From the past

Now that I’m back in America, I thought it’d be awkward to continue blogging. I know this blog is soon coming to an end, but in some ways I feel like the experience hasn’t finished yet.

The transition back home has been very interesting. I definitely have to say that I’ve been blessed with such warm, sincere, and welcoming friends and family. My entire family surprised me at the airport and it felt surreal to actually hug and cry with them. I sense my body now being overjoyed with all the vegetables and fruits available, and I’m constantly cold since I just came back from 111°F weather. It’s so wonderful being able to cuddle with a blanket at night again and it still amazes me to peripherally look at my feet and find them so clean!

But at the same time, it has been a struggle too. It’s almost been a week since I came back and I sometimes catch myself longing for the simplicity of Chad. I miss not having so many distractions and I miss my Chadian family oh so much. Sometimes, I feel like I’m allowing things to come between God and me, now that I’m back in the comfort and safety of America. I realize just how much more strength and courage I need now.

However, God definitely knew what I needed around this time. For those who have read “My Story,” you’ll know that I first heard the calling to be an SM during my senior year of high school during a normal chapel presentation by another SM. My tennis coach, Matt Nafie, heard of my experience and asked me to present for their chapel today, which I was at first nervous to commit to. But, I knew in my heart this was something I had to do. I also ran into Tammy Parker, who lives so close-by (huge blessing!) and we went out for dinner and decided to present together at chapel! I honestly don’t know how the Spirit used our presentation to touch others, but I know that Tammy and I really really needed to share our experience with others- and especially for ourselves. As I was sitting there, clicking through the slides and speaking into the mike, I could feel my lost and confused heart slowly beginning to heal. After it was all over and I was finished talking to the teachers and students, I looked back into that corner where I sat as a teenager and remembered that first feeling- the burning conviction that God wanted me to be an SM for Him. I can’t tell you guys how incredible and profound it was for me to reflect on that day as an older me just having come back from being an SM. My heart was bursting with tears of joy as I reflected on how He had carried me since that day till now, and I’m so happy, so happy, that I dared to hear His voice that special day.

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Confusion

I’m back on American soil awaiting my last connecting flight to Atlanta! So American internet is awesome! I mean, it scared me at first because it’s just… so fast, faster than me. And I never realized how clean and nice Americans looked before- everyone is so beautiful and pleasant (:
Air conditioning on the plane froze me into a popsicle and now I secretly want to hug and say hi to every person I see that speaks English.

But at the same time, I’m trying to understand myself. Like, why did I not run to the Starbucks booth and buy a frappucino like I had always planned on? Why am I freaking out that a bottle of water came out to be $4.19? (Airports are mean, I think they’re slowly getting rid of water fountains cause I couldn’t find one anywhere.) Why am I so nervous to see my house and room? Why do I feel so conflicted… It’s scaring me how uncomfortable I am with myself right now. It’s all happening so fast, so fast.

I’m Coming Home

Today’s the day! For the past 8 months, I’d fall asleep dreaming about the day when I could take that airplane home and run back into my parents’ arms. But why is it that I now don’t know how to handle it all? It feels like the transition back home is happening so fast- too fast. I’m half expecting God to pause time and give the 3 of us an awesome orientation: How to be an American in America again 101…

Then again, it would be so cool to have an orientation on life with God. But then it takes away the purpose of experiences and cheats us out of the joy in learning for ourselves. I can’t help but think back on the very 1st day I came to Chad. What a difference! If that Kristin could meet and talk to the Kristin today, what a conversation that would be.

Amidst my packing, I actually found one of my airplane tickets that I wrote on… I don’t think it’s too personal, so I’ll go ahead and share it with you:

