I’d been home from Africa for a week when I suddenly found myself lying on a surgical chair with a tattoo artist bending over me, imprinting Africa on me permanently.
For the next however long I live, every day, I will see a small globe that sits on my right hip, with a tiny red heart over Central/Eastern Africa and the words “Solas Veritas,” Latin for “Truth Alone” scripted across. As if Africa wasn’t deep enough in me as it is, this was just one more way to make it stick. I debated this tattoo for a long time, wanting to be certain that what is inked into my skin for all of temporal time is actually something worth looking at and reflecting on for the rest of all temporal time. Quite frankly, I realized, I needed this tattoo. I need for Africa, and the lessons God taught me these last three summers to be tattooed on my heart for the rest of my earthly existence.
For three weeks, my team and I lived in an equatorial, tropical garden juxtaposed with poverty and spiritual darkness. East Africans greeted us everywhere we went with the familiar “Habari?” (“how are you?”) to which we responded, “Nzuri” (“good”) and then awaited their “Nzuri sana” (“very good”) reply before we ended the short conversation with “asante” (“thank you”). We spent time meeting locals in town, in the market, at the schools we attended for cultural exchange, and in shops that we frequented. We took the time to get to know them, build relationships with them, and hopefully love on them as they hospitably loved on us (gave us beadwork, made us bread, welcomed us into their homes and on their porches, provided tea and snacks during school “recess”, and took us to touristy places or recommended us to the local “fundi” or tailor).
In the midst of the work we were doing we took a mini-vacay with our field workers one weekend to a small beach resort. Not only was it one of the most idyllic, Honeymoon-stay-movie-status kind of places I’ve ever been to, it was also the site of one of the most poignant God lessons I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever.
I sat on a (probably hand-woven) lounge chair on the white sands of the Indian Ocean with my Bible, journal, and pen in hand and just reflected on the last week and a half, or really last couple years of my life. I realized that I was struggling with short-term work. There was a growing discontent in my heart to simply go to a place, meet people for a few days, and then leave again. If I’m going to build relationships with people, I want to have the time to really invest, pour into them, walk alongside them, and remain, at least for a good while. I realized that too often and too easily I allow myself to turn to my friends (roommates in particular) for support and accountability, assurance and encouragement when the only person I should rely upon to meet my needs is God. I saw firsthand from our field workers the cost of discipleship, the pains and the inevitable hardship that comes from leaving comfort and home and all that is America to serve in a place that is wearisome, both physically and spiritually. I saw that obedience is costly, and I pondered if I was up to the challenge.
But even if I didn’t have the answer right then, it came a few days later during a time of worship with our field workers and some other friends in town. Hearing a girl about my own age tell of her journey to make it to Africa and how God called her away from her job and her school and her home, I wanted to close my ears and scream so that I could somehow not be responsible for the message I was hearing. It was all too convicting and powerful. But I knew to drown it out or tune it out was somehow worse than maybe disobeying all together, or at least, it was just as bad. Then, our field worker hit us with the idea that we are often all too tempted to find our value in our jobs, our education, our church body, our hobbies, our friends, and our place of living, rather than in Christ. Ouch. That hurt. So many times I am Ms. Lohman (the teacher), or Becks (the roommate), or Baby Becka (the daughter), or the girl at the gym, or at Starbucks, or … fill in the blank. But how often am I just Becka, a follower of Christ? Decidedly, not often enough.
So, I added all that to my list of contemplation points, and culminated my rue-ings when I met with the missus of our field worker family and poured out all my thoughts. She encouraged me that when the time is right for me to go, whether it be Rwanda or somewhere else, I will know and I will have peace. The “when” clause is now becoming a lot more concrete a term than the “if” clause. She also reminded me that as hard and as difficult and as tearful as their lives have been for the last 2 years, she knows there is nowhere else they are supposed to be, and in that, there is much peace and joy and satisfaction that she would not trade for all the comforts of Southern California.
Soo… for now, I know how easily I will forget the stirrings I’ve had in my heart these last three weeks. America’s famous for somehow making you forget all the lessons on sacrifice you learn and just pick up where you consumeristically and selfishly left off. And so, the tattoo. So, every day, when I see myself in the mirror, and reflect on who I am and where God has taken me, I am forced to ask myself, “Now?” Is “Now the time, Lord?” Because as scary and as terrified as I am of leaving home and family for an Africa much farther away than the one on my hip, I’m more scared of not living by “Truth Alone.”