Category Archives: Senegal

New Mercy.

Kellan and I celebrated my job offer by going to buy new running shoes.

I’m cheap about the strangest things, and even though I run every day, I hadn’t splurged on a new pair of running shoes since the day after I moved back from Africa.

Circa, oh, I don’t know, two and a half years ago.

Afterwards, we called his parents to fill them in. Unbeknownst to us, they were out of town and so our call went straight to their voice mail machine, at which point Kellan decided that an appropriate voice mail to leave sounded something like this:

Hey Mom and Dad! Call us back, Ash and I have some BIG NEWS to tell you!

Cue Ashley flying across the living room in a cold sweat, screeching I’M NOT PREGNANT!!!!! into the phone.

If there’s one thing that my in-laws are thankful for, I’m betting it’s their demure, emotionally stable daughter-in-law.

I had been perfectly astonished to receive an offer, partly because I cried in my interview [I know. I KNOW.], and mostly because almost everyone evaluating me had read this blog. That little nugget of information made me desperately wish I hadn’t written about wanting a Tea Cup Pig named Paula Deen.

Or, you know, 98% of the other gems that I’ve slapped up on the internets.

Back to the tears. Would it surprise you at all if I told you that this wasn’t the first time I’ve cried in an interview? When I interviewed for my last job, I had been back in the US for approximately NO TIME AT ALL. I was mind-numbingly jet-lagged, and thought gas station bathrooms were paragons of cleanliness. My prospective boss had the gall to ask me what God had taught me in Africa, and tears started rolling down my face as I thought about all of the precious Muslim women I’d just left an ocean away.

Now, I was interviewing at a Southern Baptist church, and so crying about things like that, while not exactly encouraged in an interview, was also perfectly acceptable. Almost holy, even. However, several hours later my new smart phone and I accidentally butt-dialed my prospective Southern Baptist pastor boss. Which might have been fine, had I been singing Amazing Grace or praying for the nations. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on given that I was much too busy passionately belting out “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” as I sped down the interstate.

Awe. Some. Do you want proof that God exists? I got the job.

As I sat in my final interview with HOPE, a question arose that mandated that I talk about what I’ve been up to since my wedding. It’s impossible for me to talk about that without mentioning Ian, and as I briefly talked about my little brother tears, crocodile tears welled up in my eyes and I had to stop. Everyone graciously allowed me to rally, and we carried on. It was hours later on my five hour drive back to Albany, that I began to think about the past six months of quiet that the Lord has given me in New York. These months since Ian died have not been what I would have chosen, but God’s good gift to me was time. Time to read about grief and Kim Kardashian’s hiney. [Depending on the day.] Time to cook my way through my Pinterest board, and go on long runs. Time to run home to North Carolina [over. and over. and over.], and time to ache and process the heart wrenching reality that my curly-haired little brother isn’t coming back. And more than anything, time to learn that there really is new mercy for each new morning.

Today, I am thankful for new mercy.

5 Comments

Filed under First World Problems, Grief, Hope, Ian, Life at the Frat House, Senegal

[Not] An Extreme Makeover.

DSC_0228It was just another unspeakably sweltering, shut-in Tuesday night in Senegal when I began telling stories in my own little corner of cyberspace.

Options of things to do post seven PM in a Muslim country in Africa quickly become rather limited when you’re not allowed outside after dark. And so I began to write.

Some of you began reading way back then. You knew why I’d moved to Africa, and ached with me over stories like Aya’s. You offered a compassionate listening ear as I detailed my affair with Mohammad the fruit stand man, my almost-forced-marriage to sweater vest man, and ranted about doing laundry in the bathtub. You were there through birthday salmonella, black Santa, and Ian’s favorite story.

I titled my blog “Audacious Faith” years ago, because at the time one of the primary purposes of my writing was simply to keep people back home in touch with what God was doing in Africa as He slowly taught me what it looked like to live my life as though Jesus really was who He’d claimed to be. As though He really was as loving and powerful and willing to save as He’d promised. And I began to learn, in light of that, what it looked like to begin to take bold steps of faith that were in line with THAT God instead of the small one in my head. It’s a lesson that I am still slowly learning with all of the grace and poise of a child learning to walk.

