Falling in Love with Namibia
B Lowe is a senior at Asbury College. She received an Asbury College Initiative Grant for Servant Leadership to spend several weeks in Namibia, Africa this summer. Below, she describes her experience in her own words.
This story is not about me. It is not about my summer. It is not just the story of an African village. It is about what the Lord has done. He has worked a miracle.
I remember sitting at a missions conference when I was five years old. I watched a missionary family from Africa stand on stage and share a slideshow presentation about their field experience in Africa. In that moment, the Lord said to me, “Bethany, you’re going to do that someday.”
I remember the joy that initially filled my heart to think that I could “do that,” that I could be a missionary too. Just as vividly, however, I remember the thoughts that came next and perpetually haunted me throughout the subsequent years:
“Lord, if I say yes, you’ll send me to the furthest corner of Africa.”
“If I say yes, you’ll make me be single forever and ever.”
“And perhaps worst of all, if I say yes, you’ll make me wear long skirts with sneakers for the rest of my life. It will be the end of life as I know it.”
Decidedly, I shoved the thoughts of mission work under the carpet and determined to forget that I had ever heard the Lord’s beckoning in that direction. Still, there was a pull in my heart that continued to draw me toward mission work, specifically that in Africa. I desired to serve in some very short-term capacity overseas, and so I was met with great joy when I received an Initiative Grant to travel overseas and help with international development during the summer of 2007.
On June 26, I arrived at the airport in Windhoek, Namibia nervous, excited, and so anxious for what I was about to encounter. I stepped off the plane and searched for white missionaries, ready to finally meet the people with whom I had been corresponding in preparation for the two months I was to spend in Arandis, Namibia.
As I scanned the crowd, I spotted an African man holding a crumpled 8x11 piece of paper with the words, “Mrs. Bethany” scribbled across it. I approached him and introduced myself. He replied in broken English, “You no are Mrs. Bethany.” Once again, I introduced myself. He became very frustrated and tried to explain that I was not Mrs. Bethany. I thought that perhaps there was another woman named Bethany on the flight, and perhaps I was not the one who he was supposed to be escorting from the airport. I myself to sitting down on the airport benches and waiting. Every few minutes I would glance curiously to the spot where the man was standing. He persistently waited, long after the flight passengers had finished disembarking. Finally, he came to where I sat and said, “You are Mrs. Bethany.” Relieved, I climbed into a taxi with him and we drove for thirty minutes in silence until we reached a small line of huts. He helped me remove my belongings from the trunk of the car and escorted me to hut #7 where I spent the night. I found myself praying to the Lord, asking for protection, peace, and an encounter with the missionaries early the next day.
The next morning, one of the Arandis missionaries, Brenda, showed up. She explained that there had been confusion regarding my arrival date and that she had actually waited for me “the day before yesterday” at the airport. I climbed into the car with her and prepared for the 3-hour drive to Arandis. Brenda first went over the things that I had agreed to take part in during the summer. I was to be helping with the continued development of a foster care program, assisting at the school and helping the pastor’s wife with Sunday School programs. The next words from her mouth were, “Everything’s changed.” She went on to explain that Nan, the missionary with whom I was to be working closely, would be out of town and working with other mission teams during the majority of my stay in Arandis. This would leave me as the teacher and administrator at Talitha-Kumi Primary School, a private school established to provide quality education for AIDS infected and affected children. As we continued to travel toward Arandis, I smiled and breathed a prayer, committing myself to look only to the Lord as a source of strength in weeks to come.
Immediately upon my arrival in the town of Arandis, something happened. I fell in love with the town and with the people. I began praying to the Lord and asking him what he would say to me about spending part of my future in Arandis. Throughout the weeks that followed, I was blessed beyond belief to spend time with the community around me.
On a typical day, I would meet the pastor and his wife at 5:30 a.m. for a prayer meeting to commit the day and the town into the hands of the Lord. At 6 a.m. I would go into school and prepare for the children to arrive. They would arrive at least 30 minutes before school was scheduled to begin, asking, “Miss Bethany, can we please start learning now?”
School was scheduled to release at 12:20 p.m., but it was a rarity that the children were ready to go home by then. By 1 p.m., the school would be full again with not only my school children, but also several children from the public schools. Until about 4:45 p.m., the school became the headquarters for after school programs. I established an organized running program for the children, started a Bible study, held craft and movie days and offered tutoring for children from the public schools. The remainder of my evenings were spent leading prayer meetings, practicing for worship on Sunday mornings, or helping the pastor with other random projects like sewing, organizing his office or completing computer projects.
