Heather knelt and held the hand of a sick and weak young girl named Caroline. The small hut was so dimly lit, that at first, Heather hadn’t noticed the young 14 year-old AIDS patient laying on her mother’s sofa. Three years later, Heather can’t forget her. On that particular day in 2011, Heather was thousands of miles away from her cottage country home in Coboconk, Ontario. Extreme poverty and the devastation caused by AIDS had never impacted Heather’s life before. But that changed as she held onto Caroline’s hand, shed a few tears, and prayed for healing, comfort, and peace in the life of God’s precious child.
WORKING FOR GOD
That home-based care visit was just the first of many spiritually defining moments for Heather during a short-term missions trip in Zambia. Committed to delving into whatever work was required of her, Heather took part in home-based care visits, feeding programs, church services, construction work, and gardening projects (just to name a few). Sometimes it felt like her heart was breaking, overwhelmed by experiences like Caroline when the suffering was so great. It was during one of the nightly debrief sessions that a teenage team member reminded them that maybe God was allowing their hearts to be broken so they could understand what breaks His heart.
Throughout the hard work Heather recalled a feeling of joy and purpose as they worked alongside African widows and local volunteers, often accompanied by laughter. One day, while rehabilitating a roof for an elderly volunteer, a chorus of Canadian shrieks rang out as they took apart the old thatch roof. The Africans had to roll their eyes when they discovered the culprit of this commotion was just a tiny lizard.
Perhaps the biggest blessing from this trip was not the work that Heather and her team did, but the unexpected and life-changing spiritual blessing the Africans imparted on her. She said, “I realized that they are so rich in God’s love. They are on fire for God. They are much more spiritually blessed than I allow myself to be. I was humbled and in awe of how much they blessed my life. It broadened my hunger to know more of God. To love more, to do more.”
Now anticipating her third short-term missions trip with Visionledd this August (God-willing), Heather recalled how her decision to initially serve in Africa wasn’t easy – it was a yearlong process. After watching a 100 Huntley Street interview with Visionledd’s Malawian partner, Theresa Malila, she found herself crying, felt a tugging at her heart.
AM I BEING CALLED TO GO?
The thought crossed her mind that maybe she should go to Africa. She even contacted Visionledd for trip details. But that was quickly set aside, after all, she had a wedding to attend that year! Fall set in, the trip happened without her, and once again she felt something tugging at her heartstrings, and once again she contacted Visionledd to get trip details. Now Heather was confused. Was God calling her to go? Or was she merely feeling extreme sympathy for the widows and orphans in Africa?
She decided to get some back up. She asked her pastor, her friends, and family to pray for her discernment. She asked God to give her a sign. Finally, one night, after waking from a dream in which she kept seeing faces of African orphans, a friend from work called her out of the blue and said, “I don’t know why. But God wants me to tell you to stop being like Jonah.”
PLANS TO PROSPER YOU
That was it. Heather realized God was calling her to go on this trip. Though fears crept in, people warned her about snakes and sickness, she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to raise the funds, and she didn’t know a single other person going on the trip, she kept coming back to Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)
God certainly kept His promise to Heather. He has blessed her in ways that she never expected through the relationships and people she encountered on short-term missions trips. Short-term mission trips may not be for everyone; sometimes He might be calling us to support His work in other ways. But if you feel something tugging at your heartstrings, something that is telling you to serve in Africa, we invite you to pray about it. Inquire and ask questions. Then, if God is calling you to go, come with us.
Ephesians 1:18-19, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (NIV)
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Revelations from Africa is a blog series dedicated to showcasing personal testimonies from the field – often demonstrating important life lessons that God revealed through experiences and people we encountered in sponsored communities and projects. These stories come from Visionledd staff, advocates, and short-term missions volunteers. If you have a story you would like featured in this series, please contact Cheryl Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org