After Africa, I stopped blogging with any regularity. I suppose I was busy convincing my boss that picking up his decaf latte was not, in fact, in my job description, falling hopelessly in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding and walking through cancer. I missed it though, because writing makes me feel. It makes me remember. It makes me avoid doing laundry, and that just feels right. And now that I live in Albany, writing ensures that when Kellan gets home from work, I have approximately 20 minutes less of pent-up thoughts to unload on him.

To my sweet husband, that translates to 20 solid minutes of ESPN GOLD, friends.

And so I’m writing again. I write because I love it, and because something in me needs to. And as I begin writing again, you’re going to start noticing some changes around my blog. For one, the domain address will reflect the name change that I haven’t technically made legal yet. [One thing at a time.] AshleyPDickens.com it is! If only changing my driver’s license were this easy. You’ll see my blog title change, not because my content will change in the slightest, but because I’d hate for someone to be turned off from reading simply because my blog title is Christianese. This isn’t an Extreme Makeover–just a fresh coat of paint and maybe a new lamp or two. So while you’re holding your breath, I won’t hold it against you if you cheat and breathe through your nose just a little bit.

Thank you for reading. My husband owes you a debt of gratitude for his extra ESPN time!

5 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Senegal

The Story. [Unwritten.]

Just some of the girls that came to our goodbye party. More than forty came that day.

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

Michelle strung pictures of our two years in Senegal all over the apartment for our goodbye party, and the girls took them home as favors.

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.

 

With Fama.

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

Miriam and Fanta looking at pictures.

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Ministry moments, Senegal

Hey, Soul Sister.

The beauty of being self-published, is that I get to do exactly what I want. And right now, I want to post a thousand pictures and help you step into my day.

In breaking news, Miriam and Coumba sat me down and explained a fool proof method to “make a man fall in love with you”. Are you ready for this?

…cook him chicken. Chicken. I mean, Godiva Chocolate cheesecake, I might be able to understand. Something with cookie dough? Absolutely. Fudge centers and I? Till’ death do us part. 

…but chicken? 

Well, shoot. Easy peasy! Somebody call Cosmo and tell them that they’ve got it all wrong.

These precious girls were at the market at 7:30 AM, and spent hours cooking for us. They paid for everything they used with money that they don’t really have-and spared no expense. The meal that they made for us today is a meal traditionally served at weddings and grand parties-every little piece of it, from the yellow rice to the chicken,  is simply more expensive.

Miriam.

Fanta.

Coumba.

Washing the rice-a necessity if you’d prefer not to chip a tooth on the tiny rocks hiding amidst the grains. That, and there’s always the rat poo-poo. Western snob that I am, I prefer poo-poo-less rice.

I love this girl. I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that after two years, I have to say goodbye to her tomorrow.

The neighborhood…

Is this goat not the most pitiful thing you’ve ever seen? I wanted to take him home, name him Frank and never, ever eat him.

…but I don’t think they’ll let Frank through customs next week.

I’m sorry, Frank.

Plating the food! Senegalese women are all about presentation-which I love.

And this? This was to die for. You’d be amazed and what kind of damage a couple of  Senegalese women can do to that much food. [And by "that much food", I mean more than a pound of rice per person. Help me, Rhonda.]

Christy, Michelle and I got forks-but the rest of them went at it Senegalese-style and ate with their hands. Call me a weenie, but it’s the one thing I simply can’t stand! In Senegal, it’s the hostess’ job to tear off pieces of meat with her hand [a hand that she's been using to squish rice into the oily balls she's popping in her mouth] and place them in front of the guests gathered around her platter. Well today, each one of those sweet girls fancied herself the hostess-and for the life of me, I couldn’t scoop rice and chicken into my mouth faster than they were each throwing food towards my piece of the platter!

Swimming. Up. Stream.

It was perfectly lovely.

And tomorrow is goodbye.

5 Comments

Filed under Ministry moments, Senegal

Mangos and Magnolia Trees.

Packing last fall.

Ten. There are just ten more links on the yellow paper chain hanging by my window. Ten days from right this moment, I’ll be driving in North Carolina. I see Magnolia trees, unsweetened peach mango iced tea, baseball games and a bed in my very near future!