Sep. 16
Never have I felt such an ache in my heart or pain from holding back tears. After a long waiting period, daddy and I were so disappointed to find out that he couldn’t come with me to the gate. Proceeding to the security checkpoint, fear bubbled up within me and I held onto daddy, wishing I could just turn around and go back home with him. But it came time to go past the security lady and it finally hit me that I was saying bye to the last family member. Oh the tears. I fought to be so brave but I couldn’t, and I could feel daddy also crying in his heart for me. He stepped off to the side as I proceeded through screening and I’d always look back at my daddy, standing and waving at his make-up-less baby of a daughter. lol I’m gonna miss him so much! Homesickness is a powerful thing. But daddy said it was now time for him and mommy to entrust me back to God, for I am ultimately His. How my heart ached, and still is aching! On the airplane I sat by the tallest black guy possible, and it hit me that if my earthly father would protect me and watch over me fiercely, how much more so would my heavenly Father! I imagined God sending angels to ride the plane with me or walk beside me. I am going to miss my family oh so much and can’t wait to walk back through those doors and into their arms. What a day and moment that will be! I will first give my all the to Lord, the Chadian people and the community. This morning was so incredibly rough and challenging in every aspect. As much as it hurt, I found myself almost forced to hang onto God for dear life. I haven’t cried like that in such a long time. I’ll never forget this moment, the emotions, the experience. Waiting for my next flight now to Addis Ababa…

I’m such a goober when it comes to being sentimental, so I’ll probably write another journal entry on a plane ticket back home and then share it with you when I’m back on American soil (: These last few moments in Chad are filled with a lot of questions and curiosity. But the one thing I do know is that no matter what, I’ll always be glad I dared to be a student missionary for God and the people of Chad.

The Last of Mornings

I’m sitting in my hut and look around to see nothing but a mud-packed floor and rolled up mat. My luggage is already with Olen, waiting patiently and eagerly in the car. In 30 minutes, we take our bus to the capital… and in about 5 minutes, I have to say good-bye to my family.

No one said it was going to be this hard.

Peace of Change

Last night was the first time I ever felt scared to go back home. I was talking with Bronwyn (long-term volunteer from the UK), which ended up being a long and insightful conversation of how missionaries transition back to their previous life. She left back in December and returned to us just last week. It was insightful and disturbing to hear her experience being back at home for the 1st time. It felt like I was being shaken awake and finally having to realize how hard it could be. And what scares me is that I don’t think I’ll ever really know how much I’ve changed… Have I changed? What if that change is for the bad or good? Will people feel like they need to reacquaint themselves with a different “Kristin?” What if I realize I don’t like the way I changed?

But like an older sister, Bronwyn hugged me, held my hand, wiped away my tears, and told me that no matter what, God wanted me to change and that’s all that matters, and it’s not up to me to decide if it is “good” or “bad.” It’s not just a calling to serve one year, two years, five years, and then organize those years away as a scrapbook memory; that calling asked me to be brave enough to face whatever came as a result from this past year.

“Be brave, and you have to be gentle with yourself”

Kick-off Week

I’m a champion packer in that once I start, I just can’t stop packing!

Yesterday, we commenced our packing journey. We’ve learned our lesson to pack either at the beginning or end of the day as we soon found ourselves dripping with sweat. But it was definitely a bittersweet moment: thrilling to find things we thought were lost, disheartening to find things that we needed to use up before leaving, and sobering to realize that we’re actually packing up!

Hold that thought. Now just for some background info, I had the worst cold this past week. I can count how many colds I’ve had in my life with one hand; problem is that when I do get a cold, my body is very awkward with what to do with itself. It began with throbbing headaches that I was sure would gobble up half my brain. Then, my nose went on strike, refusing to let me breath. And lastly, a horrible cough and the most itchy throat. So, Athens (volunteer nurse) left me a tea-powder packet yesterday for my cold. White tea & Chamomile (: sounded so yummy. As we were packing, Ross finally convinced me to take a break and play a game of Age of Empires with him. And I  thought “Hey, why not? I can also drink that tea for my cold!

Boiled those 8 oz. of water and drank it within 10-15 minutes, just like the packet instructed. Ross and I are playing our game when I start to feel oddly drowsy. Out of curiosity, I dig up the packet from the trash and search for anything of interest amidst the plethora of words and small print. Finally, I find it: NIGHTTIME. Do not use to put children to sleep.

