We’ve been in Zambia for about a week now, and the team is becoming adjusted to life together. So far, this trip has continued to be even better than I had hoped. Our program’s structure, though, looks different than I had anticipated. The internship has been designed and modeled after the life of the prophet Elijah. In fact, Poetice’s Zambian partner ministry refers to the gig as EXP: The Elijah Experience. The ministry itself is named Elijah Mission. In other words, these people are die-hard Elijah fans. Don’t worry, that threw me off a little, too. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the guy, though I’ve been brushing up on my facts since my arrival. His story’s in the Old Testament – 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2 to be exact – and I’ve found that his life was chock full of extreme high and low points. If you go to the text, you’ll find that this man faced off against four hundred and fifty opposing prophets and literally prayed down fire from heaven. That same day, Elijah found himself alone, depressed and on the run for a very long time.
If you don’t think so much about the raining inferno or self-harming pagans, this is actually a very relatable narrative. How often in life do we find that the best moments are followed by dark, traumatic tragedy? What are we supposed to do with that? If I knew the answer, I would probably write a self-help book and make lots of money. But I don’t know the answer. I do, however, happen to have a friend who’s been through more ups and downs than I’ve seen. Maybe her story and the lessons she’s learned can help.
Emily Hens is one of the other interns close to my age, and she’s the only one I knew getting into this. She’s a tiny girl, but her giant, engaging personality can send the most timid introvert dancing out of his shell like a Zambian pastor on Sunday. Emily and I grew up around the same church group and she did musicals with my cousin who’s a total rock star. We even got to go to Zambia on the same team a few years ago! That’s why I’m writing her story first – we have a foundation of trust going into this. On that note, let me establish that it’s important to me to have people’s permission before I share their stories. I wish I could say I didn’t learn that the hard way, but I did. Emily’s given me the go-ahead, and I won’t feature anyone without obtaining his or her permission. Except for Elijah. We didn’t talk before this, but I figure his tale’s more or less public access these days. Anyways, Hens has seen a lot. And it’s made her pretty wise. God has used her hurt to do awesome things both in Zambia and back home.
Emily’s parents divorced when she was three, so for better or for worse, a separated family has always been her reality. Some of her first memories are of her grandmother, a sweet lady who taught her to love Jesus. But after Nani died of breast cancer, Emily became confused and angry with God, so she distanced herself from him. As a young teen, she got involved with a modeling firm and found herself in a culture that seemed not to accept her for who she was. Her mentors and fellow models never failed to notice how Emily could be skinnier, which meant more beautiful in their eyes. As time passed in this environment, Emily gradually began to listen to these messages; began considering ways to become more acceptable to her and those she thought of as friends. She entered into a lifestyle that we would describe as bulimic, prioritizing the distorted image she saw in the mirror over her physiological well being. At first, she was able to keep her habits under wraps, but things got out of hand when she regurgitated blood rather than lunch. Eventual trips to hospitals, counselors and Christian mentors guided Emily out of this valley, but she never believed that the Lord could possibly bring good from her pain. Here’s how the Lord brought good from her pain.
Coming out of the eating disorder days, Emily felt especially close to God as she recognized that his hand had pulled her from the pit. In the excitement of this closeness, she signed up for our church’s short-term trip to Zambia through Poetice. One of the first days we were in country, our pastor asked if she would be willing to share her struggle with a crowd of three hundred-ish male and female Zambian strangers. Ready to take on the world with one hand behind her back, Emily accepted the offer. Five minutes later she was frozen, facing an expectant audience with microphone in hand. This is a part of the story that I was personally able to witness. I remember feeling her pain as the color drained from her face and fragile breath escaped her lungs in the form of uncertain statements. But that’s not the end of the story! A few days later, she got another chance to share with a smaller group – just women this time – and that talk was used to help lots of girls face their own issues and begin to pursue healing with Jesus by their side.
Since seeing the Lord work mightily in Zambia, Emily has been exposed to an astonishing amount of ups and downs. During the first week of our time here, we were instructed to plot a line graph that represented the course of our lives so far. While every chart had it’s high and low marks, the post-Zambia portion of Emily’s resembled a heartbeat monitor. I won’t talk about all her build-ups and let downs, but it seemed that a discouraging low has followed each comforting high. Upon returning from Zambia transformed, Emily learned that her mom would be divorcing. Again. Then she got to go to the college of her dreams and found it to be everything she had hoped, only to be faced with a life-rattling breakup the following year. It was during that time that Emily began to learn that her God was bigger than her circumstance. She explains.
“I was able to reflect on the power of God – how he can bring me out of such a dark time in my life and let me see his full comfort, love and joy. When I felt like I was broken and not fully loved, I heard him say, Emily, are you kidding me right now? You think that I don’t one hundred percent love you? How foolish. Within a short time, I felt this outpouring of love. It was a weird feeling, but I think that’s what’s gonna stick with me.”
Even though experience is fleeting and our lives change constantly, Emily’s gathered hope from a God who loves and operates outside of our ups and downs; one who’s the same then, now and forever. This is especially encouraging because while we’re here in this beautiful country and things look just fine, trouble is always around the corner and challenges will present themselves just as quickly as the joys.
“None of these highs or lows were on my list of things I wanted to do before I die. None of them. They just kind of happened. And here we are now (living in Africa for three months) – this wasn’t totally expected either. But that’s how I’m going through these next few months. I have no expectations because God has really revealed himself in the times when that’s been the case. He just shows up.”
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern