Have you ever noticed how love songs on the radio could just as easily be about God as about a lover (or maybe God is your lover)? They could also just as easily be about something or some place you love, instead of someone.
There's a song out recently by Chris Daughtry called "Home." I know you've probably heard it. The chorus goes like this:
"I'm going home,
Back to the place where I belong,
And where your love has always been enough for me.
I'm not running from.
No, I think you've got me all wrong.
I don't regret this life I chose for me.
I don't regret this life I chose for me.
But these places and these faces are getting old,
So I'm going home."
It is difficult to adequately explain to someone who has never had the experience what it was like for me to return to the African continent this month after FIVE years away. The last time I was in Africa, I was unmarried, was living in Minnesota, and hadn't yet graduated from seminary. My grandfather was still alive, and a life in Pennsylvania with my future husband was something I hadn't yet conceived of.
The last time I was in Africa (Cameroon) was five years ago, but the last time I was in Tanzania was NINE years ago. That was the first time I was ever in Africa. That was the trip that changed everything. At that time, I was still in college. My best friend Yulia, a summer fling, and a research project I was working on were the most important things in my life at that time.
Life has changed. Nine years ago I never would have imagined that today I would be in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, married to a Cameroonian, and working for one of the largest Lutheran churches east of the Mississippi River. Like the song says, I don't regret this life I chose for me (much of the time that's true, anyways).
Yet one thing has remained constant. A little less than three weeks ago, on August 7, when those airplane doors opened and I stepped out into the cool, evening Tanzanian breeze, I knew I had come home. The smell of wood smoke and sweat and history came into my nostrils and I kissed the ground. I had come home.
I was surprised this time around by how normal it all seemed. It seems like every other time I have ever been in Africa, there has been so much wonder associated with the experience. Naturally, every time you go somewhere new, there is discovery and wonder to be had. This time, the wonder was still there, but it was more an experience of experience. I had reactions like "I've been here before," and "That doesn't surprise me." Not that I knew everything or learned nothing... I was just surprised by how un-new everything seemed to me. For example:
- When we arrived in Moshi, Albert, the diocese driver from my trip nine years ago, was still working at the hostel where we stayed.
- On our way to Lushoto our car broke down and we had to disembark in the middle of nowhere while the driver and mechanic pieced things back together.
- The police stopped us for vehicle inspections in hope of some extra cash.
- The voices of children on the side of the road singing "Wazungu" ("white people" or "foreigners") were strangely reminiscent of my time as a "Nazara" in Cameroon.
- Even the school where we stayed in Mlalo, the students and the teachers, reminded me in so many ways of our dear College Protestant in Ngaoundere, Cameroon.
There were many differences, too, and I would be the last person on earth to tell you that all of Africa is the same or that all Africans are the same. That is just not true! But I was amazed by how at home I felt. In many ways, it was as though I had never left. It truly was a homecoming.
This whispers to me about my future. Our future--Pierre's and mine together. Although we have returned to Lansdale, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Africa are not our past. They are not just some places we visited that we will look back at in photographs and say, "What a nice time we had," never to return again. This is not a Roman Holiday. This is our life. God is calling us onward in a direction that is ultimately pointing back across the ocean. Eventually, we hope to be home for good.
P.S. You can view photos from my trip to Tanzania by clicking here.