I finally broke the news to Mohammad the Fruit Stand Man yesterday, on the way home from my run. I confessed that next week I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back this time. His chocolate eyes widened as he uttered a dismayed, “Ah, BON? Oh, cheri!”

Then he asked me to dinner.

Persistent until the bitter end, that one. His consolation shall be that though I refuse to marry him regardless of the number of animals that he offers to slaughter on my behalf, [thoughtful man that he is] he has endeared himself to me in a way that no other fruit stand man has. Mangos and pineapples have always engaged my affections more easily than dead mammals, anyways.

Two years ago, “getting ready” to move to Africa entailed buying an impossible number of Hello Kitty bandaids and carefully packing my practical stilettos, polka-dotted rainboots and cowgirl boots [clearly all necessary footwear for life in a third world African country]. I stock piled veritable vats of blue Crest Mouthwash and deep-moisturizing hair conditioner. I read stacks of books about Islam, bought enough Tylenol cold syrup, hand sanitizer and mosquito repellant to fill up no less than three kiddie pools, and allowed a travel nurse to pump me full of every recommended drug known to man. Undaunted, I scoured endless aisles of medications at Target and tossed bottles and boxes of pills meant to treat every disease that I might possibly contract during my African hiatus. I even faithfully started taking my malaria medication the required three weeks before I hopped on a plane.

I had no idea how unprepared I was. Not a thing in this world could have readied me for life in Senegal.

And now, two years later, I find myself sorting through dusty boxes-finding partially-burned pumpkin spiced candles and an embarrassing number of those Hello Kitty bandaids. One-by-one, half-empty bottles of shampoo and lotion are being carefully zipped into plastic bags and tucked away into my oversized blue duffel. Target t-shirts are tossed into the “give” pile, and my holey running shoes are headed towards the trash. As I sort through the remnants of my past two years, I find myself at a loss as I try to understand what it will mean to leave this place that I have loved and hated. To walk away from the sweet Muslim women that I will never see again.

Tomorrow, Miriam, Fatou and some other friends are throwing Christy, Michelle and I a Bon Voyage party. We’ll be cooking Yassa Dienne [fish, onions and rice] at Fatou’s house all day long. On Wednesday, we’re throwing ourselves a goodbye party-and it will be the last time I see all of the precious girls I’ve been working with for two years. The last time I get to tell them why I picked up and moved to Africa-the last time that I explain who Jesus is, and why they desperately need Him. Wednesday marks my last day of work in Senegal-after that, my team is taking a week to pack and clean and close out life in Dakar.

Not that I have the foggiest idea how to do that.

In the face of walking away from Muslim friends that don’t know Jesus, I am unspeakably grateful that Jesus doesn’t need me to change hearts. Heart change is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit-and not something that I conjure up on my own. And in the midst of heart-wrenching goodbyes, I choose to cling to the truth that God loves those women more than I do. His irrational love for Miriam, Fatou, Khadi, Amy, Aida, Sophie, Awa and the rest of my friends was measured at the cross. His power to save and redeem them was measured at the resurrection. Second Corinthians 5:7 says “We live by faith-not by sight.” What I see right now is a group of Muslim women that are too afraid or too hardened to follow Jesus-but by faith, I believe that God can still redeem even the hardest heart in the group.

Even if I never get to see it.

I write for a myriad of reasons-and as of late, I write to make sense of my life. Thank you for letting me process.

2 Comments

Filed under God's faithfulness, Ministry moments, Senegal

See, What Had Happened Was…[Spilling the Beans.]

Sun-drenched mornings are meant to be orchestrated to the intoxicating tune of percolating coffee. Mornings beg for coffee.

As do bagels.

And oxygen.

This morning was no different. I rolled off my mat on the floor and groggily stumbled into the kitchen-where with great delight, I discovered that it was new-bag-of-coffee-day.

This is something that only coffee drinkers can understand. Those of you that prefer to avoid legal addictive stimulants [and truly, I salute you!] will simply have to trust me on this one- there’s just something about opening a brand new, vacuum-sealed bag of coffee that tickles the imagination and causes a piece of you to come alive.

With a sleepily satisfied smile, I opened the cupboard and pulled out a fresh bag of hazelnut crème coffee. To my unspeakable horror, two roaches the size of small kittens promptly fell off of the offending bag and onto the floor, where they scurried about in a frenzied attempt to find somewhere to hide.

