The secret thrill of reading any great work of literature is shrouded in the unknown. As the plot twists wildly and suspense intensifies and tantalizes the mind, we revel in the intoxicating ecstasy of uncertainty. The best stories-the ones that arrest and engage your mind and affections-those stories leave you trapped in the throes of your questions until the last page. The answers belong to the author.
If life is a story, the chapter of mine set in West Africa has come to a close. Every chapter of a book changes the course of the story-and the past two years have changed the course of mine forever. I am indescribably thankful for the uncomfortable gift that my time in Africa has been to me. I think it will take a lifetime to understand exactly how it is that Jesus changed my heart and life in Senegal.
I moved to Dakar to share the gospel with Muslim students that don’t have access to it. What I learned during the
course of those two years, is that the gospel is not just for Miriam, Khadi and Fatou: it is for me. That Jesus is not simply good advice-He must be everything. God has not redeemed me and abandoned me, but rather is chiseling away at the calcified, gangrenous parts of my heart, making it come alive again. He is walking, healing, confronting, disciplining, caring, loving, being gracious to, and sanctifying me so that as I go, sin slowly loses its power as my life is ever so slowly conformed to the image of His Son. Every freezing shower, every time I got sick or missed home so much it was hard to breathe, every scorching, filthy day, every catcall, and every Muslim student that politely listened but never understood –those were all pieces of God changing my heart forever. The gospel is about relentless love, but I think it’s also about hope. That we don’t have to be what we hate. And we no longer have to be afraid.
I cannot explain what it was like to walk away from the Muslim women that have left an indelible mark on my life, and still do not understand that. Women that are too afraid or too hardened to follow Jesus-at least for now. Watching Miriam walk out of my front door for the very last time was gut-wrenching. But in the midst of a flurry of goodbyes that make my heart ache, there is hope.
You see, this story doesn’t resolve. Miriam, Fatou and Khadi still don’t believe. Through tears and frustration, I cling to the simple truth that though I left Senegal, Jesus did not. Right now, audacious faith means believing that though I do understand why, or how, or when-God does not need me to reach those women. He never did. And while I do not understand why so many of my Muslim friends still do not believe, my joy is in who Jesus is and the glorious truth that His love for women like Miriam was measured at the cross, and His power to save them was measured at the resurrection. He can redeem her. He can redeem all of them. And I pray that He will.
The story isn’t over. And the thing is, I’m not sure how it ends. There are eight people [including Michelle! I’ll be giving you all of their blogs so you can still follow life in Senegal.] returning to Dakar to carry on what a team of five began
in October of 2009. [And goodness, how long ago that seems!] Women like Fatou Ba, that are so close to making the choice to follow Jesus but are paralyzed by terror of what the consequences might be, will continue to have women that deeply love Jesus walking beside them as they come to understand that nothing but Jesus will ever satisfy. And there are, of course, Senegalese women that we’ve left behind in Dakar that follow Jesus and want to see their country follow Him too.
“I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19
Pray with me, that Jesus does this in Senegal. That the unwritten stories of women like Fatou, Miriam, Khadi and so many like them, do not end in unbelief. There is no heart that’s too hard, too far gone, for Jesus to rescue. He does it every day.
And so here’s to the next chapter-whatever it holds. Breathe in, breathe out, and with not a little trepidation and a whole lot of expectant faith, tentatively put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus into a new adventure.