There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to plant and a time to uproot… Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
I was attending the University of Minnesota, living at home and working to pay my tuition (my father did not believe in school loans). It was getting late and my mom stopped by my room. I was out of sorts and began complaining to her about how all my friends were leading such exciting lives. They were studying in Switzerland or taking European vacations while I seemed to be forever sitting at my desk, trying to concentrate on my books, scratching my brain for something to write in my papers. My mother simply said, “Your day will come.”
And it did.
Dr. Keller, principal at The American Embassy School of Lusaka, invited me to Eau Claire, Wisconsin for an interview. He asked me to bring one of my parents along so he could be sure I had my family’s support. My dad drove me to the meeting. We met Dr.Keller and his wife Madge at a McDonalds. There he asked his second, though no less unusual, interview question. “You’re not running away from anything are you?” He caught me by surprise. I hesitated. He went on, “Sometimes people apply for a job overseas to escape something unpleasant in the states- you know a break up, a debt, a problem of some kind. You aren’t running away from anything like that are you?”
“No.” I said.
He looked at my father for confirmation.
“She’s not,” my dad said.
“Does she have your support in going overseas?” Dr. Keller asked.
“Yes, she does,” my dad assured him.
“Good, it’s best that way.” Dr. Keller replied.
Then Dr. Keller was reaching for something. It was an envelope, not an envelope of questions or paperwork, but of… photos, snapshots. In the blink of an eye Dr. Keller was smiling and spreading before us pictures of beautiful animals and landscapes, talking about Africa’s big five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino) and regaling us with stories of game drives and of the unusual things he’d found in the African markets. Of course he showed us a few pictures of the school also. After that there was a discussion of timelines and traveling details. And before I knew it I was picking up a pen and signing a two-year contract to teach 2nd grade at The American Embassy School of Lusaka, Zambia. I couldn’t believe everything had happened so fast. Or gone so smoothly.
On the way home my dad took me to the government building in downtown Minneapolis so I could get a passport. I had four weeks to get packed and ready to travel overseas for my new job.
People reacted to the news with all kinds of remarks. “You? Going to Africa?” one said in utter disbelief.
“Yes,” I nodded a bit embarrassed, as if I had won some kind of contest and couldn’t believe it myself.
“That’s awfully far away,” another said wistfully.
“Did you know there’s a war in Mozambique?!” a person at work barked. “That’s like people killing each other in Wisconsin!”
Oh well, I thought.
There were lots of questions too. “Are you afraid?”
“Will you be going on a safari?”
I knew I was an unlikely person to go overseas and live. I had never traveled out of the country and, well, I had never really even been interested in other countries, or, I’m ashamed to admit, other cultures. Growing up it was my twin brother who watched Big Blue Marble and read old National Geographics. I watched The Brady Bunch and looked at fashion magazines. And my brother was the adventurous one. When we went skiing he flew off jumps and did summersaults. I always held back and looked forward to drinking hot cocoa in the chalet. I had never been outgoing either. With friends I was fine, but in other social settings I was nervous and insecure about meeting new people. I never knew what to say. One friend had labeled me a hermit, another, a hopeless romantic. And my former boyfriend, when he learned of my African dream, declared “You can’t go to Africa, you can’t live without Daytons!” (Daytons was the upscale department store I had worked at and shopped at when I could afford it). I knew living in Africa would be a stretch for me. But I also knew that if God himself had made a way for me to go, he had to have a plan to help me live there.
Soon there were 2 large crates in the middle of my parent’s family room. Everyone, including the cat, watched as I began to fill them up. I took everything- teaching supplies, textbooks and favorite novels, my sewing machine, the patchwork quilt my grandmother made, two years worth of toothpaste and other toiletries, cassettes tapes and a tape player, even the duck head book ends I got for Christmas, the ceramic ballet shoes that hung on my wall and the beautiful purple Laura Ashley shoes I had recently worn as the maid of honor in Hannah’s wedding.
I got a years worth of malaria pills and a bunch of vaccines as well, cholera, typhoid, polio, yellow fever, tetanus, diphtheria, plus a gamma globulin shot to boost my immune system. After each dose or injection, a note was made in the immunization booklet I was told would be asked for and inspected.
About two weeks before I was to leave, I went in for my final immunization and a problem arose. The nurse refused to give it to me. She said that too little time had elapsed since my last shot. My mother pressed her, but she would not budge. I had to cancel my flight and delay my departure. Not only that our travel agent told my dad, who was handling all the logistics for me, that she could not find any other flights that would get me to Lusaka in time to start work. I was upset and anxious. And I am sure I was getting on my family’s nerves. Rarely did I handle an emergency with the composure of my policeman father and registered nurse mother. “We must pray,” my mother entreated. Then she sat me down and prayed like she always had, no dramatics, just simple statements about who God is and what it was we needed. Moments later my dad called. He managed to find me the flights I needed by calling several airlines on his own. “Remember this moment,” my mom said emphatically, and with tears in her eyes, “God can do anything! If your earthly father cares for you this much, think how much more your Heavenly Father cares.” I would indeed, remember that moment.
Soon I was looking with sorrow at the landscape I loved. The oaks and maples I’d known my whole life would change color and lose their leaves without me. Their empty branches would stack with snow and create the winter fairyland I loved. The lakes would freeze for someone else’s skates. The hills would hide under deep blankets of snow to be marked by another’s boots or skis or sleds. I would miss it.
People as well would go on through the patterns of their days and years without me. They would sing happy birthday, carve turkeys, open Christmas presents, count down the New Year, exchange wedding vows, and have babies… all without me. I would miss it.
My friends threw a farewell party for me and it was perfect. They served cake decorated with a big pink Africa on it. There were carved wooden necklaces and safari shirts. Newspaper torches peppered the lawn and hand stenciled African animals hung like clothesline. I felt so loved. Is it okay to say I felt like a star? I did. We ate, we laughed, we danced, and then it was over. A chapter ended. I had a plane to catch.