Me and my family when they dropped me off in Wheaton for my freshman year of college.

This is my last…

Many college seniors count their “lasts” – the last chicken tender night at the cafeteria, the last general education classes they put off for three years, the last spring break road trip with the roomies, the long-awaited last set of finals. I do not know what collegiate lasts will most strike me, but I am preparing myself for some larger lasts.

I hope to return the Democratic Republic of Congo soon after I graduate. I hope to live there permanently or until God moves me elsewhere. I recognize that I do not know God’s timeline for my return, but should these plans follow my ideal timeline, this year could also be my last living in the United States.

Leaving the States does not mean I will never visit; my sister will graduate high school next year, and at some point my best friend will be married. These people are incredibly dear to me, and if at all possible, I would love to attend these memorials in their lives. Hopefully I will also be able to take a vacation every several years to see those I love in the U.S.

But nothing is certain.

This Thanksgiving could be my last with my extended family, the paternal relatives I grew up with for the first 17 years of my life. My transition to college and my immediate family’s move across the country has prepared me for the long-term separation, but the ache of being away from my cousins on holidays has not grown much easier over the past few years. I will savor this last, precious Thanksgiving with my family.

This year could hold my last Christmas with my immediate family and maternal relatives as well. This last would have happened anyway when I begin a family for myself, but now I am realizing our last Christmas together could potentially be now, this year, in 2016. Bing Crosby put it well when he crooned, “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”

A mouse-bear I made of snow after the February 2013 blizzard in Connecticut. PC: jeanni Bennett

A mouse-bear I made of snow after the February 2013 blizzard in Connecticut. PC: jeanni Bennett

It could also my last time to see beautiful, beautiful snow for a long time. Some New Englanders yearn to move away from the cold, but I always loved my home state of Connecticut with all its seasons and its snowy winters. In Illinois we get a small amount of snow as well, and it transforms the landscape. It makes everything new. I will miss this.

As a senior in college, I hope to soak up most of the lasts. Some can hurry up and pass – I am quite excited to be finished with the academic aspect of school, honestly – but I do want to make the most of my time on Mu Kappa Cabinet and with my worship team. I want to make the most of my time with friends and family when I see them on holiday breaks in a few months. I want to see my best friend again and finally meet the man who stole her heart.

I value relationships. For this reason, I will treasure my time with my housemates and friends in Illinois as well as any time I have with my family and friends elsewhere in the States. Yet for this same reason, I am also itching to return to DRC. As I prepare for many joyous firsts in my life after college, I thank God for the blessed lasts.

 

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When God Said No to Shalom

Last spring break, I was grieving. My college was under spiritual attack, a man had just broken my heart and I found out that I was not accepted into the Shalom Community.

The Shalom Community, which began in fall 2013, is comprised of two houses, one male and one female, as part of Housing and the Office of Multicultural Development. It exists to further racial reconciliation on campus. The houses are intentionally multicultural, and the students living there are required to take a sociology course titled “Race and Ethnic Relations.” They live together much like a normal on-campus house, but the educational aspect differentiates the Community from other houses. The Shalom Houses also meet once a week, sometimes for discussions on race related topics, sometimes to share stories and sometimes simply to have fun. Occasionally they host a campus-wide event as well.

Everyone expected I would be accepted into Shalom. I’m all about racial reconciliation, after all. Since my freshman year, the first year the houses existed, I had planned on living there. In fact, I had planned my college life around being in the Shalom Community.

Then, just before spring break, my friends and I heard the news. Iliana was in. Jen was in. Christy was in. I was not. We were all shocked.

When I ran to the bathroom to weep, I bumped into two of my friends who had just heard the exciting news that they were accepted. They graciously mourned with me even as they rejoiced for themselves.

Over spring break and in the following weeks, one housing option after another failed me. Most of my friends were in Shalom, and the rest already had plans. I asked about eleven different groups of people about joining them, but they always ended up finding a “better fit” instead. With few weeks left in the school year and no housing options for the summer or fall, I was desperate and broken. I felt unwanted and rejected.

I understood why I had not been accepted into Shalom House: They told me they had many good options and hated saying no to anyone, but they had to choose, and they knew I’d continue to pursue racial reconciliation on my own. I was encouraged despite my grief. But I still didn’t have a place to live.

