When we joined AgriCorps, we said that we would be going to Liberia for one year. One year later we were packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.
When we joined Hope in the Harvest, we said that we would be going to Liberia for two years. Two years later we are once again packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.
This year, we aren’t saying when we’ll be coming back (for good) because it’s kinda starting to look like we are liars anyways….
Why do you keep extending? Why do you keep going back?
This is the question that I hear at least 2-3 times a week so by now you would think that I would have my myself a perfectly cultivated answer, short and sweet, clear and to the point, easy to deliver, something that summarizes it all up. That’s what they tell me I should have by now….that most people I encounter will mostly likely only have an attention span of 2-3 minutes to dedicate to hearing about life/ministry in Liberia and that I need to have my “elevator speech” prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice. That’s what they say at least. However, I can’t seem to do it….I mean I can… and I guess I have…you may have even heard me do it….but every time I boil it down to those few easy phrases that quickly and neatly summarize my answer (“agricultural and personal transformation”) I feel like I’m tying a pretty red ribbon up on the outside of a shiny white box that is filled with an absolutely colorful mess inside, about to burst open and explode everywhere!
How do I explain why I am going back in just a few simple sentences? How do I explain in just a few simple sentences all the things that God has laid on my heart and all the ways that God has broken my heart? Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, messy, clean, tangible, intangible, real, fake, and everything in between? How do I explain it all at once? How do I summarize things that I myself don’t even understand? That I can’t even explain? Things that seem like they make no sense?
I’m going back because Liberia feels like home, but also Liberia is nothing like home and that’s why I love it, but that’s also why I miss home.
I am going back because Liberia is so far out of my comfort zone, and yet I am going back because Liberia is exactly inside of my comfort zone.
I am going back to Liberia because in Liberia I feel joy more intensely than I ever knew possible, and yet I am going back because it is there that I feel sorrow deeper than my heart could hold on its own.
I’m going back because I want to feel full again, but I am going back knowing that I will be emptied.
I am going back because I love some of these people more than I can put into words, and yet I am also going back because I want to understand what love really is because it feels like I still don’t know.
I am going back to teach, and yet I am going back because there is so much left to learn.
I am going back to finish what I started, and yet I know that there is no finishing this thing here on earth.
I am going back because I am not afraid of the things people think I should be afraid of, but I am going back because I am afraid of the other things.
I’m going back because I love the work that we get to do there, but also the work that we are called to do there scares me and I don’t love things that scare me.
I’m going back because I’ve found I feel God working through me, and yet I know that more often than not He is working in spite of me.
I’m going back because I have skills/knowledge that I believe are worth sharing and can make a difference there, and yet I know that every good thing that is done and every change that I see happening is all from the Lord’s doing.
I am going back because I want to share with people about how they can have eternal life because I believe eternity with God is what all of us are living for, but also I see people with real needs in front of me now…with whom I cannot talk about eternity if we cannot address the very real hunger that is in their stomachs right now, the very real fears that keep them up at night, the very real diseases that keep taking their children away from them too soon.
I am going back to Liberia because I love agriculture, and yet I am going back to Liberia because agriculture means nothing to me at all in comparison.
I am going back because I feel like I should, and yet I am not at all going back because I feel like I should, because I have lots of people telling me I shouldn’t.
I am going back because I feel like I am needed, but I am going back because they don’t need me at all.
I am going back to Liberia because in some ways it is simpler, but I am going back to Liberia knowing that I am leaving the simplicity behind.
I am going back because I have hope for Liberia, but also I am going back because some days I don’t have hope, but others do and they draw me towards them like light in the darkness and darkness cannot hide from the light.
I am going back because I am selfish and I like to feel good about helping others, but also I am going back so that I don’t succumb to my own selfishness.
I am going back to be with my family, and yet as I go back I am missing my family.
