I didn’t even know how to feel when she told me my flight back to Kentucky would be on October 25th. Much to (what was left of) my team’s annoyance and disappointment, I had tearfully announced I would be leaving Mali, West Africa, and breaking my 2 year commitment as a Journeyman with the International Mission Board. My team leader made my travel plans for me, and I was set to leave on October 25th, 2000. What’s ironic about this date is that I had begun my missionary experience on exactly October 25th, the year before.
And here it is, October 25th, 2010. Ten years later! I still have signs of malaria and mono, two illnesses that never quite leave the bloodstream. I still have vivid images that bring all kinds of emotions when I shut my eyes. I still have memories that make me laugh out loud. I still have pictures of my loved ones in my village sitting around my house, telling me every time I pass them that they do not look like that anymore. Five year old Fanto is no longer doing his cartwheel-pick-up-a-banana-peel trick. In fact, he is probably working a field, riding a bike with one flat tire if not two, and perhaps even has a girlfriend named Fatima. Ten year old Nana is probably cooking for her own kids now instead of her siblings, braiding people’s hair in between meals, clucking her tongue in gossip about a neighbor. I can see it.
That year of my life was a wonder. As I look back, I can’t help but think it was a movie I watched and not something I actually lived. The weirdest thing I feel is that I’m not still living it. There are some things I would do differently if I could do it again; but ultimately, I am the same person as I was then. I really did stand in awe of God that year, I really did walk hand in hand with Him in utter dependence and trust. I learned a proper fear and respect of my God; I learned perhaps step one in the process of genuine faith, like Hebrews 11 and 12 kind of faith. My heart is sore when I look back into that year that came and went a whole decade ago; I’m sad that I haven’t been able to keep up any relationship with those families I love so much but thankful those relationships were made at all.
I have to end on this very happy note: I will see many of them again someday! In the air, there won’t be the barrier of distance or years…I hope they’ll believe me when I tell them I carried them in my heart my whole life.