Not that they needed to. I was approximately eighteen steps ahead of them, and had already run hollering from the kitchen looking for a place that I could hide.

I would rather die of exposure than deal with a roach.

However, I would rather deal with a roach than miss my morning coffee.  Without my first cup of coffee, I find it utterly impossible to laugh, operate heavy machinery or have any discernible personality whatsoever. If you’re a chocolate-swirl, spattering of peppermint pieces, dash of cinnamon, dollop of whipped cream kind of person; you likely view coffee as more of a recreational activity. Now, that’s just fine-but some of us have a genuine, medical need for the stuff if we are to deal with the people around us in a nonviolent manner. And unfortunately, said roaches stood between me and my first pot of coffee-thus, all was not right in Whoville.

I stood hesitantly outside of my kitchen, braving the elements and desperately attempting to work up the gumption to battle the bugs. My un-caffeinated stand-off with the roaches lasted approximately seven excruciating minutes, before my menacing can of Raid and I manned up and determined to rescue my beloved coffee pot-and, by association, my sanity.

Both roaches had, of course, long since escaped-[and are presumably currently snuggled up under a bag of French Vanilla]-and so I made my café au lait in tentative peace, being careful to pick around the dead ants in the sugar bag as I measured out a teaspoon.

12.

9 Comments

Filed under My ghetto-fab life, Senegal

Of The UPS Man, African Snow White, and One Too Many Pickles.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we return to our regular programming.

In light of recent distractions, regular programming this week in Dakar just happens to include hopelessly daunting piles of work that need to be finished before Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM [oh, we’ll get there in a moment], and an apartment that’s completely gone to pot. I feel like I’m on Survivor. It’s embarrassing. If UPS had even the foggiest hope of being able to find me in this country, I would probably not even crack the door for the awkward brown-shorted delivery man-but simply implore him to leave his box sitting on the front mat and then slowly back away. The Leaning Tower of Dishes is teetering menacingly in the sink, and I’ve been surviving on granola, pickles, and chicken salad for approximately the last eight meals. [Which is what happens when you make a veritable vat of any one particular food. Lesson learned.] In a rather startling turn of events, sweeping yesterday garnered enough hair to make a small voodoo doll-and frankly, I’m having an impossible time ascertaining whether I am more disturbed by the level of filth on my floor, or the fact that there is the distinct possibility that I am going bald.

That, coupled with the minor detail that on Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM, sixteen Americans are landing in Dakar to spend six weeks doing my job with me, has kept life busy as of late.

Yes, it’s that time of year again-time for our summer project. With them comes a lot of early mornings and late nights-and a mound of paperwork as we get ready to teach them everything from Islamic theology to how not to die whilst crossing the street. [Never fear-I have no hand in that particular seminar.]In a dark city where hope wanes and poverty crushes, it’s exhilarating to think about sixteen extra people coming to proclaim a thrill of hope to a weary city that has none. And there is hope-yes, and amen!

In other news, exactly seven weeks from today I’ll be leaving Dakar for the very last time. Good golly Miss Molly-where has the time slipped away to? Last I checked it was November. As Michelle phrased it-we’re on the downward rush of the rollercoaster-and before we know it, we’ll be coming to a grinding halt and dizzily exiting the ride. As my stomach lurches and life starts to blur around me, I am both excited-and so very far from being ready. Faced with the bittersweet reality that change is inevitable, I am struck by the fact that when change comes our way, God is not simply watchful. I think He’s giving a standing ovation-savoring His grace and hard work in our lives. He’s celebrating the gangrenous, calcified pieces of our hearts that He has surgically removed in the [sometimes painful] process of making us more like Him. He is more committed to our character than our comfort-and in the midst of all my unknowns, that’s something I can hold on to. That, and the sweet truth that though my rollercoaster world may spin wildly out of control-my Jesus never changes. This, Africa has taught me.

Alas, the dishes are calling. I’m going to attempt to channel my African Snow White and get the roaches to do them for me-…but there is the distinct possibility that I’ll have to pick up a sponge.

I’ll keep you posted.

3 Comments

Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Musings, Senegal, Summer project