I am going back to Liberia because I feel called to go back, but I’m also going back because I want to go back. Those two things don’t have to be in juxtaposition with each other and that is where I have found my peace, joy, freedom, rest, and drive.
For a long time, I used to think that following the Lord meant always doing the exact opposite of what I wanted and being miserable along the way. For a long time, I used to think that there was one clear cut path for every single one of us believers. That if we didn’t find that perfect path, that one single path that was long, straight, narrow and was made only for us, and then march along that path like a good solider…that we were essentially screwed….that we could no longer call ourselves “good Christians.” I used to get so stressed out about every single tiny little decision that it lead to indecision…to the point that I let opportunities to serve and love others right in front of me pass me by. I was anxious and scared and so very afraid of letting God down that I ended up running in all different directions to find “the path” rather than running into His arms and letting Him guide me to and along the path wherever it might lead.
I ran away from Him rather than toward Him because I was searching for the wrong thing.
I was living to find “the path” rather than living to find the God who had made the path.
I was living for “my purpose” rather than the one who put that purpose inside of me in the first place.
Somewhere along the way, God helped this stubborn, anxious, tidiness-loving mind of mine to realize that there are a number of really cool ways that I can serve the Lord on this earth and still bring glory and honor to Him. That life is not so black and white, that life is messy,…and that once the ribbon on that cute little white box is untied and opened, it’s hard to fit everything back in again in the same way. He created me with a unique set of gifts and passions, a unique set of likes and dislikes and fears and hopes that make me, me. He has a plan for my life, that much is true. But it isn’t as narrow as I had once feared, defined entirely by one’s career. It’s actually bigger and better than I could have ever hoped. His plan is for me to know that I am unconditionally, deeply, and personally loved by Him; for me to be freed to love and serve Him in return, finding fullness in the relationship with My Maker; and for me to share that love and serve others with the gifts He gave me so that they can know Him too.
I could do that through being an extension agent and helping farmers in the US to grow more food in sustainable ways. I could do that as an agriculture teacher in an American high school setting, teaching youth to love agriculture. I could do it as a social justice worker in the community of Baltimore City, Cockeysville, or Bel Air, working in food desert areas and helping to provide people with better access to food. I could do it by becoming a pastor or a food/faith blogger. I could do it by being a farmer. I could do it by going back to school for my PhD. Or I could do it as an agricultural missionary working in Ganta, Liberia. That is the beauty of our God and His plans.
While He made us and Has plans for us, He graciously allows us to be a part of those plans and those decisions. While He made the Earth and is clearly doing work on the Earth, He has allowed us to be a part of that work too…not just bystanders. My “good Christian status” does not rely so strictly on the job that I do, it matters on the heart that I do it with. God has given me a desire to serve the poor, to teach agriculture, and to share the good news of His salvation. He has placed those desires on my heart as I have sought to delight myself in Him and His presence. He has and is giving me the desires of my heart, they are fully His and yet they are fully mine at the same time. It does not feel anymore like He is forcing me anywhere or that I am watching from the sidelines as He conducts my life, cringing and anxiously pacing as I wait for the next call. Instead, it feels now like He is holding my hand as we walk together, gently leading me along the way, down the path as He softly whispers in my ear.
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand
And that is why I’m going back, because the desire of my heart is simply that I want to walk with the Lord on this specific path for a little while longer. This is not the only path for me, I know that now. And somehow that’s what makes the freedom to choose this path of foreign missions….this rugged, winding, wide, confusing, long, beautiful, joyous, painful, fulfilling path…even sweeter. Nathan and I don’t know exactly how long we will be on this path, but we know that if we cling tightly to the Hand of God, that He will be with us along the way…and we’ve decided that’s all we really want or need out of this life anyways.
So once again, we are packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.
Note: This blog was also published on the popular missionary blogging website called “A Life Overseas” on Aug 26th, 2019. The link to this shortened version can be found here: https://www.alifeoverseas.com/why-do-you-keep-going-back/.