With Map in Hand.

The sun warms my body as I stretch out on a chair next to the pool. My eyes trail across the deck, float over the water, & climb the bridge to the playground searching for recognizable faces. WHM missionaries have been replaced by Spanish weekend resorters. My heart aches a little bit as I expect to see the faces of now-familiar children splashing in the pool’s cold water, but only strangers lazily float at a much slower rhythm. Everyone has packed up & left to return to their homes across the globe, lives covering the distances of mountains & oceans, all united by the common ground of a sending center in Pennsylvania.

I breathe in through my nose, stretch my lungs to their limit, then slowly release the tension & oxygen. Relax. My nerves fidget underneath my calm complexion. Excitement & anticipation produce annoying emotions of eagerness & sadness. I yearn for the minute I step off the plane back into the Steel City, but at the same time, I hate saying goodbyes. Friday night, I said many of them to a community I have been privileged to witness & interact with for the past 5 months. Tender smiles, last laughs, & encouraging prayers brought us together for one last embrace before parting for who knows how long.

My last week with WHM was intense, thrilling, & exhausting. Over four hundred missionaries from all over the world in one hotel for one week to reconnect, revive, regenerate, & renew their passion for serving the God of the impossible through the grace-centered organization World Harvest Mission. An introvert nightmare. An extrovert playground. Strangers became family over the course of the 7 days of the worldwide conference. Introductions began every conversation until names & faces became jumbled into one confusing WHM data file. Mid-week I stopped introducing myself, attempting to avoid the embarrassment of forgetting a face & prior-conversation. Stories were told everywhere: standing in the lobby-reaching dinner line, sitting at a table of complete strangers, meeting parents at the door of the nursery, or dominating bocce ball on the beach. God has brought a unique group of people to World Harvest Mission, & I was blessed with the opportunity to meet so many of His faithful servants who are spread across the globe sharing the gospel.

Sermons from Brian Chapel & workshops by numerous missionaries filled the days with lessons to soak in & pages of notes to process. Free time found me snapping pictures, throwing a frisbee, or trading a Spanish fisherman a kiss on the cheek for a baby seahorse (ask me later). Childcare took up each afternoon followed by the night session after dinner.

At the end of the week, I was asked to film the interviews of the first WHM missionaries. Cameras, missionaries, & stories. Three of my favorite things. Pure. Joy.

I sat perched on a chair behind the lens, focusing on the faces, capturing the angled light, signaling the remaining time, listening as the stories I’d heard while in Bundibugyo were told from first hand perspectives: rebel attacks at night, Museveni’s soldiers breaking down doors, fights in an Irish pub, Jack Miller’s (WHM founder) servants heart in a war torn city & multicultural hotel. What a privilege! What a blessing! To film the history of World Harvest Mission. What an amazing way to end my internship!

As I packed up the camera at the end of the interviews, I realized how much God has gifted me over the months. I walked into the sending center 5 months ago, an excited college student ready for African adventure, no idea what to do with her life. Through bumpy roads, dust filled God encounters, cups of coffee in the morning jungle, exploration runs, plane rides under rainbows, time behind a camera, & long talks over email or chocolate, God has repeatedly shown me His grace & delight in His daughter as well as motivated & directed me in the next few steps of life.

I am leaving Spain with map in hand following the lines of God’s great adventure for my life. For now the compass points to the grand U.S.A. where family, video editing, & a summer of possibilities await my arrival. Over (good) cups of coffee & swinging high in a hammock, Africa tales forgotten or stored away will be unpacked & digested. Reentry struggles will arise like thorns in my path to cut through with the sword of Truth & compassion from a King. Turns on the journey will lead to distant lands unheard of. But through all of it, I can trust the One who sits in heaven guiding & delighting in each step I take. The adventures & stories never end. There’s always a new place to pack a bag & go explore, an interesting person with a story worth writing, or a seed to plant & grow into a field of life lessons.

So here’s to the unknown & all the stories still to tell.

‘Merica, here I come.

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3 thoughts on “With Map in Hand.

  1. You end your time in the travels of the Lord as you began them– with words that draw out such emotion in the heart of this reader. God has indeed gifted His daughter is so may ways and your ability to write profoundly is one of them. As you continue to trust in the Lord with all your heart, leaning into His understanding of the paths He directs your feet to follow, your unknowns will be made known to the rest of us who read what you experience. Thank you for sharing your heart, your journey, your stories. And welcome home…until you go again!
    Mom

  2. As we were starting our run yesterday morning against the twilight of the rising sun, a bobbing cluster of people dressed in bright colors, starting on our own miniature spiritual and physical weekly journey (well, at least for some!), we were wondering that you were coming back soon and would rejoice with us in this wonderful community, Varina! Julie, Ed, Allie, Dan – we have been missing you – come back and share, share, share! We can’t wait!

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