God and I in Africa

I recently wrote a reflection on my experience during my visits to South Sudan, originally posted on my blog here: www.TeresaJanzen.com . Some people have encouraged me to share it on our minsitry page as well, so here it is.

Supernatural grace oozes through my life when I travel to East Africa. It is so invasive I often wonder if God has provided this grace for my benefit, or, in His infinite mercy, for the benefit of those I meet and serve in South Sudan. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my many faults and struggles, God meets me where I need him most and covers me with His grace.

I am an imperfect person; it amazes me that anyone would allow me to be an ambassador for the church, for Christ or for the American people. If you were to interview people to represent your mission to the nations, my spiritual resume would certainly not get me the job. The list of my character flaws that should disqualify me from this type of work is lengthy, yet somehow God has chosen me.

Patience is a virtue, and I sometimes think I only have a small portion of it. I talk fast, tap my foot while waiting, doodle while on the phone, and watch the clock count down on the microwave. But something happens to me when I step foot on African soil. It’s a transformation that is unmistakable, yet can also be easily missed unless someone knows me well.

The first time I went to South Sudan in 2012, I traveled in with a team of people who were there for a five day experience trip. When the plane arrived to fly them out, I sat with the pilot while they got their bags together. After some time of conversation he asked me how long I’d been in South Sudan. I told him that I had come in with the team he was flying out, so about five days. “Really?” he replied. “You seem like you belong here.” He commented on how I just seemed at home, like I’d lived there for years. Frankly, that’s how I feel when I’m there—at least most of the time.

I had a similar experience this year when I traveled again to East Africa. I had landed in Nairobi and was going through customs. “Do you have anything to declare?” the officer asked. I replied that I did not. He looked at my paperwork, and then he looked at me, “You don’t look like an American.” He said to me. I was surprised, so he explained what he meant. “You dress and act like we do,” he said. I don’t know how he made this assessment in such a short period of time, but I smiled and said that I must be African at heart.

What is it that overcomes me when I travel to East Africa? It’s more than just relaxing and feeling at home. It’s God’s supernatural grace covering me and smoothing over my rough spots.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Yes, I feel at peace when I’m in South Sudan, though I doubt it’s the place that causes it. It’s more than likely the fact that I am smack dab in the middle of God’s will—that’s where peace lives. It still takes some getting used to the slower pace of speech and the leisurely stroll of foot travel, but I soon adapt and relax.

In addition to peace, God bathes me with grace. When a westerner travels to a place like South Sudan, under the name of Christian, they are looked at with an expectation that they will look, act and speak like Jesus (or the people’s idea of Jesus). My prayer is always that my behavior will not set the mission movement within the people group back too far. God seems to honor this by removing some of my deepest character defects—at least for a time. And as I learn to live in His grace, those defects seem to slough off and are replaced with new character traits.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I am so grateful that the Lord straightens my path. I’m not sure if He is protecting me from myself, or simply making sure I don’t mess up His plan for those I serve.

As I prepare to move to South Sudan full-time, I pray that God will keep smearing on His grace and peace. I know He is equipping me, and I know He is caring for me. How could I doubt His love and provision after all I’ve experienced? If He can wrap me in His grace for a month overseas, He will certainly continue to guide and direct my path when I move there. It may not look the same. It may not feel the same. But there is no doubt in my mind that He will be there with me, every step of the way.