Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience. I’ve been thinking about what my life could have looked like if I had not obeyed the call of God on my life. I was going to write a short article about it, but then I came across this story that I talked about in my most recent book, “Get Off Your Ash”.
Share it with someone who needs some encouragement today.
The year was 1991. I was happy. Really happy. I had been married to the love of my life for about a year. We had bought our first home. We were both pretty fulfilled where we were working. Life was good. I wasn’t prone to having big dreams or aspirations. I just wanted to be married, make enough money to pay my bills, and enjoy life with friends and family. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this can relate. Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Have dinner. Watch TV. Go to sleep. Wake up and do it all over again the next day. And the next day. And the next…
Everything was going just like it had been going pretty much every day…until. Until I woke up from one of the most vivid and realistic dreams I had ever had up to that point in my life. As I close my eyes and think back to the dream, I can still picture it now. In the dream, I was in an SUV of some type. I remember driving through some pretty thick brush. I could hear branches scraping up against the side of the vehicle. It was hot—really hot. There were some other passengers in the car with me. I couldn’t make out who they were, but I knew that I wasn’t alone in the car and that I didn’t know them that well. After what seemed to be a very long and bumpy drive, the thick green colour of the trees gave way, and we came to a clearing. It was an open area with dusty paths.
And then, I don’t know how or where they came from, but a large group of children started following behind the vehicle. They were African. They were singing or maybe chanting something. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they were happy—infectiously so. They were running after the car and they had their arms stretched out to me. It’s like they were expecting to receive something from me, but I didn’t have anything to give them. I felt so bad, but I wasn’t prepared. I thought I was just going for a ride; I didn’t know we were on our way to see so many children. And just like that, I woke up and the dream was over.
I remember feeling very confused by the dream. Why were these children following me and why were they expecting me to give them something? I was so sad that I couldn’t help them. I tucked it away and didn’t think about it again for a long time. Let’s fast forward twenty-eight years later to 2019. My son Daniel and I were on our way to Liberia in West Africa. In order to show you what life off your ash can look like, let’s just start with me going to Liberia. I knew my life had changed the moment we landed.
My career as an itinerant teacher took me to some pretty amazing places and I met some pretty incredible people along the way. I have been to Hong Kong several times. I was able to travel to places like Australia and England and South Africa. I went to Israel more than forty times. Even though I had amazing experiences in these other countries, I never felt compelled to move there or devote the rest of my life to just one country or people. But that is exactly what happened when I went to Liberia for the first time.
I was asked to speak at several events in and around the capital city of Monrovia, in a subdivision called Paynesville. My son and I brought seven suitcases filled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, medical supplies, and small toys for the children at a school we would be visiting. The pastor who invited me to Liberia was in charge of setting my itinerary for this two-week trip. He had scheduled lots of teaching sessions as well as visited some local schools and medical clinics. I can’t tell you why, but of all the things that were being planned, I asked if there would be any way for us to go visit a village in what we would call the jungle. I figured if we were going all the way over to Africa, it would be pretty cool to see what life in a remote village looked like.
So, they arranged for us to go visit this community called Kartoe Town—a small, remote village in Margibi County, about three hours away from where we were staying. I decided to buy a few bales of clothing for the children of the village. We were told that we were the first outsiders to be given permission to come to visit them, so I didn’t want to show up empty-handed.
So, we drove, and drove, and drove. The car broke down a couple of times on the way. The air conditioning was kind of working, but it still was pretty warm in the truck. The “roads” were in pretty rough shape. We got stuck a few times. We had to keep getting out of the vehicle in order to lighten the load enough for the car to pass through some pretty rough terrain. The roads were getting bumpier and bumpier. They got more and more narrow the deeper into the jungle we traveled. Branches were scraping up against the sides and roof of the vehicle. It was almost as if I had been there before…
As we entered the village, I felt like I was dreaming. It looked like so many small villages I had seen on TV. The difference this time was, I was actually there. The main square had a few dozen homes. They were very simple—mostly made out of mud bricks and salvaged wood, and a thatched roof comprised of a mixture of palm and bamboo leaves. Some people had fires going with large pots filled with rice. Others were seeking shelter from the blistering heat by sitting in the shade being cast by some local tropical trees. It was all so simple, and at the same time, it was all so beautiful. They don’t get a lot of visitors, so we were definitely the talk of the town that day. People smiled and waved as we continued to drive to the main courtyard.
All of a sudden, I heard a commotion coming from behind us. I turned my head to look over my shoulder and was shocked by what I was seeing. A group of children was running behind the car. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they were very enthusiastic. I decided to put my window down and couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. They were singing and clapping as they ran. There were about thirty of them. I pulled my phone out and just started recording.
Now that a couple of years have passed since my first visit to this village, I can’t believe that I didn’t make the connection sooner. It was May 3, 2019, and they were singing, “Jehovah, you are a mountain remover!” The children kept singing and running along the vehicle until we reached the main hall. We unloaded the bales of clothing and spent the next few hours distributing it to the kids. We would hold up an outfit and then would look for a child who we thought the clothing would best fit. Once we started giving out the clothing, more and more kids kept coming. They were so excited. Most of them had never received a gift before, and certainly not from an outsider who looked like me! They kept raising their hands to receive an outfit. It didn’t matter if the clothes were too big; they knew how rare this all was and it meant so much to them.
We spent a few hours talking to the elders and various families around the village. They showed us some of their agricultural areas. They showed us how they tapped the rubber trees and talked about how they would take it to the market in the city to sell. We played soccer with the children. It was truly a remarkable experience.
That first trip still registers as some of the best and most fulfilling days of my life. Annnd…none of it would have happened if I had just stayed home and sat on my ash. If I had continued sulking about what had happened to me in the past. If I had just wallowed in my sorrows and kept the pity party going. I would have missed all of it. I’ve had so many people tell me that my story has encouraged them; that my journey to step out of my comfort zone has helped them to do the same. But here’s the thing…I had to step out. I had to risk going to a country I had never been to before, to meet with people I had never met before. I would have nothing to write about if I hadn’t gotten off of my ash.