This post was written by Esther Byington, a senior at Bethany who has just returned from her global internship in Africa.
Do you ever want something so much that it makes you sick? It’s that hollow, nauseous feeling in your gut, like you’re about to explode or punch a hole in the wall or sit down and just have a really good cry. This is what it’s like to dream and to hope, but to not be sure if what you want will ever be yours. What can you tell a 6-year old girl who has no other dream than to go to Africa? Her fantasies are full of lions, roaring campfires, blazing sunsets, simplicity, perfection. She wants to explore and discover, to step into wardrobes and find herself in distant lands. She wants to be the heroine in a grand adventure. To emerge from peril to epic theme music. I mean, wouldn’t life be so much more inspiring with your own theme music?!? What do you tell a 22-year old girl who is still living in that fantasy? You take her to Africa. After living my entire life fantasizing about it, I actually got to go to Africa. And then it hit me…REALITY CHECK! My lions were nowhere to be seen, no campfires except a single candle when the electricity went out, the sky was pale and pasty, the culture complex, and everything was so IMPERFECT! The tremendous letdown felt to me like death. Everything that I had imagined to be alive and beautiful and adventurous was ugly and difficult. My spark for life soon flickered out, and I spent my days like a robotic corpse just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t want to fill a blog with negativity, but places overseas simply aren’t what National Geographic make them out to be. I didn’t think that I had any high expectations as I boarded that plane to Africa, but I soon realized who I was really doing missions for…me. I was in Africa for 16 months. During that time I lived daily with people who stared at me, roosters that woke me before sunrise, the suffocating stench of burning trash-and that’s just the beginning! Instead of spending that time serving God, I spent most of it fighting Him. I had to kill 16 years of plans to make MY hopes and dreams come true, never mind God’s! All that time before I had simply used the name “missionary” to get me where I wanted to go. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, it ended up being to me really a beautiful letdown. It’s that gross idea of “growing up” or “maturing”. Peter Pan would shudder in his grave. But in Christ, we really ought to want that. At first it felt like I was just growing hard and cynical and pessimistic and critical of the world. And I guess it could have turned out that way if I would have let it. But then I realized, I can let my difficult experiences turn me into a bitter person or a better person. I can chose to be a victim or victorious. My beautiful letdown caused me to move out of my fantasy world into the real one so that I could truly start living. Don’t get me wrong, I still dream. There are still things I want so much that it hurts. But my outlook on life will never be the same. So go on ahead. Experience your dreams. And if it turns out quite unlike you expected it would, don’t let it kill you. Just learn from it, and start living.