As we are preparing to leave this beautiful land again, I am pausing to reflect why I am still here after 12 years and just what I love about living and serving in Africa.
The why is pretty simple. It is a “calling” from God, and I am just being obedient to His calling. I am here as an Ambassador of God’s love. Missionaries who try to live in a harsh land such as Africa simply do not have the staying power unless they are serving as part of a calling from God. Last year I applied to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and, had I been selected, my role would have been to fulfill the will of our president and the government who would be sending me. It is like that; being an Ambassador of God’s love, only instead of obeying a government, I am doing my best to obey the Lord’s will.
The things that I love about serving in Africa are many. At the very top of this list is that it brings joy to my heart to be in a position to care for thousands of beautiful children. Our ministry is a big piece of solving the food insecurity problem for many of these children. We started out with the assistance of Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland importing rice food packets. For the last 5 years, we have imported 1.2 million meals each year. Two years ago, God provided us with a small 130-acre farm, which we are using to intensely farm vegetables to help feed these same children with farm produce grown in their own country. This coming year we are starting a new program called Teach a Man to Fish, where South Africans will learn how to grow their own food with land easily available to them.
As a physician, I have been able to provide medical care, especially optical care, to thousands of children. A few years ago, we started a ministry providing new shoes to impoverished children. It is part of our overall Christian approach in that we not only provide the children with shoes, but we serve them by washing their feet and praying for them. Our newest outreach program is to provide washable reusable feminine hygiene kits to impoverished young women here. The kits are given to them in a colorful drawstring bag that they can use to carry their homework and these kits back and forth to school. Hundreds of women all across America have been sewing these kits and sending them to us in Africa with our many short-term mission team members who come to serve with us.
One of my great joys is to sit under the African night sky, around a campfire, and hear the stories from all our guests who come to help us serve these children each year. We hear many stories of how God has filled their hearts with love for these same children that Beth and I love so much. They are always amazed at how happy our impoverished children seem to be. They may be living in a shack with no parents, a dirt floor, no electricity and no running water; yet we can all see the joy in their hearts as we reach out to serve them and to love them. Most of us think that our stuff, our money, our cars, our homes, or our family make us happy, yet these children may have none of that and they still have joy and hope. Many of our team members often tell us that they come back home and feel embarrassed about all the stuff they have accumulated. Giving back to others is a great formula to find joy and happiness.
I also love the African bush field and all the African animals. It gives me great joy to hear the excitement in the voice of our teams as they see their first giraffe or zebra in the wild. Nearly every team member gets great photos and even interactions with lions and elephants.
My thoughts for this blog came to me sitting in church yesterday watching my African friends dancing and singing and simply having lots of fun in church. The people here do not go to church out of obligation. They go to be with their friends, to have a great time, and most importantly, to have an encounter with God Himself.
The main thing that I love about Africa is the people. I especially love working with our staff of about 40 Africans, most of whom have been working with us for many years. They are like family to us; typically both the husband and wife work with us and their children are part of our extended family.
Africa is definitely not Heaven; it is known as the Dark Continent and often for good reason. I will save those stories for another blog. I pray for and thank all of you all around the world who are assisting Beth and me in staying on the African mission field. I also pray that many of you will come and experience the joy of serving here in Africa for a short 2-week mission or service trip with us.