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Aug
26
2011

Marissa Mendoza

 

Upon our arrival in Nigeria, I stood with my team watching the conveyor belt at the baggage claim. Realizing I was thousands of miles from Mom, In N Out, and Ben... my brain attempted to unravel, and then smacked itself back into shape. I turned to Breanna, who was standing next to me as she pulled a ribboned suitcase from the circulating rubber.

 

"This is everything I have always wanted and have always avoided in life." 

 

Africa... Oh, Africa. You have always called me by name. For the longest time I have pretended to reach for you from the safety of my sanctuary seat. Those were the days, when I was just getting started in my faith and realizing that following Jesus meant much more than smelling nice and listening to RelientK.

 
I never dreamed my faith would take me into the slums; into the haze of red dirt, concrete walls and serious faces. My ears have never heard such furious honking through all hours of the day and night, my nostrils have never tried so much in vain to protect themselves against inescapable car exhaust and body odor. I've never had to clean myself with cold water from a bucket, wash my clothes by hand (in the same bucket) -- hoping the dense humidity would be gracious enough to allow them to dry within the next 2 days so that I can have "clean" underwear to put on.
 
 
I never thought I'd be brushing my teeth with Aquafina water and replacing body lotion with 40% deet bug repellant. I have never eaten so much chicken and rice sitting in the dark, wondering, "Will we have power tonight?"
 
 
Never have I gone so long without sitting down on a toilet seat to take care of business, and I am convinced my legs are actually getting some exercise from all of the hovering and squatting. And I have never driven full speed over potholes in a car whose brakes are failing as my life flashes before my eyes and we swerve our way through the lush Enugu jungles in a car way too full of Americans for its own good as I yell out the window, "Anam atujo maka ndum!" Translation from lgbo to English: "I fear for my life!"
 
 
I have been completely uncomfortable, totally out of control, and yes, have even wondered at times if my team and I will make it back to America alive.  And I think to myself, "This is the life. This is what it is all about. This is life."
 
 
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again: and from the joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Matthew 13:44
 
 
As I am standing in village holding 2-year-old Chinasa, I am at a loss for words (and I am a writer, but you probably already knew that). I look around, my eyes peering through the sun at the small crowd of villagers now encircling me, all of them wanting prayer.
 
 
One woman has severe stomach pains and has miscarried several times; she wants another child. Another woman has been suffering from a burning sensation all over her skin for the past year. She has scars on her face and a tribal tattoo running down the middle of her chest- visible signs of past pagan worship. Still another villager, a man, is blind from glaucoma and it was for this reason his wife left him over ten years ago...while 12-year-old Matthew squints up at me and mumbles a request for wisdom.
 
 
 
"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matthew 13:45-46

 

I seemed to have missed something. Why me?

 
Sitting here on the balcony of our less-than-chic hotel room, I feel so far from who I was 2 weeks ago. I have no recollection of fear, no remembrance of self preservation. It is difficult even now to put it into words, but somewhere along the way I lost myself... and God, in His sovereignty, allowed me to rediscover life. He chose to show me - me - the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 
If you were to ask me about this experience we've shared in, many people would be interested to know how we managed to spend time in a different lifestyle other than the American one we all know so well. But what I would call to mind are the faces I see every morning; the uncontrollable laughter, the camaraderie of my team, the way all the seriousness just fades away with one smile. I would tell you about how God woke me up every morning before 5 a.m. and beckoned for me as I was strengthened more than enough for each day, when literally every day this term I have slept through my alarm for school.
 
 
I would tell you about how my hands have had the privilege to hold the forgotten, the suffering- to heal the sick and bring hope to the hopeless. That I have jumped and danced and sweat for the sake of singing of His grace to a religious people.With a grateful heart, I would tell you of how when I lost my life- lifetimes away from corporate America, far from the sickness of complacency, the prettiness of cleanliness and the sadness of all my comforts- that I truly found it.

 
"But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." Matthew 13:16-17