Soon, I can’t keep my eyes open and remember knocking out in our wooden chair and then waking up on our wooden “couch.” Jordan, Ross, and Jonathan (volunteer med-student) said I was out for 4 hours until they tried to take me home. They had a good laugh as they told me everything I did and said and how incapacitated I was. Quite honestly, I don’t remember much of what happened last night, but I wake up today at 5 AM in my house, with my orange mat, and my family half worried-half laughing at me. With the way this week has begun, I’m thinking this last stretch in Chad should be very promising 😉

T-10 Days

I’m sorry for being so cryptic with many of you about my return to the States. I was trying to keep it a secret so that I could surprise my siblings, but someone told them ): It’s alright though, in some ways I’m glad I can now be more open about these last few days. We made a countdown paper-chain with 9 days left just in Bere. The three of us will be flying off the 30th, and it’s coming sooner than we anticipated.

Yesterday was my last session with project21 and it was bittersweet. Truth be told, I was really “babysitting” the project for Marci and the Loma Linda grant. Problem was that Marci and her new recruit were supposed to come back in January to take over, but things came up and they weren’t able to. So from December till now, I found myself partially stuck with the project; but at the same time, I couldn’t help but become attached to all those hard-working men and women who were like beacons of hope for their respective villages. At first I was their instructor, but now I think we’re more of a team working together (: I couldn’t believe it when I caught myself telling them, “This will be the last time I get to see you all…” It hit me: Am I seriously going back to America? It felt like all of a sudden, I remembered a dream—I remembered that I did live 21 years in America and that it was time for me to soon go back home.

Good byes were never an easy thing for me. It was hard and almost felt like I was abandoning these men and women without someone else being able to take care of them. But their love and gratitude was overwhelming. “Please, remember our faces and voices so that one day we can meet again… You are an angel to our people… We’ll pray for you to get money to come back to Bere because we can’t get money to see you in America… We’ll think and talk to God for you every day… We are selfish and wish for you to stay with us, but then that wouldn’t be nice to your family in America… We love you and thank you.”

I don’t know what’s going to become of project21 and if someone will soon be able to pick up the torch. But I really believe in those guys: they have the brains, the heart, and drive. It was a good 5 months with them and I hope to see them again.

The 3 Amís

7:40 AM. Me, Jordan, Ross, & Allah. Important and necessary mission… Photoshoot time.

 There’s an infamous welcome sign to Béré, not because of any profound reason, but simply because it is tradition for ALL nasarahs, volunteers, and/or missionaries to take pictures on it. We have postponed such picture-taking for a long while and finally decided we needed to do it before it was too late. I had no idea our little photo shoot would be so enjoyable and memorable for me. It made me think a lot as well. So, in light of this morning, here goes a letter to Jordan and Ross (that I may just give to them at the very end)….

Dear Jordan & Ross,

We came to Chad as friends and soon leave as family. You found your way into not just any part of my heart, but in a way where nothing you did or said could’ve changed my love for you both. You helped draw out the child within me and broke down all my fronts and all my walls. If my cheeks fall off sometime in my life because of too much laughing, I blame you guys! Laughing, crying, disagreeing, discussing, learning, teaching, sharing, caring… we went through everything, and through everything, we grew closer.

Jordan, thank you for teaching me more about what it means to love. Thank you for freeing my spirit and letting it soar with creativity, fun, and LIFE. You are the friend that never gives up and always looks for the best in others, and I want to follow that example. You unveiled a new perspective to life and dared me to dream and hope with color! I’ll always remember how we giggled so many nights away under the stars and all our talks about every possible life topic or feeling. Life is never stuffy with you, girl (: I love you dearly.

Ross, my bio and honors buddy! We were already good friends to begin with, but it pales in comparison to the friendship we have now. You taught me patience, tact, steadiness… For growing up with only boys, you sure know how to truly wipe a girl’s tears away and be a listening and understanding dude. Your protectiveness for Jordan and I never came across as a reluctant gender duty, but rather a sincere and pure service that allowed us to see part of your true character and priorities as a man. Thank you for treating us as you would’ve wanted any man to treat your sister or daughter (if you had one lol)—and thank you for being strong for me when I needed your strength, and understanding when I needed your sensitivity.

I realize that all the things I’m thankful for, I also thank God. But I thank you because I know that God taught and gave me those things through you. You didn’t have to, but you allowed Christ to use you in so many ways, and one of those ways was to reach even me. I’ll forever cherish our memories closely. You guys are awesome and I wouldn’t ask for it to have been any other way.

