a year and a half of the whole publish-a-cookbook fiasco/drama/entrepreneurship endeavor. I learned so much through the process and I definitely don’t regret it, but it turned me into a career woman. I enjoyed that for awhile, I really did. However, I was so ready for life to slow down a little, and I could feel that I was getting too wrapped up in my reputation and my business persona. Being in South Africa for three weeks and taking a break from work for an extended period like that while focusing on Kingdom work and building relationships really changed my outlook on life – and business. I will always be interested in projects, and I have no doubt that I will continue publishing cookbooks (and other books…) in the future, but the process is going to look different. I’ve come to realize (thank you, God!) that people are far more important than my business ventures. Since being home, I’ve been able to really, truly relax for the first time in a long time. Part of that is due to the fact that I don’t have any big projects going on right now. Another part is due to the fact that I haven’t created any new projects for right now. 😛 Yes, I am working on my next cookbook, but it’s happening on my own timetable when I feel like cooking, and I have no clue when it’s going to be published. It might be next year – it might be in FIVE years! Do you know how good it feels to be OK with that? I’m just really thanking God that He used the SA trip to bring my own life into perspective for me so I can serve Him more faithfully. Spending more time with my family and my community since the SA trip has been very refreshing.
One of the biggest blessings of the trip was the group that I got to interact with for three weeks. When I know I’m going to be living in close proximity to a group of people for quite some time, there’s a niggling voice in my brain that says, “What if there’s tons of drama? What if there’s someone I won’t be able to get along with?” There were sixteen of us singers, and of those sixteen, I came to appreciate sixteen lovely people. By the end of the trip, they honestly felt like family to me. I was so blessed by the sincerity with which each one served God. I learned so much from the group’s willingness to serve and the boldness with which they shared the Gospel. There was very little drama. There were many deep conversations. To sum it up: it felt like each person in the group had thought deeply about life and committed to serving God, but even though they could be serious, they could also have fun. That, my friends, is a priceless combination.
(Below: this picture was too good not to share. We went to a conservatory that had a Burmese python, and while I hate snakes and didn’t want to hold it, I knew I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. It actually wasn’t too bad.)
I’ve already shared about God’s protection in various instances in previous posts, so I’ll let you go read those if you missed them. (The mob at the slums – Pennington, the rhino adventure – Bakgatla, and our near-hijacking experience – Samekoms) God’s hand of protection was evidenced on our behalf so often, and I know that there were many times that God protected us when we didn’t even know we were in danger! None of us were accosted or robbed (except for Bro. Paul’s glasses at Joburg airport on the way in). We didn’t see any poisonous snakes. None of us got sick from the water. Praise God! Seeing these evidences of God’s protection was so encouraging.
Perhaps the thing that made the biggest impact on me (and saddened me the most) from the trip was that we had so little time to interact with people. Those children at the schools? We saw them for an hour or two, then left. While God can use a seed of any size to bring someone to Himself, I believe that He calls us first and foremost to be missionaries in our own communities where we can disciple people – follow up with them and live alongside them to encourage them and speak into their lives. The trip was a great wake-up call to me in that it reminded me that I am always on a mission trip. Going to the grocery store is a mission trip. How many opportunities am I missing? While we were in Africa it was easier to remember to talk to people, and since we stood out as foreigners (and oddly-dressed ones at that!), we had lots of opportunities to witness. Here at home we often have to seek out the opportunities with more gusto. Americans in general are more closed to conversation, especially conversation about spiritual matters, than the people in South Africa were. But ministering here is just as important as ministering in Africa. We are all people; we all have eternal souls. Let’s take the opportunity to smile at people, to start conversations, to offer assistance, and to be a friend to the Walmart cashier.
We are blessed. We are all so blessed. How much have I, have you, shared with the world today? In the words of a church sign I once saw:
“You are now entering your mission field.”
Two weeks after we came back from Africa, we had a mini reunion in Virginia (centered around a friend’s wedding) and gave a program at a church Sunday morning. Leah, Stephen, and Vince weren’t able to join us, unfortunately, but we pulled in Abigail’s brother as a first tenor and had an enjoyable time singing together once again. Myron videoed the program, and you can click here to see the whole thing (complete with introductions and anecdotes from the trip).
Missed my picture posts from South Africa? Click here to see them all.
Myron has posted 16 vlogs from the trip, which you can see in this playlist.