I had been searching for housing both on and off campus, although off campus housing is limited to a quota and is not often granted to rising juniors. Miraculously, Housing approved the option. I continued to search, walking through nearby neighborhoods, asking church friends, even knocking on a door of what I’d mistakenly been told was an off campus house of college girls.

One evening I visited another church friend to ask if her family would have room for me. As I sat in her kitchen, crying in my fear of being homeless, she and her husband fed me fruit and shared their stories of not knowing where they would go for the summer up to the day before and how God provided. With their daughter and grandson moving in, they didn’t think it would be wise for me to live there, but they prayed over me and sent me home with money and—a luxury at the time—a couple bananas.

A few days later, that friend called to notify me about a house one of her other children had described to her. She urged, “Here’s the lady’s number. Call her now!!” While on the line with her, that number called me. I returned the call as soon as I hung up with my friend, and within fifteen minutes I was being picked up by a stranger to visit the house.

Felicity K Day 1

PC: Rebekah Haworth

We drove four blocks through the dark, and I was greeted by a five year old girl with curly blond hair, who I learned was the youngest of six. They showed me the basement—the kitchenette with a washing machine and dryer, the bathroom, the rooms for rent. Utilities were included in the low monthly price. The house was near campus. The little girl was smiley and ticklish. I returned to my dorm excited.

A few days later, we finalized the housing deal. Two weeks later, I moved in for the summer and beheld my new home for the first time in daylight: a brick house with a row of bushes on the left side, a maple tree out front and a kindergarten sign by the door.

I have lived there for ten months now, and I have become part of the family, the Haworths. Over the summer, the oldest girls “officially fake adopted me,” and just this past week, the youngest told me I am “basically like a big sister.” My relationships differ depending on the person, but I have grown close to the family and enjoy going home each evening to hang out with them. I love having a home to which I can return on break without having the temporary feel of a dorm from which I would be expelled.

Yet I am often included by this year’s Shalom Community as well. My friends in Shalom honor me by counting me as part of the houses. When other students assume I am in Shalom, I correct them, but my friends butt in and affirm that I am basically a part of Shalom. Last semester I spent time there daily. Although we have all been busy and I have been hiding out my house a lot more this semester, they still count me as part of them. For example, the other day one of my Shalom friends asked if I was going home, and when I replied that I was indeed going to my house to make dinner, she said, “No, I meant home with me.” Moments like this cause me feel loved, although I praise God that I am part of the Haworth household as well.

For many months I did not realize why I had not been accepted into Shalom House. As new friends wait to see if they are accepted into next year’s Shalom Community, my emotions are flavored like salted, bittersweet chocolate chips. I am sad that I will graduate from Wheaton College without having lived at Shalom — or at least that I will never be able to say I lived there. But I know now that I could not afford to live on campus. I know I need the space to get away and be alone off campus. I also know I love living with the family. At last I can see how God’s plans are infinitely better than mine.

To the new Shalomers, congratulations! God is going to work awesome things in and through you via the Shalom Community. And to those who are not accepted this year, I understand and am sorry. If you are sad, take time to grieve. Continue to pursue racial reconciliation via education and life style, e.g. social circles and future decisions. Trust in God’s faithfulness and provision even as you grieve. For all of you, God is at work, and he is with you.

 

 

Following the red dirt road

When I was ten-almost-eleven, I visited some missionary friends in Kenya. I still remember the vivid red dirt roads of Machakos; the oil paint that would only come off my MK friend and me with kerosene; the ugali, chicken and chapatis the ladies cooked at the Bible college; and of course the visit to the hills where a local boy noticed my bleeding knee before I did and asked if I was okay.

I’d been interested in the continent of Africa before I visited Kenya, and I’ve wanted to return to East Africa ever since that January 2007.

God has developed this passion particularly in the last two and a half years I’ve been in college. During freshman year, I took advantage of my speech, research and geography classes to study rape in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, globalization (or the lack thereof) in Ethiopia and conflict in Sudan and South Sudan respectively. By doing so, I realized that I was especially drawn to DRC. I couldn’t place any logical reason why, and thus I accredit it to God’s calling.

In summer 2014 I worked as an intern with newly arrived refugees in Denver. I befriended several case managers at that organization, including one who taught me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. (I haven’t been able to continue those studies, but I love the language and hope to learn it better someday.)