Yours truly,
Kristin

[Side note: We realized some cool facts/trends… We all come from families of 4 children. I’m the eldest in my family, Jordan is the 2nd born, and Ross is the 3rd born. My birthday is in July, Jordan’s is in August, and Ross’ in September. I’m the oldest, Jordan is the 2nd oldest, and Ross is the baby… of course the height trend is totally reversed! But it’s ok (:

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    (Wearing our newly received SM shirts from Andrews Campus Ministries!)
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IMG_7881(Got caught by the camera… skipping back home after our photoshoot).

Fianga

Nutshell summary: Fianga was awesome, but there were definitely miserable, rough, and terrifying moments to add some variety to the trip. I quickly came to think that Fiangans drink more alcohol than they do water. All the little venders along roads sell alcohol in used fanta bottles. Interesting thing is that the alcohol is clear while Fiangan water has a muddy-red hue to it. I thought it was a horrible joke when someone offered me my first cup of it, only to realize that it’s the only possible water there to drink, cook with, and do laundry in. I packed 18 liters of bottled water, but still had that curious urge to try some of the Fiangan water. Bad idea. It actually tasted really good, but definitely claimed my GI tract for the rest of the trip. I don’t particularly remember eating a lot this past week, but I didn’t notice in comparison to everything else that took place.

Interesting fact is Fianga has a beautiful stretch of mountains. It only takes about 20 minutes to climb to the top and perhaps 40 to walk its full stretch; but it was a wonderful time hiking after living on Béré’s flat landscape. The boulders and clusters of rocks were magnificent and it was surreal sitting there, overlooking Fianga and wondering how much of Africa you’re actually witnessing. It was breathtaking and a precious moment. It’s been too long since I was able to really appreciate nature and be among it. The Fianga river is also super cool. It winds like a snake, and like India, is the laundry spot for the village. Our family went twice, and all the women line up on either side, spread out a large tarp (half in the water, half out), and begin washing their clothes right there. With the mountains as a backdrop, it was a very good time swimming around with my siblings, eating mangoes right in the middle of the river, brushing my teeth with sand, doing some laundry, and getting absolutely owned by the sun. It’s as if sun block doesn’t stand a chance against the Fiangan sun. I became to coolest thing to see at Fianga: The nasarah with red arms and red legs. It was very bizarre and intriguing for them, especially when I think most of them have never seen a foreigner, and that’s how I came to know what zoo animals must feel like (: Thankfully the redness has now morphed into a tan.

The commemoration of the chief’s death ended up being a 3-day celebration filled with food, drinking, music, and dancing. There were SO many people! Women were continually cooking throughout the entire time—day and night—making either food or brewing tea. The children of course were together in another section where they found every excuse to slap or hit each other. It was chaotic: kids fighting, moms yelling at them to stop, and then the awesome spicy-grandmas beginning to swat all the kids with snappy-sticks. Side note: I absolutely adore the grandmas here! They have the traditional large black stub pierced right above their upper lip and right under the lower lip. It’s cool and makes them look very tough. The men are always eating, drinking, and talking or playing card games. But the true festivities begin when the sun goes down. The music is loud, the beat is catchy, and the people are ready. Men, women, and children come together at this time and begin to dance in all sorts of ways and rhythms. It was a sight to behold. Meanwhile, clusters of women would take turns going to the chief’s old hut. There, they’d begin to cry and wail for the chief, dancing in front of his bed and kissing the ornaments hung around the circular hut. Consistently throughout the nights, the same thing took place. In the middle of the first night, they brought in a cow and slaughtered it for the midnight-meal. I’ve never seen a cow butchered from beginning to end—it was very sad… which is why it shames me to say that it also tasted very good. These people party hard: they don’t sleep, they keep eating, keep drinking, and always look like they could keep going on. I learned some of the circular dance patterns and they’re really fun to do. Throughout the whole time, they also tried to offer me alcohol and cigarettes, but I liked my water and apple granola bars… and some sleep too (:

