“Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien
When I graduated from high school, one of my last writing assignments was to predict where I would be and what my life would be like in 15 years. I have vague memories of writing about teaching in some interesting city. Even back then, I wasn’t entirely sure where I would end up, but if you had told me that almost 15 years later, I would be traveling around the U.S. and talking to people (public speaking!) about community development and poverty alleviation efforts in Uganda, I would have never believed you. If you had told me two years ago, I would not have believed you.
However, I serve a God who is bigger than any of my ideas or plans. And I am so grateful.
I graduated from Asbury College with a degree in elementary education and a crazy notion of moving a lot. I wanted to live in a bunch of different cities around the the U.S.– an itinerant teacher, if you will. So my college roommate and I headed beach-ward, she to law school and me to my first (and, I pray, only) year in the American public school system. God used that experience to pry me loose from the life I thought I wanted and plant me firmly in the fertile soil of East Africa.
Tenwek Hospital is a 300-bed hospital in the rural highlands of Kenya–one of the largest Protestant mission hospitals in all of Africa at any given time, there are about a dozen missionary families at Tenwek. Many of the missionary parents work at the hospital–as surgeons, pediatricians, nurses, etc, their spouses have ministries outside of the hospital walls–leading womens’ Bible studies, coordinating resources for local orphanages, hosting visiting doctors.
When there is not a an MK teacher, those ministries fit around the task of homeschooling their kids. That’s where I came in. I moved to Tenwek in September of 2006 to meet that need. There was no way to do all the schooling for all the kids–20 kids from preschool to upper middle school– so I focused on the elementary students and taught a few classes a week for the middle school and preschoolers to supplement what they did at home with their moms. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Was it mentally (and when it came to middle school PE, physically) exhausting? Absolutely. Did I love it? You bet.
It didn’t take long to realize that I hadn’t feel satisfied in the US because that was not what God had wanted for my life. While there were certainly ups and downs, I loved Kenya. I loved the school. I loved the kids and families I worked with. I loved Kenyan culture. I loved the beautiful land. I loved my life. By December, I knew I was where I belonged. By March, I had agreed to come back for another school year.
I could tell you plenty of stories about those two years–the creatures we found in the classroom, the creatures we killed in the classroom (that one was mostly my fault), the rockets we fired, gingerbread houses, the angry chameleon. But that would take far too long. In fact, it took an entirely different blog (now long gone) to chronicle those adventures. (Although, if you ask, I’d certainly love to share!)
So we fast-forward to June 2008. Many of the families I had worked with were headed back to the US for a year of furlough–technically called “homeland ministry assignment” because anyone who has been on “missionary furlough” knows it’s anything but a vacation.
After many tears, prayers, and more tears, I decided to head back to the US, too. I needed to work on paying off student loans before I took on any longer term commitments and the timing just seemed right. So I closed out the school year, packed up my house and boarded the plane. In tears. Did I mention that already? I did not want to leave, even though it was obviously the right choice.
My intention was to work for a few years, pay off student loans, and then head back to Kenya for good. After loving Kenya so much and the difficult transition back to the US, I never expected to enjoy living here in the US again. But, somewhere in the past few years, I have started to. Despite all my expectations, I love my house, my church, my friends, living near my family (well, that one I expected to love), and last, but not least, my job. I taught primary art at a wonderful school in Lexington, Kentucky and loved every single minute of it.
But God does not call us to an easy life. Thankfully. And it would have been far too easy to tuck in, settle down here in the Bluegrass, and buy that house down on the Kentucky river with a big yard for a garden. And just stay. Near my family. Near a grocery store and movie theatres. A teacher supply store. Little Caesar’s Pizza. An auto mechanic. Paved roads. Need I go on?
But, again, that’s not what God calls us to. He calls us to spread his Name all to all tongues, tribes, nations, and people. And my part of that task does not involve a lovely little cottage on the Kentucky River or living near my family. It involves moving (a lot), public speaking, strange foods, confusing customs, lots of bugs, living four hours from a grocery store, and an ocean away from my family. It involves seeing people in poverty every day and deciding how to understand that. It involves changing thought patterns and cooking routines. It means seeing so many needs all around and having no clue how to help–or even if I can. It means being an outsider and never truly fitting in.
So I followed God’s plans and I headed back to Kenya, but once again, my path curved. I had a wonderful school year with many of the same kids I taught before, but was unable to get a long-term work permit to stay. So at the end of the school year, I arrived back in the U.S., perplexed and not a little broken hearted. I had been prepared to settle in to Tenwek, but that was not God’s plan. I looked at MK schools in other areas, but one by one, God closed those doors. Even my fall back option here in the U.S. was not available.
But one door flew wide open: community health empowerment (CHE) in Uganda. I was surprised, but grateful for the Lord’s clear leading. I will continue working with World Gospel Mission, on a team of missionaries, many of whom I already know.
My plan is to return to Uganda in August of 2015. Until then, I am sharing about the ministry and talking with people who want to be a part of what the Lord is doing in Uganda and around Africa through CHE.
In the meantime, I will be trying to keep this site updated more often, as well as the Lisette in Africa Facebook page.
Interested in knowing more about CHE or how you can be a part of this ministry? Email me–or just leave a comment here. I’d love to talk to you about it!