I would like to dedicate this post to what I would like to call the “African Cleanse” as I sit here home all day sick with a fever, flu, and body aches the day after traveling back from the Ivory Coast. Of course I go most the trip without getting sick, only for it to get me the day I return. But it gives me time to write this blog post so I will be thankful for that. I have so much to say but I will have to give it to you in small doses so you can actually absorb one before the other.
The entire time in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) felt like we were in our own pocket of time and space. It felt like we had this little space of protection, safety, and otherworldly feeling while the outside world and people back home were going about their lives. Our days were spent constantly running around from place to place. Whether that be to a game, coaching clinic, youth camp, practice, orphanage, our host’s family community, or church.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in church on a Sunday as we did that day. We got there around 8:30 AM and church went on for another 4.5 hours. Afterwards we were invited to a dinner there to celebrate “Women’s Day.” Church was filled with constant dancing on stage by people in the audience and the sermon was done in French. I won’t lie, I was ready to fall asleep an hour and half into it. I’m happy I pushed through determined not to be the first one, only so I could watch the others slowly fall victim. As we were standing to leave, nearing the end of the sermon, the preacher called us out in front of the entire church asking us to please stay “5 more minutes” haha. I can say that was a first in my book, but overall it was a great to see how other cultures celebrate, worship God, and how there’s truly no right or wrong way to do it.
Games started off a bit rough. The other team’s girls were very straight faced, extremely physical on the court, and unfriendly the first game. Things slowly changed as we continued to play them a few more times and share our testimonies. They warmed up enough to us to start smiling, giving us high fives before the game, sometimes during the game, and coming over to our place for dinner the last night. We may not have been able to understand each other completely, but some things don’t need words to convey. Almost every girl on that team gave a brochure back saying they accepted Jesus into their heart or would like to volunteer with AIA in the local area. Many commented on our spirit during games and the way we played. They were very inspired by the character we played with and friendliness we showed them on and off the court.
One of the challenges for us as athletes will forever be toning down our competitive nature in order to put our main mission first. We didn’t go to the Ivory Coast to win every game and crush our opponent. Though, we also didn’t go to collect any L’s. It was a constant battle telling ourselves not to get frustrated when plays went wrong or calls didn’t go our way. We were there on a Godly mission and the way we presented ourselves carried heavy weight. I think it was a great experience to be allowed and to allow ourselves to play without any judgment or much for expectations. It was the perfect environment to test my knee out in a few live game situations.
I want to sit here and talk about how we influenced each and every person we encountered, and I will. However, I also know the reality of it is that we may have gotten more out this experience than many of the people we came into contact with. So at least for this post, I am going to talk about how we were influenced. Don’t worry, there will be another post on those we influenced. Yes, many people invited Jesus into their hearts during our time there and wanted to hear more about the local AIA program. Many even wanted to volunteer for their own groups, be a part of learning more, and start spreading the word. Although all these things are amazing, one of the most rewarding parts was the time spent as a group during our “team time” and hearing everyone’s testimonies. Each and every one of us came from a background different from the other, with hardships and trials that the other couldn’t imagine beforehand. It gave me a different respect and perspective of how someone from a different culture, background, upbringing, and place can live.
What it comes down to is that everyone’s journey is different but what remains the same is the feelings felt across situations. We can all relate to an extent on the feelings felt during our trials and hardships. This trip was our safe space. It was our judge free zone, allowing us to be vulnerable. Our time to verbalize our brokenness and share it with people who only want to understand and help you heal. A lot of the time we go through life trying to be tough and carry the weight of our brokenness alone. It can become a heavy weight you don’t realize you’re carrying until it’s lifted. For many of the girls on the trip, I think it was a relief to share their brokenness with another. Many of us hadn’t verbalized, shared, or allowed our vulnerabilities to show to anyone else. Like a clogged artery we didn’t let the words flow. We weren’t functioning properly. We didn’t realize the pressure building up behind the dam we build around ourselves. God couldn’t have placed better people on this trip. It was the right persons to reach the right parts of ourselves and let the spirit work inside our hearts and others. Every person was loaded with wisdom from their own experiences to add to the group and allow us think differently or inspire us to be better in our walk with Christ.
I was the oldest among the girls but I never felt that way. We were all equal and one in the same. Many of them claimed that I didn’t act like I was as old as I am. Not sure whether to take that as a good thing or as a “I don’t act my age” kind of thing haha. They meant it in a good way but honestly I didn’t feel older than them. I may have more years under my belt and maybe a few more experiences under my belt but that really means nothing. It’s only MY journey that I can understand and share. Their journey is a completely different story so it would be out of line to sit there and act like my hardships can completely relate to someone else’s. Your journey is your own to understand and others are there to listen, empathize, give advice when asked for, and add to your perspective. It would be like opening a book I’ve never read and saying I already know the plot line and ending because I’ve read books before. I still stand by the fact that no one can truly understand your journey, the details involved, or the feelings you feel but yourself and God.
On this trip, we were all outsiders being allowed to look up and shake up another person’s snow globe of a journey whether that be in our own group or those people living in the streets of Abidjan. My teammates allowed us to look inside; so like a guest in someone else’s house we needed to tread carefully. We were there to absorb what they allowed to spill out as best as we could and provide as much healing as we could to those wounds they ripped open for us to see and scars they showed us. Only they know how much those wounds bled or the pain felt when they did.
Sometimes you have to re-break bones to let them heal correctly. We called it letting our “brokenness” shine through but at the end of my time there, I felt more like it was our “fixing” that we allowed others to see. Maybe what we saw as our breaking was God fixing us, allowing us to heal correctly. Maybe we were walking down the wrong path or not walking hand in hand with him and needed a push in the right direction. We as humans can be stubborn thinking our plan is better than His but that’s false. God is in the details. He’s in the details of our breaking and in the details of our making. He broke us because we weren’t healing right and this trip helped me see that my hardships are really my highlights in my life.
Those moments where I thought I was broken and drowning in the dark were really Him healing me and cleansing me. It was essentially me throwing a tantrum because my plans didn’t go as planned. Like a child throwing a tantrum because their mom didn’t allow them to eat all the candy they want. The parent knows that it would end in the child getting sick and knows what’s best for the child even when they can’t see it. God see’s what’s good for us even when we can’t see it ourselves. He knows that the path we want for ourselves may not be good for us, so he doesn’t allow it. Yet we as children, untrusting, throw a tantrum and blame him for not getting what we want. We get side tracked and stray from the path, start rolling in the mud, and He finds us alone, dirty, helps pick ourselves up, and cleans us up.
So today I sit here fully “cleansed” thanks to the flu or whatever I’m experiencing, but I’m experiencing it with a roof over my head, a warm shower, a comfy bed, new friendships under my belt, new perspectives/lenses to see through, and many more things. All because He sent me down a path I couldn’t even imagine for myself and knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d go through all those knee surgeries, moments of sadness, and hardships again so that I could experience all the good things much more vividly. I’d do it all again so I could experience the love, kindness, and lifestyle of the people of Abidjan and the lasting friendships I gained during my time there. Some things hit you like a rock and make a dent in you forever. This is without a doubt a dent I’m forever blessed to have gotten.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”