Don’t Give Up


I wish I could give you the ability to smell the aromas of Libreville, Gabon, hear the sounds of the streets or feel the hand of an abandoned child grasping yours. But I have only words to describe what God did in my life during a month-long short-term missions trip to Africa.

My life was in turmoil two months before I left for Africa. It was the end of my senior year in high school, and my home seemed to be in chaos. A good friend had moved in temporarily, and that caused tension. In addition, my parents were caring for my three month-old cousin. Then, after graduation, my mother, who had been my spiritual influence for 18 years, developed serious health problems that required hospitalization.

I was mad at God and started questioning everything I believed. Confusion was a constant companion. Throughout high school I had been ready to share Jesus in Africa, but now that I was finally going, I wasn’t even sure what I believed. I didn’t know who God was, and frankly I didn’t want to deal with Him. So I put Him aside and lived without His daily influence. Then a week before I left for Africa, I finally gave in and asked God to work with me. I was open to His guidance.

After the long journey to Libreville, Gabon, I was surprised to be greeted at the airport by 12 college students, the other summer interns. I had three main prayers during my time in Africa: I have always heard people return from overseas trips and rave about seeing God at work there. I wanted that. Also, I constantly thought about my family and was incredibly homesick. The third prayer concerned nursing school in California. I had been accepted, but the move weighed so heavily that I was considering staying in Colorado. I had always wanted to use nursing as a way to spread the gospel, but I was at a point where I didn’t even want to talk about Jesus Christ. That’s sort of a problem if you want to go into missions.

The next few days I tried to adjust to the seven-hour time difference, learn everyone’s names and forget about the craziness at home. When anything bad happens I tend to throw myself into my job, so I was eager to begin the missions work.

On the first day, we went to the beach. Really? I thought. This is missions? Let’s go out and DO something!

I expressed my frustration to Jon-Marc, an intern who had been there for two months. He laughed with understanding and told me that the Brokopps (the short-term missions coordinators at the time) had a “be, not do” philosophy. They wanted us to get to know each other before we started working. With my first lesson learned, we went on a medical missions clinic the next day. Leaders at a church sent word to the surrounding community that for 5,000 CFA (about USD $10), people could get a consult and medication. Three showed up. Again, I was frustrated; I wanted to do so much in Africa, but it seemed I was not making a difference.

During our second week in Gabon, we took a 12-hour journey into the jungle to visit Bongolo Hospital. Being there felt like a dream. We drove over a narrow bridge built for one car and looked over the scene: in front of us was a river running through the African jungle, with rapids in the distance. The houses built along the road to the hospital were humble, and chickens ran freely. We drove further to the guesthouse. Through the fog we saw the hospital buildings sitting atop the adjacent hills. People travel for many days to be treated here.

During my stay I got to watch three surgeries. When it came time for the first, I threw on scrubs, washed my hands, put on gloves and waltzed confidently into the operating room. I announced to the other intern that I was fine with blood and turned to look at what was happening. The patient was ready, and the incision began. Suddenly the room was a whole lot hotter, and I couldn’t get enough air. As the smell of cauterized flesh hit my nose, my legs gave out. I stumbled from the room leaning on my friend.

This wasn’t what I expected. I can’t do nursing, I thought. But one of the international workers suggested that I observe through the hall window. As I did, the surgeon, Jean Claude, gestured toward me. I cracked the door open, and he said in accented English, “I do not want you to have a bad memory of this. Come back in.” I slid into the room but stayed far from the table. Now that I knew what to expect, watching the end of the surgery was not hard. Jean Claude told me to follow him to the next room for another procedure. I figured out how to breathe through the mask and not react to the odd smells. I watched that whole surgery and left feeling reassured.

These experiences prepared me for the highlight of the trip. One day we struck up a conversation with a pregnant teen and her mother and aunt. The baby was a week overdue, so we asked to be notified when the girl went into labor. That night someone came running. We shot down the hill, threw on scrubs and arrived just in time.

The teenager had a small frame, so the doctors performed a c-section. The cut was made, and the surgeons pulled out a form dripping with fluid. One of them held it upside down, and the first gasp of breath filled the baby’s lungs. Music was playing, a heart monitor was beeping, people were talking, but it all went quiet for me. I was amazed that this little baby came from this 16-year-old mother. Now I was determined to go to California to become a nurse.

After a week at Bongolo, we returned to Libreville. The rest of the month was filled with clinics, trips to churches and service at Hope House, a ministry to children established by the Gabon C&MA. The second we arrived at the house, we were jumped on by the kids. Two girls especially captured my heart. Gena, the oldest of the group, usually cleaned house or cared for the other kids. But when she found me, she finally got a chance to play. Naomi was my other darling. She loved making me speak what little French I know, and we played tag or jumped rope until I was exhausted. These kids were at Hope House because they were orphaned or their parents could not care for them. Yet, as they gave love and joy to others, they began to heal the hurt in my heart.

The Sunday before the flight home, we attended one of the churches where we had helped pour cement for a new building. We were given honored positions in the front row, and during the service my eyes wandered to the back. Not only were the wooden benches full but people were also crowded outside the church, listening to the pastor’s message.

Following the service, we shared soda and cookies with the people, who wanted to greet us individually. A man shook my hand and looked me in the eye. “I have a word from God for you,” he said. This got my attention.

“I will try in my best English,” he continued. “Don’t worry about your family situation.”

This brought tears to my eyes. I did not know the man, so his words were stunning. Another church member noticed my tears and started translating. “What he is saying is that God doesn’t want you to worry about your family; He has control. And don’t worry about going to school so far away.”

A new rush of tears flowed down my face. I couldn’t help but ask him how he knew this. He told me that it was all from the Father. “Don’t give up on Jesus, and don’t give up on God,” the man said through the translator.

At the time when I wished I could let go, God pulled me back in and romanced me. He gave me hope to keep going and showed me a little bit of what He has planned for my life.

I came back from Africa with joy in my soul and a dance in my step, but I left a piece of my heart there. As I pursue my nursing degree, I am assured that the Lord has a great plan for me, and He will be glorified.

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