Walking out of the plane and down onto the tarmac, a blast of hot dusty air hit my entire body, and it warmed me down to my very heart. This is the familiar feeling of being back in Burkina Faso.
My favorite thing about Burkina Faso is definitely the people, but the next best thing is the strawberry season in January and February. The little red berries are small and wild and natural, which makes them the reddest, juiciest, melt-in-your-mouth berries that you’ve ever tasted. You’ll feel like you’ve been fooled into eating fake strawberries your whole life when you pop one of these in your mouth. You buy them by the kilogram off ladies’ heads as they walk down the street, and if you are like me, you can eat a ridiculous amount of them without feeling guilty.
In the United States, I would never buy a carton of strawberries and eat the whole thing at once. But in Burkina Faso, I’ll buy a sack with twice that many in it and sit down to eat them until they are gone.
The people in Burkina that I had come to see were still a few days away from arriving to the capital city where I was lodging, so while I was waiting for them to come, I made the most of the second best thing, and I ate strawberries like there was no tomorrow. I ate strawberries like I would never get to eat them again. And I might not – mainly because this was my last planned trip to Burkina Faso for the unforseeable future. But also because I think they might have been the culprit of amoebic dysentery. But it was totally worth it.
With my belly full of strawberries, all I needed was time spent with my fellow African brothers and sisters in Christ to fill my heart. And indeed my heart was filled. Over the course of four days, our spiritual retreat consisted of spending every waking moment together – eating, telling stories, laughing, playing games, even swimming in the pool. Most importantly, we studied 1 Peter, which appropriately talks a lot about joy and perseverance in times of suffering. In light of the current state of emergency in Burkina Faso, everyone took a lot of strength and encouragement from God’s living and active word.
If there was one thing I saw, it was this: that God is holding them.
This one thing made getting back on the plane doable. For the first time ever, I left Burkina Faso without plans to return. I felt as if God was taking hold of my hands and telling me to let go. And I can because when I do let go, he is still holding them. And he’s still holding me. He always was.
God’s love surrounds them. His word sustains them. Trails are pushing them closer to him, and terror is giving them a chance to witness for him.
How silly would it be to mourn an empty bowl after you’ve eaten all the strawberries in it? You don’t mourn over the fact that it’s over, you rejoice over the delight of the sweetness in your mouth and the satisfaction in your belly. In the same way, how can I mourn over such a good gift that God has given me through three years in Burkina Faso?
Now my hands are empty, and I confess that it is hard and it does hurts a little. But then again, I think we focus too much on what we have in our hands (what we have gained or lost) when we should remember that it is what is in God’s hands that counts, and his hands are never empty, for he is sustaining all things AND holding onto us. When we marvel at everything God is holding in his hands, it gives our own empty hands new meaning and anticipation, for this emptiness makes room for a new thing. I’m asking the Lord to do a new thing in Burkina Faso and in me, for I know this pain of saying goodbye must not be wasted.
The thing is, God can’t do a new thing when we are hanging onto the old. It’s easy to sign up for a new thing and to say, “Yes, Lord, I want you to do something new in my life.” Of course most of us want God to do this, but we don’t realize that we haven’t given him any space to do something new. Freeing up your hands usually means getting some buried junk out of the closet or letting go of something you’ve been clingy tightly to for a long time.
From one friend to another, the only thing worth clinging to is Christ himself. Cling to him with both hands and drop everything else. You can’t hold both, but you also aren’t dropping something for nothing. You are making space for him to do something new. You are making a way for him to hold you up.
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