Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Amish Country, West-Africa & the ¼ mile in between

A standard ¼ mile high school track spanning over 4,000miles from Lancaster, PA to Catel, Guinea Bissau. That would be impressive, would it not? Or maybe you’d consider it impossible. I certainly believe God is sovereign, ruling over all things, and therefore if He decided tomorrow that the ¼ mile track at CV high school should stretch out until it reaches the clinic of Catel, he could certainly do that. But that is someone else’s story. Here is mine.
Watching the beautiful sunrise as I sipped on morning “coffee” (my hot, coffee flavored, powdered milk beverage) and had my quiet time before heading down to the clinic to treat fungus, STDs, burns, and maybe even suture up a machete wound. Then after clinic head back to the house to hand scrub the tye-dye ankle length dresses I had soaking in a giant basin on the veranda since the day before, go visit some friends, come home and cook diner, get water from the well and shower, and then maybe go lead a kids worship night at church, participate in singing worship with other missionaries at our house, or back out to visit friends in the village until bed time. Of course there were many variations to my daily routine  including but not limited to catching public transport and going to a local market to do some shopping, women’s bible study, going to buy meds in larger villages such as Ingoré  or São Domingos, doing clinic visits for those who were too sick to make it to the clinic, hours spent chatting under my favorite mango tree, warga (gunpowder tea served in 3 separate rounds in tiny glasses sometimes mixes with mint or coffee and always with lots of sugar) and the list goes on. I dare not leave out my favorite past time of Catel, just sitting and being with people. But I think I’ve pained the picture for you.

 That’s a “typical” day in Catel, where I ended up, but how did I get there? If my memory serves me correctly it began after a long winded guilt trip and concussion education because I unsnapped my life vest during a few minutes of the six hours we spent out on the Susquehanna “river” (that was so low we had to get out a few times to drag the boat) kayaking that afternoon. As we pulled out my partner in lifejacket crimes, and longtime best friend and EMT, cautiously began asking if I had plans for the evening then continued to explain that she’d forgotten he signed up to walk/run in the Relay for Life even being held at a local high school with LEMSA (the ambulance company she works for). I laughed in disbelief wondering if she forgot we’d just spent all afternoon in the scorching sun kayaking, before realizing she wasn’t kidding and she wanted me to go. So after over a decade of friendship and since it was for such a great cause, a few hours later I found myself wandering around the track at Conestoga Valley High school looking for the familiar faces of LEMSA personnel. Though it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a group of people who can’t be more than 1/8 mile away from you at any given time on a quarter mile track, we eventually caught up with them and Meg introduced me to those I didn’t know from the ER, including Sean Fitzgerald. Sean’s a cool guy. He love helping people,  is always cracking jokes and, as I would soon find out, is up for almost anything.
How exactly do you occupy your time while you circle around and around a ¼ miletrack? Chat of course. And it was during the course of that conversation that Sean shared he’d recently been accepted to serve in a clinic in Guinea-Bissau with Eastern Mennonite Missions.  Now the truth is I’m a nurse, a math and science kind of girl. Geography, however, is not exactly my strong point. Though it’s fairly safe to say a country with a name you’ve never heard is most likely in Africa, one never can be sure, so I shamefully needed to ask exactly where Guinea-Bissau was. But as the night went on and we began discussing missions and Africa I was re-awakened to my passion for both of the prior and began to pray for patience, having just graduated from nursing school seven months before and began a RN-BSN program a mere 3 months prior, it was not good timing to be thinking missions. Or so I thought. And so when we left a few hours later, though I wanted to keep in touch with Sean and try to offer support in whatever way I could, though Sean mentioned calling EMM for information I had zero intention of pursuing this and in fact repeatedly reminded myself and my best friend that though God has been stirring in my heart for some time to serve in missions in a larger capacity, now was not the time.

Within a few weeks Sean had contacted me saying EMM was looking for at least 2 medical providers to go to Catel and perhaps a nurse. I remember the moment vividly. I was once again with my best-friend Meg, but this time I was riding shotgun and we were headed down Rt 1 on our way to the beach. Having overheard the conversation about EMM wanting to send a nurse she said “I’m pretty sure you’re going to Guinea-Bissau.” Shocked at her confident observation, I confessed that with each short term mission trip I had gone on God has grown and grown my heart for missions until my friend from nursing school basically drug me out of Malawi, and my calling to missions was clarified to return to Africa after a few trips to non-african 3rd world countries but I was stubborn and continued to explain the 100 reasons why it couldn’t be me, not now, I knew nothing about Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese, Sean or EMM, I was in the midst of a RN-BSN program, I was just getting acclimated to my RN role in the Emergency Room, not to mention that the team was leaving in December and going required raising thousands of dollars that I did not have and the list went on. Looking back I wonder who I was trying to convince. It certainly wasn’t my friend. Perhaps myself or even God. I didn’t yet see how He was at work in this, how He was about to fulfill so many of my desires beyond but what I could ever imagine.  Less than 2 months later I was sitting on a picnic bench in Salunga with EMM staff, thrilled and terrified to be signing up for the next adventure God had led me to… Catel, Guinea-Bissau.

In the roughly two months in between the relay for life event where I ran into sean and the day I officially decided to go I prayed,prayed, and prayed some more. I First prayed that God would give me patience and help me forget about it, then that God would lead me to His will, next that he would tell me if this (Guinea-Bissau December 2011) was the mission to which He was leading me, and then finally as I began to step out and coordinate things with EMM I continuously asked for Him to confirm that calling. While I didn’t get the burning bush or stone tablet I was looking for, one thing I repeatidly hear from God during this time was that if I could think of one reason which was not rooted in fear not to go, then I shouldn’t go. “But God, what if I can’t find a job when I get back?” Fear. “What if I can’t find enough supporters?” Fear. “What if I don’t know enough or have enough experience to treat people there?” Fear. Though some of these fears were legitimate concerns, they were all fears. Thus though terrified, dumbfounded and completely clueless, I stepped out and told EMM I was interested in going. And one by one the obstacles began to fall away as God opened door after door, and began to combat many of the fears that I’d wrestled with up until this point.

Little did I know, on that warm summer evening after a long day on the river, that with each passing lap on the track God was nudging my heart closer to the next chapter He had for me that brought the greatest joy of my life. As with most catalysts for spiritual growth, that journey was not without times of pain and trial but I saw God move in the hearts of many of my Guinensee friends, in my own heart, and most of all he vibrantly illuminated the deep and ever growing calling that He put in my life for missions.

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