That was last week for me. Last week I was so sick that the missionaries, who were sick themselves, checked me into the hospital. I was completely alone in an African hospital room, away from my family and my home. I was so sick that French didn't work and I was deliriously trying to talk to the nurses in Spanish and they couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand them. I was burning with fever and throwing up ice water and I knew that if they came and tried to shave my head to lower my fever then I would let them. And my joints hurt from the virus and my back hurt from the hard bed. My head hurt so badly that my vision was clouding. And then the next night when I realized they weren't releasing me and I was so nauseated and so lonely and my IV was filling with my own blood because the doctors wouldn't come change it. There were mosquitoes everywhere and I thought, 'If I didn't have malaria before I came here, I will when I leave.' And I had thrown up in the bedpan they gave me, but no one ever cleaned it up, and I had no idea how to ask anyone to take care of it. I stared at the white walls and at the plate of food that I was too sick to eat, and all I wanted to do was to get out of here, to be in Arkansas, in my own comfy bed, with medicine I recognized and people I knew. I told myself that if I had the energy to walk, I would walk out of the hospital, hail a cab, catch an airplane home, and be done with it. That was last week.
But then I think back a little further. And I think about that evening last spring when I jerked awake because I was dreaming about Africa. In my dream, I was biking down the dirt road on the other side of the city, where I used to live, and I was completely happy. I saw the other bicycles straddled by African women (all waving and smiling, of course), and the pedestrians and the donkeys and the bright, dusty colors of African life. I was biking along in the heat, wearing the bike helmet that the missionaries insisted that I purchase. But then I realized that I wasn't, in fact, there anymore, and I stopped my bike in disappointment. And then I realized that I was dreaming and wasn't in Africa. And with that realization, a physical pain hit my chest. And then suddenly I was awake. I was awake and I was crying. My chest hurt like someone had punched me and I knew it was because I was lonely for my home, for my Africa. I knew I had to get back.
I think of what it's like NOT to be here but to wish that I were. I think of that horrible, lonely feeling of 'I would give anything to be in Africa right now' that consumes my thoughts, my concentration, my being, when I am in the States. That's much, much worse than the occasional moments when I'm in Africa and I wish I were back in the States. Much worse.
Because you see, that's what happens to you when Jesus gets a hold of your heart. That's what happens to you when you say, 'Okay, God! Here I am! I'm all yours!' and then the Lord takes you up on that. That's what happens when you fall in love - you lose it. You lose your heart, your mind, your rationality, your ability to make sense to anybody else. You lose your desire for American life, for a husband, for a family. That's what happens when Jesus takes over. You can't escape him. You see the glint of his eyes in the sunshine reflecting off the water of the Niger River. You hear his heartbeat in the drums of a tribal worship song. You see his smile lines in the grin of an African child. You hear his whisper in the wind blowing through the mango trees. You wake up miserable and cold and sick in an African hospital room and you say, "I'm still yours, Jesus. I'll still give my life to this. I'll still spend the rest of my life here. I'll go back to the village and teach Sunday school to those babies. I'll sell my car, I'll leave my family. I'll follow you here." That's what happens when you fall in love. You love what he loves. If he says, "There are people in Africa who don't know my Name," then you cry and say, "Send me." You look at Calvary and you realize that your life is such a small thing to offer in comparison. You look at that example of crazy, irrational, unexplainable Love, and you look around you at a world who does not know that Story, and your heart breaks. You look at Jesus and ask, "Where do you want me to go and tell your story?"
I love Africa. Oh, how I love Africa. But I don't come here because I love Africa. I come because I love Jesus. I come because one day, long ago, Jesus died for me. He offers me a Love that is beyond my understanding, and I can have no other response. He fell in love with me. And then I fell in love with him. And then he brought me here and grew me and stretched me and taught me how to love him all over again. And today he sat me under the stars of an African night and placed a baby in my arms with eyes so dark I could see my own reflection in their light. And he did it again...he melted my heart.
So when people ask me, as they always do, why I go to Africa, this is my response: That's what happens when you fall in love.