So all-in-all, this past week was a lot of fun, a great experience, and the making of some new great memories. It was definitely rough having to take bucket showers that made you feel dirtier after your shower and running out of toilet paper for the last few days. But I MADE IT! 😀 Ok. Crazy moment time. So the bus ride to Fianga and back to Béré is a rough voyage. It’s not hard to imagine the medley of heat, bumpiness, and crowdedness of the trip, but it was definitely worse on the way back home than it was to Fianga. My host father always liked for me to sit up in the front seat with the driver, which was more comfortable in that I wasn’t as crowded, but uncomfortable in that I sat on a metal chair right above the car’s engine. The bit of leather did little to ease the heat; but along the way, we pass by a truck with men in turbans and large guns. One of the men signals us to stop and I begin to grow uncomfortable. Soon, about 5-6 men with these guns surround our bus and tell our driver to get out. And then what must’ve been the leader comes up to the window and begins shouting at me, none of which I can comprehend. You know those moments when the airplane is in turbulence or you’re caught in a strong ocean undercurrent, and you see death become more of a reality than a concept? This was one of those moments. I was mentally bracing myself to feel a bullet any moment go through my head, while also doing my best outwardly to be respectful, cooperative, and competent towards the man. My oldest brother and mom then began to answer the man. I only could understand a few words they said: Family, Béré, Ensemble of Nasarahs, Papers, Legal, AMERICAN. I don’t know what it was, but all of a sudden, the demeanor of the man changed and he immediately said, “décor (ok),” rallied his men up, and left.

I realize I’m not the bravest or strongest girl, but I know peace. I wasn’t brave or strong in that situation. I was stuck and it was like my life hung in front of me. But rather than thinking of all the things I hadn’t done or wanted to do, I remember thinking to myself, “God… Whatever happens, I’m ready… But if my time is up, just, please don’t let it hurt too much.”

So God, thank you for letting me live just a while longer. I realize I said I’d be ready for whatever happens… well, I’m ready to really live. You’ll have to show me how. I love you.

A twist

A turn of events definitely came out from left field at the most random and unexpected time. But, before I share that with you, I have to tell you guys that I got Henna done! It’s awesome. Near the market, there’s an Arab lady who’s very experienced in the art of henna. So, knowing that it’s temporary for around 2-3 weeks, I decided to have some fun. My shoulder, arm, hands, and nails are now adorned with elaborate black swirls, dots, and flowers. It feels so exotic, but sometimes I forget I got it done and peripherally think I’m looking at a biker’s tattooed arm than my own lol. Oh! And I even got 4 little dots in the shape of a diamond on my forehead (:

henna

Ok, so back to the news… This past week, my host father invited me to go with him to his native village for his father’s burial ceremony. Of course, I felt bad that he lost his father and told him how sorry I was for the loss. Come to find out, his dad was the village chief and died a year ago. Benzaki explained to me that culturally, when a village chief dies, there are two big festival/ceremonies for his burial: when the chief actually dies and the 1-year anniversary of his death. People are traveling from all over to gather for this event and all sorts of different people will be there. We leave Monday and stay out for 5-9 days depending on transportation back to the hospital. The village is called Fienga and is 100 km out. It’s pretty cool cause my dad says because he has adopted me as his own daughter, I’m now recognized as the chief’s granddaughter, even though I’m an Asian, from America, living in Chad, with Arabic henna (what a confused soul I am)… Nonetheless, I’m both excited and nervous. Benzaki says it’s one of the biggest and most interesting events to witness—maybe we’ll even get to dance around a fire??? 😛 The only challenge is that I’m literally going to be out in the bushes. I’m taking about 18 liters of drinking water out with me and will probably have to boil the rest for drinking. Showers will be out of a bucket and I pray my toilet paper doesn’t run out. My host mom and two baby sisters are already there and called me yesterday morning. It was so weird cause it reminded me of when I’d talk to my real mom and two little sisters back when they were that age (: I read earlier about the culture that what really proves your love, devotion, and loyalty to others is when you are present and partake in certain events such as baby-naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. It breaks my heart that as the time of my stay here is coming to an end, my family and I continue to get closer and deeper in our relationship; but at the same time I’m so happy to have this experience and opportunity with them. We’re famille.