Sophomore year, I knew I was interested in DRC and Rwanda, but I spent all my time studying Rwanda via media (Gospel music on YouTube, movies, independent language studies for a while). According to the CIA world fact book, the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically the 11th largest country on the globe, contains over 200 tribes and claims five languages commonly spoke throughout the country. I didn’t know where to start, so I decided to study Rwanda instead. I thought some of its culture might carry over the border to Congo. The countries differ, but I know my studies will not be in vain, especially if I work with Rwandan refugees in Congo.

God confirmed my call to DRC at Snow Camp in January 2015. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I am part of an organization called Mu Kappa. Once a year all the Midwest Mu Kappas gather at a winter retreat, so last Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with Africans from Cameroon to Kenya.

After one of the speaking sessions at the retreat, I hung out with some friends in the cabin, napped to recuperate from the active weekend and then spent a half hour alone with God in the snow. While on the swings waiting for dinner, I reviewed what the speaker had said. He had pointed out four main identity questions everyone asks, two of which have stuck with me to this day.

Surrounded by a shimmering landscape of white and the chilly caress of the winter breeze, I thought through the questions: “Who am I? A beloved daughter of God. Where do I belong?” Here God filled in the blank, confirming where he had led me up to that point: “In the DRC, where I have called you.”

Those were his exact words to me, and he couldn’t have chosen a better place to make his call known than when I was surrounded by students who understood such a calling and would celebrate it with me!

Since then, God has also made it “click” that I should also be a missionary. He let me know this one June morning when I was preparing for church and praying for Jesus Christ, my God, to draw a dear Muslim friend into His Kingdom.

So what do I want to do after all my schooling? The succinct answer I tell people is that I want to do journalism and work with refugees in Congo (as a missionary).

At this point, I’m looking into opportunities to visit eastern Congo in summer 2016. God said “okay,” and I long to make this happen! My basic goal this summer would be to visit the area in which I hope to spend my life, to get a feel for it. However, I would absolutely love to work with refugees this summer as well, as that is what I hope to do in the future.

I’m thrilled to be going to Congo. If you have any leads on how to make this happen, I’d love to hear from you! I also appreciate your fervent prayers as I follow God. May we all seek His face and proclaim His glory!!

As a final note for those of you who are already thinking it won’t be easy, I know; I’ve heard it before. But God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort or pleasure! He gives joy through His Spirit when we’re in tune with Him, whatever the circumstances. He also created Congo as a beautiful place full of valuable people like you and I, so I hope to break down some negative stereotypes or associations with “Africa” and DRC on my journey there. I’ll share this Pharrell cover from eastern Congo with you as a start. 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsC23izciN4

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your prayers!

Why I still love journalism

When I first began college, I looked for a church. At the third one I visited, the large church held a college Sunday School before the main service. One of the adult men helping with the group joined my group of friends and asked us all our names and majors. When my turn came, I introduced myself and said I was studying journalism.

“That’s a dying field,” he replied.

I was shocked. I literally did not know what to say, and he made no attempt to redeem himself. Instead of welcoming me as a new student and encouraging my interests, he unapologetically decried my dream.

Partly due to this shocking and discouraging encounter, I did not return to that church. I did continue to pursue my journalistic dream, however, by joining the school paper, where I later became News Editor.

This summer I am interning at a magazine called Today’s Christian Woman to broaden my journalistic experience since I had previously only done News. Part of my role as an intern is to look for excerpts from books, which we then post online to stamp our approval for that author’s work. In doing so, I recently read “Starting Something New,” a non-fiction book by Beth A. Booram, a spiritual director living in Indiana.

Booram walks the reader through 14 steps of “birthing a dream” from the idea, through discernment and waiting, to birthing and sustaining. She includes helpful reflection exercises at the end of each chapter to help the reader process God’s leading in his or her dream.

My dream centers on the Democratic Republic of Congo and journalism. God has made this clear in many ways this past year, and those two things immediately came to mind yet again as I read Booram’s questions at the end of her second chapter, “Brooding”: What do you spend the most time doing? What do you spend the most time thinking about? Where do you find yourself giving the most effort or caring the most? What excites you? Causes you the greatest joy and satisfaction?

(Racial reconciliation also emerged as an answer to her questions about where I put my emotional energy.)

To the man at that church I visited, I know journalism is changing. For example, while I love the look of ink on my hands from a print newspaper, I recognize that online is taking over print as a primary news source– in fact, I contribute to that! Yes, print journalism is not as popular as it used to be, but News itself, though evolving, is still thriving and will always exist in any democratic society. Perhaps rather than dying or even going through a midlife crisis, journalism is merely going through puberty.

