Lessons in Waiting: New Friends for Lunch & Ants for Breakfast
I had about 3 months to get ready to go to Mozambique and I prayed that I would use this brief season wisely, and so God has blessed it with relationships and experiences that have shaped my move.
Meeting New People
When a fellowship decided to support my apprenticeship in Mozambique they invited me into their family - and it has been phenomenal. I've never been the new person in a congregation before, but it's really kind of scary to walk into a place where everybody but you knows everybody else, and everybody but you knows exactly what's going on, and you have no idea where anything in the building is.
This family has been unreasonably kind to me. And while all I want to do is get to know this congregation better and meet more people, meeting new people is no easy task. I do my best to focus on names as they usually come at me in groups, and try to pick up something important they say to help me remember them. Then I go home and I study the directory in an attempt to remember people's names and faces. It's been a wonderful and exhausting process. But - wow! - it's been so exciting to meet all these people and be a part of this community.
Meeting so many new people has me thinking, "I'd really love to be one of those people who makes everybody feel important." In this season of life that I'm in, and going into, I'm going to be meeting so many people. But I want to meet these people not as a way of completing a self-assignment or recruiting people who will help me achieve a goal, but rather just show the people that I meet that they are valuable and that I appreciate them regardless of what they have to offer.
It's been tough to decide what to take in my two bags for two years. There's a part of me that says, "Jessica, chill out, millions of people are successfully living in Mozambique with the resources available there." But there's another loudmouth part of me that says, "Yeah, but those people don't know about muffin mix." I've been trying to rely on a Peace Corps packing list as much of my stuff moves either into my bags or into a Goodwill pile. I've purchased some new moisture-wicking shirts and said sorrowful goodbyes to some sweaters.
The fact of the matter is, even though I really want to live simply, I absolutely don't. Even though I'd like to think that I'm not materialistic, when I'm looking at all the stuff that I have, don't need, and don't want to get rid of, I realize that I absolutely am. But now I'm doing something that's going to finally force me to live simply and stuff my stuff into just two bags. I'm picking up a lot of things and telling myself no.
But I'm bringing coffee. I'm not ready to sacrifice that just yet. I'm not that strong.
Accepting Generosity and Hospitality
Africans are often known for their generosity and hospitality - but if my summer is any reflection people in Middle Tennessee are not too different. I cannot tell you how much encouragement, how many prayers, how much financial support, and how many lunch invitations have come my way this summer. And, from my perspective, it is completely undeserved. I have done nothing to warrant such friendliness, such openness, such sacrifice, and such love. And, quite frankly, I don't think I'll ever be able to repay it or deserve it.
And soon I will arrive in a place that I do not understand, where I do not speak the language, and - at least for a while - have nothing to offer. But they will be exceedingly hospitable and generous to me.
And so, to all of these things, I will say yes. Because life can't always be about keeping the balance. I am happy to embrace the times of life when I can give good in abundance, but I must also embrace the seasons of life when I am only the recipient of good, and accept it graciously. There is too much bad in the world to accept the good things begrudgingly.
So, if you have helped me, if you have prayed for me, if you have given me money, if you have gotten me some shoes, if you have taken me to lunch, if you have invited me into your home, if you have gone out of your way to introduce yourself to me, if you have stayed in contact with me, if you have sent me a letter, if you have sent me a text, if you have asked me to sit next to you, if you have helped me out when my lace dress got snagged on someone's purse as church was starting and I was dragging the purse along in front of everyone, or if you have been a friend - thank you so, so much.
Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique, and though it's not the main language of the Makua people with whom I'll be working, Portuguese is still good to know. So, I've been using Duolingo to get some basics down, which has been pretty easy for me to work through since I have a strong background in Spanish. However, it's been a while since I really studied language. It's a real mental workout. It's pretty easy at first, but since it's something you have to do every day to do well, it's also easy to cut back once you start getting comfortable with basics and are less excited about learning new things. And it's not always convenient either. But relying on hand signals and a few words is pretty inconvenient too. As one of my professors always says, language is the currency of relationships. And I got a lot of stuff to buy.
And, more than that, learning a language is an act of love. Everyone knows learning another language is extremely difficult and you have to be really dedicated if you're going to do it. It takes something like love to get you through miles of vocabulary cards and the subjunctive tense.
They always told me that when you move abroad it's easy to feel lonely. But I never thought I would feel it in Nashville, the apparent dreamland of southern millennials. Who would have thought that I would come back home to "the big city" and only have a handful of friends, while all of my really good friends are all having fun together in the-middle-of-nowhere Arkansas?
