I woke up in a different world ten years ago today. My bed was wobbly beneath me, a gentle rhythm that I would quickly get accustomed to. My new home was a 520 foot long hospital ship that I shared with 400 other people. I woke up that morning on the bottom bunk, surrounded by strangers who would quickly become my sisters. Jet-lagged and a little unsteady on my feet, I set about exploring my home for the next three months. I remember stepping out on deck and the air just felt so different, let alone the smell of it. My eyes scanned the horizon and all was unfamiliar; large ships, hundreds upon thousands of containers, small fishing boats and the ocean beyond. A ship in port is not even remotely glamorous. It was almost too much for me to take in.
I've spent much of the afternoon looking through old pictures and being flooded with memories of my time in Cotonou, Benin with Mercy Ships. To label it life-changing is certainly appropriate, but doesn't even begin to cover it. It was the hardest 6 months of my life, but also some of the absolute best. Mornings were spent worshiping and soaking in the teaching of some of the greats that YWAM had to offer. I spent my afternoons scrubbing the toilets and showers, mopping floors and polishing wood on really loooong corridors. It was good hard work that provided lots of opportunity to think. And there was always much to think about. Evenings were long, but soon filled with new friends, a modest library, 10pm laundry slots, dance lessons on aft deck and exploring small parts of the city.
Fast forward three months to our Outreach Phase and the world tilted once again as I fought to be content in every circumstance. Some days I won, a lot of days I lost. But He was faithful to me in a way I didn't know I needed Him to be during those long days in the village. We poured ourselves out and dealt with more then a little resistance to His Word. Everyday tasks were a challenge, a burden. I wish I would have learned to accept it and move on a little faster, but eventually I did. I embraced the dust and dirt on my feet 10 seconds after washing them. I loved the quiet nights of sleeping on the roof and the sky full of a million stars. Buckets of mangoes and fresh bread filled our bellies and His Truth and His Spirit sustained us.
I'm not overstating it by saying that I wouldn't be who I am and where I am today without the time I spent with Mercy Ships/YWAM. He asked a small town country girl if she trusted Him. And then He took her about as far away as you can get from the world she knew. But He knew what He was doing.
God expanded my vision and stretched my heart to capacity. He cracked it open for the people and places of Africa. He loved me that much, to orchestrate such a wild plan and show me more of Himself then I ever dared to ask for. He laughed when I said I'd never return because He already knew about the boy who would capture my heart and call me Mama. He who knew that my first trip to the continent wouldn't be my last and in fact, pieces of it would stay with me forever. It's an amazing story, really. And I think He's just getting warmed up.