I Need Africa

I never intended to go to Africa. Ever. In fact, after seeing some pictures of someone’s trip to Africa during a women’s conference back in 2005, I specifically begged and pleaded with God to keep me as far away from Africa as possible. Something in me thought that there was no way I’d be able to handle it. Something in me didn’t want to see what was there.

About a year later our pastor camped out in Matthew 28 for what felt like a sweet forever (BECAUSE IT WAS. OH I KID. ONLY I’M SORT OF DEAD SERIOUS), and I didn’t like it much (just to clarify: he was challenging our church as a whole about serving globally; he certainly wasn’t saying that every single person had to go overseas). I can laugh about it now, of course, but at the time, for whatever reason, it made me feel a little bit frustrated. In fact, one Sunday I was helping to set up for a dinner at church, and I looked at a friend of ours who was on staff and said, “SO. At some point does he expect that I’m going to, like, want to GO TO AFRICA or something? Because I’m not going to Africa. I HAVE A TODDLER. GAH.”

And God sat up on His throne and just laughed and laughed because He knew what was about fifteen months down the road for me. Cracks me up when I think about it.

What I didn’t know back during my “nope, not going” phase – because there was just no way I could have known – is that when I did go to Africa with Compassion International earlier this year, it would turn out to be one of the biggest gifts of my life. Everything about that place – the people, the homes, the landscape, the smells, the air – crawled up under my skin and took up residence in the deepest part of my heart. I’ll never get over it.

Today the folks at Mocha Club are starting a campaign with pretty profound slogan: “I need Africa more than Africa needs me.” And when I heard about it, I immediately wanted to write about it because I totally get what they’re saying. Yes, Africa needs our help – there’s no question about that. There’s a level of need there that will just blow your mind – things like clean water and food and medicine are in shockingly short supply. Combine that with the fact that lots of people in Africa don’t know Jesus, and you can understand why oftentimes in Africa there’s a short supply of hope. We can definitely do something to change that.

But I think what we miss sometimes is that we need Africa, too – oh my word do we ever. Because Africa reminds me – every single day – that I’m not called to be comfortable. Africa reminds me that I’m called to live sacrificially. Africa reminds me that it’s meaningless to say “Jesus loves the little children” if I’m not following His lead and helping to take care of them. Africa reminds me that my safe little suburban lifestyle brings with it a deeply skewed view of what’s “necessary.” Africa reminds me to feel grateful when I wake up, turn on my kitchen faucet and see clean, drinkable water pouring out of it.

Africa reminds me to take nothing – NOTHING – in my life for granted.

Yes, Africa needs us – beyond a shadow of a doubt. And you can check out the work Mocha Club is doing if you’re interested in reaching out to Africa; MC is doing some great stuff over there. Most of y’all know that I’m pretty deeply involved with Compassion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize it when other organizations – like Mocha Club, for instance – are doing a phenomenal job.

And now, more than ever, I think – it’s important to remember that we all need Africa. Right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We need Africa to remind us of joy that supersedes our circumstances. We need Africa to remind us what really matters. We need Africa for perspective. Because Africa, sweet friends, is a gift. To all of us.

You know, if you’d asked me even two years ago if I needed Africa, I would’ve told you – in no uncertain terms – that I didn’t.

But now? Now I know better.

I’m forever grateful for the lesson.

(Edited to add: Be sure to check out Kate’s and Annie’s posts on this same topic; you’ll be so glad you did.)

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email


  1. Oh sweet Sophie. I totally get what you are saying… feeling… thinking… writing.

    I used to tell God, “I ‘ll do anything; just don’t send me to Africa.”

    God smiled back and said, “Really, sweetheart? Great. So, I’ll send Africa home to you.”

    It’s been 5 years since Africa came to live with me in the form of my two precious sons.

    And, really, it forever rattled me and inconvenienced me and rearranged me in the best of ways.

    I love when God does that.

  2. Sister, if I remember correctly, that whole Matthew 28 episode made you fold your arms across your chest…and might have made you “hmmmph” a time or 2. :)

  3. My husband lived in Africa for 4 years. We hope to one day visit there with our children.

    God definitely has a sense of humor and irony. In 2002 not having children consumed much of my thoughts and energy, little did I know 6 years later I would have not one child but FOUR. I’m glad God is patient with my lack of patience!!

  4. WHOA! Sophie, that comment was for Shannon! Can you delete? And I’ll comment something more meaningful here in the near future?

    (Further proof that Mama is sleep-deprived, thank you and amen.)

  5. Wow, Sophie. Thank you.

  6. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It makes me smile how differently folks react to Africa. My heart cries out, “When can I go back???” After my first trip, my heart and life were forever changed, and continue to break and grow every time I go back. Thanks for sharing this.
    -Shauna Okongo

  7. Agreed.

    I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

  8. Oh, do I understand that a country can crawl up under your skin and take up residence in your heart. I feel the same way about China. I always wanted to adopt a child… but I vowed I would never go to China. The thought of going to China… scared me to death! I just knew if I went they would find out that I was a Christian and then they’d tie me up and let drop after drop of water fall on my head until I went crazy (after all, isn’t that Chinese torture??) and I’d never see my other 3 children again and on and on and on… It didn’t matter anyway, I thought. We are missionaries (campus ministry with the Navigators) we’ll never have $20,000 to adopt a child. We live on support!