But I know I am not alone in this feeling of loneliness. I know that many others with whom I graduated are going home, going to new areas, or starting school again and they are all starting over like me, all looking for a new community like me, and all feeling a little underwhelmed with their current situation. I know many of us are in the aftershock of living in the overwhelming community that college forces upon you. I know that Instagram doesn't show the times when people are sitting alone on their couches trying to figure out which Netflix shows they haven't watched yet.
And I also know that, in a sense, this loneliness is temporary. I know that I soon will have a new life, a new place, a new purpose, a new routine, and lots of new friends. I know that all of my friends are still my friends, even if our interactions are a little less frequent.
However, in another sense, this loneliness is just beginning. If I feel it five hours from my friends I will surely feel it on the other side of the world. If I feel it in a place where I can communicate with anyone and do just about anything, I will surely feel it in a place where I can't communicate much and don't know how to do anything on my own.
This time has taught me to really value the friendships I have - the people that make time to hang out with me at home and the people that make time to call me or host me when I come to visit. It has taught me to have a realistic view of my place in relationships - that life still goes on when I'm not around, but that doesn't mean my friendships have ended.
Now I have a plan for what I can do when I feel it in Mozambique. This time has taught me to get off social media when I feel that way. It has taught me to read, write, exercise, meditate, pray, just get out and talk to people, and do literally anything other than dwell on all the things I'm not doing to exacerbate negativity. Because, as my new friend Christie said about her experience in the Czech Republic, "Binge-watching every season of Friends doesn't make you feel better. It just makes you wonder - 'Where are my friends?!'"
I have such great friends & family members. I'm so thankful that they're supportive of what I'm doing and they are really great at reaching out to me. I'm so thankful that I'm about to join a team of great people who will be great friends and are no strangers to feelings of isolation that sometimes arise when you're away from home. I'm thankful for my spiritual family that asks for all my contact info so they can keep up with me when I'm gone. I'm thankful for family members that plan to visit. I'm thankful for technology that allows me to keep in contact as much as I want.
But, most of all, I'm thankful for a God that never leaves. He's always available. He'll be there to share my memories, to sit in my room with me, to endure whatever trials come in my next season of life. And he'll be there for all the good times, for all of the friends I'll make, for all of the people that will be so kind and welcoming to me, for all that good that will be done, and for all the laughs I'll have. He will remind me of all of the blessings he gives - the foremost being Godself.
The Beauty of Creation
The congregation that is supporting me has had me sitting in on several of the kids' classes to help out and meet new people, and it's been so much fun! But what's even cooler is that they've started a new curriculum and everyone is studying creation right now. It's so easy to get bogged down in darkness that dominates the media and our conversation, but none of that could touch the serene gentleness and magnitude that I witnessed just while taking a walk by a river with my friend Addie the other day. This study of creation and moments I've been immersed in it put that idea of Eden on my mind, which has defined so much of what I want to do.
It's reemphasized my love for agriculture - restoring this world that God created so wonderfully. It's reminded me how to love people - seeing every man as one made in the image of God. It's reinforced my appreciation for God - the being who gives all good things and pursues us when we reject his goodness, when we disobey him, and when we feel buried in our shame. It has reinvigorated my motivation to participate in this heavenly vision of God dwelling with man.
Bugs in My Food
Don't tell my mom that I told you this, but we've had a bit of an ant problem this summer. One day I grabbed my coffee mug and put it under our Keurig. I'm not sure what happened between that and my first sip, but I drank a big gulp of it & thought, "Wow, there's a lot of grinds in my coffee." I went to inspect the Keurig to see if something was wrong with it, but I didn't see anything. Then I looked back at my mug to see that there was literally a layer of ant carcasses at the top of my coffee. So, in a few months when someone serves me some grilled rat or yet another serving of ixima, I will have no fear, because at home I drink ants for breakfast.
Getting Others as Excited as I Am
Having some down time and making a pretty public move has offered me several opportunities to speak about what I'm doing. And though public speak is one of the more nauseating tasks that I have to complete, I know that God is using those opportunities to say something important.
I have had the chance to say over and over again that I'm not special, but rather I'm doing what I think God wants me to do with my life, and I'm doing something I really love doing.
But it's also been fun to talk about Mozambique. It's fun to talk about a place like Mozambique to many who have no mental categories for a place and worldview so different. It's fun to try and normalize the decision I've made - reminding people that you can live well wherever you are, even if it takes a few more steps to get drinkable water. It's fun to talk about a God who is working here at home and one who is working on the other side of the world. In talking about Mozambique I am introducing American brothers and sisters to the Makua people who are part of our global village learning to love God more deeply and widely.