As I had the chance to spend time with these children, a part of me was being awakened. I longed to give them the love they had never known before. I wanted to give them a safe place to play in a town riddled by AIDS and filled with bars, glass on the streets and litter on the ground. I longed to be a sister and friend to so many children who had not known love, those children whose families had long ago been taken by AIDS and alcoholism. As the days went by, the children would constantly surround me asking, “Miss Bethany, Miss Bethany….” During my fifth week in Arandis, the children came to me in one big group, whispering among themselves. I could tell that they wanted to ask me something but were nervous. I told them, “You can ask me anything; I won’t be upset.” Finally one of them spoke up: “Miss Bethany, we were wondering if we could call you Mom, because many of us don’t have moms.” My heart broke and my arms opened as I embraced each of them.
This summer I learned what it meant to engage. For each stage of my life, the Lord gives me a certain word or verse to characterize the growth that will come during that stage. Though I had prayed for weeks previous to leaving for Namibia, I sat on the plane from Nashville to Washington, D.C., still without that word. I asked him again, “Lord, the trip is here and I still don’t have the word. Will you show me?”
Throughout the minutes that followed, the Lord continuously brought the word and concept “engage” to mind. The Lord began to show me that he was going to teach me to really engage with people. Until that point, I had always been with people, but never really with them. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Throughout the course of the summer, these words ran continuously through my head. I decided to throw myself in headfirst to any activity offered, to talk with every person possible, to “make the most of every opportunity” without worrying about what the next item on the agenda would be. It changed my life. Forever.
One afternoon, while spending time with the children, I wrote the following in my journal:
I’m sitting here watching my kids dance to ‘I can Only Imagine’ and sing along with all of their hearts. I am overwhelmed with the Lord’s goodness and I am falling in love with this entire place. I feel like I’ve been here a lifetime. It is here that I’ve learned to live and to love. Tears are welling up in my eyes and I am trying to hold them back as I see the beauty of this place, of each child, of you, Lord. It’s like the realization of this beauty, of the gift you’ve so longed to give for so long.
Thank you for the gift of this transparent moment. For now, in this moment, I know that there is no place I would rather be. This is what I have been longing for. It’s like one of those searches wherein you don’t know for what you are searching, but then you turn around and you suddenly know in your heart that you’ve found it. Not found it like you’ve been satisfied for one moment, but found it like you know that if you lived the rest of your life and never experienced anything else, this would be enough. To be in a room of African children, dancing and singing songs of worship to the only One worth dancing for and singing to, it is here that I have experienced true joy and uttermost contentment. Thank you, Lord, for giving me the most overwhelming, the most beautiful, the most simply extravagant moment of my life…
In this moment, I knew that the Lord was calling me to return to Arandis, Namibia. Tears flowed down my face as I came to gaze upon the face of the Lord and see him as the giver of every good and perfect gift. Going into the summer, I had looked at God as a God who desired sacrifice so that he could take whatever I wanted and rip it from me. I saw my relationship with God as one that demanded sacrifice and caused me continual pain in order for God to be ultimately glorified.
And so, when I arrived in Namibia and fell in love with the town and the people, I was sure that the Lord wanted me to surrender it to him, get on the plane and go home to America to be forever miserable. Never in a million years did I imagine that he would in fact call me to return to Namibia to serve him there. You see, as I learned to gaze upon his face this summer, I learned that my desires and God’s glory are not at odds. God wants me to surrender all, not so that he can mercilessly tear it away from me, but so that he can give it back to me in a better form, one that can bring me satisfaction as it gives Him the glory.
Saint Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” John Piper said, “It has become clearer that God being glorified and God being enjoyed are not two separate categories.” John Eldridge said, “It would make no small difference if we knew—and I mean really knew… that our lives and God’s glory were bound together.” Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Everything changed when I began to see God as the giver of every good gift, the one who has taken my life and his glory and bound them together inseparably.
The Lord has called me to return to Namibia for a few years after I graduate from Asbury College this May of 2008. I am excited to see how He will provide, how He will continue to work. He is truly my only source of strength, my refuge, the giver of the only grace I have ever known. With Him, there will always be enough.
The Asbury Initiative Grant was established in 2003 with a pledge of $1 million from Phyllis McRoberts ’53 West and her husband, Stephen R. West, in honor of the life and ministry of Ernest M. Steury, M.D. ’53 and Mrs. Jennie Sue Groce ’54 Steury who served as missionaries in Kenya with World Gospel Mission.
The grants cover up to $10,000 for expenses related to transportation, lodging, meals, miscellaneous expenses related to the internship, and a stipend to partially cover lost wages. To date, this program has allowed 49 students to perform volunteer service in 28 countries. Total dollars awarded exceed $291,000. For more information, visit http://www.asbury.edu/student-life/service-opportunities/asbury-initiative.