For those of you who know me well, you know that I’ve been going through a metamorphosis of sorts. After college, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Just over the past year, I was laid-off, engaged in a social environment that wasn’t catered to my development as a person, and was rejected in a pursuit of a relationship. In that same year, I was provided a new job, learned how to invest in a community, was accepted in my pursuit of a relationship, discovered my faith so that I could finally stand for something, and was given the opportunity to touch the lives of people in another country. In life we all go through trials and periods of celebration but how great is He who can use those tribulations to further enhance life’s positive experiences. I hope that this testimony will instill a spark inside your hearts to contemplate life and begin your journey in faith while you are strong and able because time is short. If we wait until we die, we might miss the incredible adventure that was intended for our lives. One thing I noticed from my time abroad was how people lived their lives. They didn’t have nearly as many physical “things” as we have and yet they seemed happier – really LIVING life. Since my return to The States, I find that we are bombarded with so many options and marketing campaigns, that we become obsessed with making the RIGHT decision in order to achieve some greater level of happiness. What if we could make a decision and have the faith that we could find joy in any circumstance. How much more could we get out of life if we found joy in our experiences (good and bad) instead of dwelling in what we should have done, or being stuck in the destructive mindset of “woe is me”? Romans 5:3-5 says in the NIV, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” After meditating on this truth, I began to understand that now forgetting my keys isn’t just to cause a nuisance, but is a chance to practice patience; a broken bone isn’t robbing me of something that was mine but an opportunity to practice faith; and a death of a close family member isn’t a divine attack on my heart but can proved a possibility to show love in family relationships where relationships might be strained or non-existent. It seemed to me that their faith in God helped them approach everything with a mindset of “everything was for us and nothing was against us” which led me to ponder what if we had the same type of mindset. This type of faith, this type of thinking is just a fraction of what I had learned in Ethiopia: living to live instead of dwelling in our inadequacies.
Most of you who are close to me and my family, know that I have moved a lot while growing up. Our lives were filled with a “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. Because of that, I became really good at making a lot of friends. If you doubt that, find me on Facebook… Although this seems like a positive from some perspectives, I began to realize that although I had a large quantity of good friends, I didn’t have any really close friends who knew me. When a relationship became strained or I felt the need to move to another social group, I would pick up and leave. I guess it’s easier to not get too close in case I ever need to say good bye. It wasn’t until a year ago, last September that I began to explore the idea of transparency, community, and how they relate to faith. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” It is my assertion that it is in our nature to desire to be loved for who we are completely, both the good and the bad. It is through having faith in how the bad has shaped you that leads us to share. Once we receive a reaction of love we can begin to feel whole. In essence, we are free to no longer hide different parts of us anymore. Although I am still working through this idea (and probably will be for the duration of my life), simply working on it has changed me drastically in regards to developing healthy relationships with people who truly see me and building new friendships with people I come in contact with. God has used things in my past to strengthen and redeem me in a way that I can reach out to others. In Ethiopia it helped me in opening up to the people I met which in turn helped them open up with me. This gave me opportunities to become empathetic to their needs and really see them for who they are from the inside out. When I had conflict with Hebtambu, I relied on this idea, understanding that there was a reason he was acting a certain way. Perhaps he was plagued with a feeling of inadequacies leading to a perspective towards foreigners built around the ideas of, “how could they come here and really love me with all the things that they have? How could they really care or understand when they don’t see the things I see on a daily basis?”
As a result of my interactions with Hebtambu, I began to feel really convicted about something but couldn’t put my finger on it. James 1:9-10 says, “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.” Upon reading this passage, I began to realize another big reason I began this journey to begin with. It began to become apparent to me that two things were happening. First, although I realized I wanted to help the needy, I didn’t realize exactly how much they would be helping me. Without materiality and the fear of not obtaining the American Dream clouding their relationships and judgments, Ethiopians were free to live life rooted in their faith. I began to realize that I was feeling empty before because I had placed my identity in things that were out of my control: career, health, relationships, etc. – things that I thought would make me happy. Thinking that “I had it made” when I came over seas, I didn’t anticipate the fact that perhaps it was I who was in a low position. Through this, God showed me a great deal about living in the present and not dwelling in fear on whether my decisions would pan out the way I wanted them to. The second thing happening was that Hebtambu felt low when he was actually in a high position. Because of his circumstance, he didn’t have anything to obstruct his reliance on faith and his community except for his insecurities. I realized that my conviction was to persevere through the uncomfortable relationship so that hopefully through my actions and investing in him, he could understand this truth and find power and hope in his circumstance rather than emptiness. This was also apparent to me when I went to visit the leprosy colony. The old couple there was so gracious and joyful, praising God in their circumstance that I almost cried. In order to experience this, two things needed to happen: 1) I needed to realize that I was in a low position by witnessing a humble circumstance and, 2) The couple needed to realize that they were in a high position by encouraging graciously. It is ironic seeing people who have nothing give everything and people who have everything give nothing…
To summarize my experience, I had diarrhea twice, was electrocuted, had congestion once, had pink eye in both eyes, painted in the rain, and still came out alive. Dealing with the elements, my health, learning names I wasn’t familiar with, learning a language I’ve never heard, teaching classes, and learning customs I knew nothing about; I had to root myself in something. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.” I was so worried about completing all my tasks on time and trying to be a good “servant” that I felt overwhelmed. Once I realized that I had no control over the elements or what bacteria I would be infested with the next day, I understood that it wasn’t the outcome of the tasks that was important, it was how I performed the tasks that I was given. I began to ask myself, “When I’m teaching, am I patient?”, “When I’m engaged in conflict am I approaching it with gentleness?”, and “When I’m investing in a new friendship, do I exhibiting love?” By switching the focus to the process and not the outcome, I began to notice a real connection with those around me. When I returned to the United States, I had a conversation with Getinet, the director and founder of Strong Hearts. He suggested that I should become a full time missionary and that he and the whole organization missed me. I missed them, just as much and felt a great sense of joy and encouragement and realized that the whole reason I embarked on this journey finally came to a conclusion. In the second half of Romans 15:31, Paul says, “[Pray] that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there”. When Getinet expressed his thanks, I knew that my service pleased them and was “acceptable”, which was a great way to conclude such a divine experience. As I move forward from this milestone in God’s shaping of my character, I look forward to the many opportunities to live transformed. As you move forward, whether you are Christian or not, I encourage you to meditate on this, Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”