I also recognize that journalism does not pay well. Every journalist knows this, but we report because we love the field. I don’t know what the man’s main job was, but if he was a pastor at the church, he may not have made bank either. Church ministry is not an easy field, so I would hope that the man would understand loving a career for what it is and its purpose rather than the monetary benefits it produces.

In all honesty, I had a rough year being News Editor for my paper this past year. I had a love-hate relationship with the job, but after having gone through all the late work nights and stressful meetings and decisions we as a staff overcame, I do not regret it. I am proud of our team, and I will miss being a part of it next year.

When in the rough times this past year, I almost considered leaving journalism, but that didn’t feel right. I know God has called me to journalism in some form, and I want to honor that. I know I will thrive living out my God-given dream and call: journalism in the DRC.

I don’t have every aspect of this dream spelled out, but part of having a dream is the anticipation of it. Butterflies flutter around my core because I know I’m going to be doing what I love even if I don’t know what that looks like yet. My dream’s form may change over time, and that’s okay too. Currently the thrill is in the anticipation and preparation, in the trust I have that God will work it out for His glory.

African Leadings

Image

Photo credit: http://www.toonpool.com/user/2442/files/africa_635355.jpg

I have wanted to be a missionary ever since I was a child. God instilled the desire to share the good news of Jesus to all creation from the moment I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved, and I pray that I will act on that conviction through evangelism and future missionary work. I figure that if missionary work is part of my job, I will have to evangelize and will be forced to remember and proclaim the Gospel!

I have loved Africa ever since I was a child as well. I went to Kenya when I was ten-almost-eleven, and that encouraged my love for the continent, but I think I was interested in it even before I visited. I know that I do not love Africa on my own; God has called me there and continues to call me there.

When my focus drifts from God, sometimes He flashes an outline of the continent in my head, and I joyfully remember where He has called me, the greater purpose in my life. God recently gave me another vision or image as well.

The latest image consists of my hand and a black African woman’s hand woven together. We are walking, holding hands, and we are friends. Perhaps I am sharing her burden, as Galatians 6 commands; perhaps she is sharing mine. She is an image reminding me and encouraging me to my future beyond college and the U.S., and I look forward to meeting my African friend.

People ask me where I would like to go in Africa. Some disbelieve my call there, but most people I meet encourage me and are excited. My answer to their location question is unknown. I am interested in central and eastern subSaharan Africa, although I do not fully know why.

I could be more interested in that side of the continent because I visited Kenya seven and a half years ago. I am certainly more interested in the countries with the darkest skinned people, for I have always been attracted to black skin.

I told God that I would go wherever He wants me, even if that means a lighter skinned, Muslim country in northern Africa, however. As I write this, I realize that I did not tell Him the same for western Africa and the southern half of the continent; I shall pray now for Him to open up my heart to those places.

But could my interest in central and eastern Africa — Uganda, Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda, Kenya, and perhaps Tanzania and the CAR, et cetera — be from Him just as He has led me to Africa as a whole? The more I look at a map of Africa and ponder it, the more I am inexplicably drawn to central and eastern Africa.

I am excited to see God narrow my interests a bit. Reflecting on what I studied this past year in my multiple college papers that I chose to write on Africa, I noticed that they all had something to do with refugees. Additionally, I am currently interning at Lutheran Family Services, a refugee and asylee service, and loving it.

After college, I would love to get married and have a family, live in Africa, write print journalism, and do some form of missionary work.

Today my refugee friend told me to go to Rwanda. He was speaking of its beauty, as it is “the land of one thousand hills,” but when he found out my career goals, he admitted that there is much about which I could write and tell the world as a journalist, and he told me about the need for religious classes to be reinstituted in schools there.

My friend was socialized having a religion class from Kindergarten through tenth grade in Burundi, up through 1991. His final two years of secondary school did not include the over-an-hour long classes on Christianity, Catholicism, or religion, and his twelve year old daughter, a newly arrived refugee in the U.S., has had none.

I will continue to study Africa, particularly central and eastern Africa, and pray about God’s future for me. I recognize that I should also begin to learn kiswahili, kinyarwanda, or some other language spoken in Africa despite not knowing specifically where I will go yet. I hope to visit the continent again in the next few years, and I look forward to learning more about refugee and immigrant situations and the cultures represented by my African friends who are now present in the U.S.