    We’ll my story it too long to write here. I just wanted to say that I understand. China taught me some of the same things Africa taught you.

    Thank you so much for sharing! Thanks so much for making me laugh every single day!

    Adoption blog http://milesandmilestomylei.blogspot.com
    Travel to China 9/04/08 to 9/18/08
    New blog http://oneloadatatime.blogspot.com

  9. Hey there, just stumbled on your blog for the first time. Africa was definitely a life-changing experience for me and I hope to go back with my children some day. You are SO RIGHT that we need Africa more than Africa needs us. It will be great to hear about your reverse culture shock when you get back. Someone once told me about some folks in Kenya who were planning a mission trip to the U.S.! Isn’t that great?!

  10. I’ve been sitting here for quite a few minutes trying to put my feelings into words. I’m not having any luck. Can you just pick up your computer and give it a hug? And, if you like, serve it some sweet tea.

  11. So beautiful.

  12. It’s one of those things that you really don’t know until you go…but once you’ve gone, you HAVE to go back. I was fortunate enough to spent 13 years there…and I want to go back every day.

  13. If you are still awake, Miss Sophie, in all of your kindness will you please look at what I just posted, and see if you think it sounds mean spirited?????

    would lurve to have your opinion…

  14. My husband and I have made 3 mission trips to AFrica to teach pastors and lay leaders a program called Pioneer Evangelism that teaches church leaders to share Christ, make disciples and plant churches. We were in Tanzania in August. You are so right. Africa gets in your heart and you simply can never be the same. I told my brother and sisters in Christ that I have an American mouth and cannot speak their language,but I have an African heart. Oh the things God does in the hearts and lives of His people when we walk in His ways. Thanks for the post. blessings.

  15. Jamie Friedrich says:


    Well said…I felt every single one of your words at the core of my being. I, too, have left a part of my heart with the orphans on the streets, the people living with AIDS, and the pastors faithfully serving with almost nothing left to give. I pray you would continue to have opportunities to share the life-changing experience you had, and even that there would be more experiences with the beautiful people of Africa in the future.

    I look forward to hearing all about it when it happens!

    His servant,
    Jamie F.

  16. Sophie,

    You just described exactly how I feel after three “mission” trips. I am a nobody but God sent me to not only use me but to teach me many lessons that I would have otherwise never learned in a lifetime. How I thank Him for that!

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  17. I said the same thing about Africa, and also about Honduras. I am leaving next Tuesday with Kevin Wood for Honduras to help the people living in the city dump. NEVER would I have believed that I would be doing this. Our team could use your prayers.

    Thanks for sharing about your trip to Africa. It has encouraged me.

  18. Thank you for sharing that. I’ve been so blessed and so moved to have found your blog and BigMama’s blog shortly before this last Compassion trip.

    I have actually been so arrogant in the past that I’ve thanked God for not calling me to foreign missions. So imagine my surprise when He has continued to ping my heart through these blogs I’ve gotten hooked on!

    Thank you for needing Africa – and helping the rest of us see that we just might need it, too.


    Africa has been heavy on my heart. The pictures of the children of the Congo, who have been separated from their families, has left me with an ache in my soul. Your post could not be more timely for me.

  20. Thanks so much for sharing!

  21. Absolutely. I often wonder if we are more handicapped here, due to our affluence and comfort, than those who cannot take those things for granted. And by handicapped, I mean spiritually-speaking. It’s so easy to rely on ourselves in America. Thanks for sharing this today.

  22. Amazing. Simply amazing. May I link to this post?

  23. I’m sitting here wondering why… Why today? why this post? why this continent, why?… I already know the answer. My church is planning a short term missions trip to Zambia through World Hope International and I’m supposed to go. I ran from and fought with my call to missions for what seems like centuries. Although my parents are Angolan immigrants, I’ve only known here… Finally last month I gave up the ghost and yielded. Since then it’s been one confirmation after another up to and including this post… I just sent out my support letter today and for a moment wondered how I will have $2100 by Dec 21st – suddenly the how doesn’t matter nearly as much as the Who! Thanks for sharing this. I’m off to read the other two posts and check out Mocha Club. Thanks again.

  24. Sophie

    Love you. Love this post.
    I am deeply committed to my dry climate, warm shower, and blowdryer followed by CHI, each and every morning. So I know I am no “missionary type”. And yet…

    I know I’m going. I just don’t know when.

  25. Wonderful post. I actually am having the opposite where I felt God preparing me for Africa since my son was 5, starting first with simply a desire to take a family trip and then realizing it would have to be a mission, and have been amazed to see him unveil the plan over the last 9 years. 5 years ago we joined an Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) church which is a mission organization out of Africa, something my Baptist upbringing never would have imagined. I immediately knew this was how God would send me to Africa although I didn’t know the details at the time. Now we are planning a mission trip to Kenya summer 2009 and the entire family is planning to go.

    As we have worked with some Africans in our church to plan the trip I have gotten this exact sense, that I need to go more than they need me there. Yes they need the financial help we will bring and the work we will do and the hope our presence gives but they also understand what it will do for us and how much we will change. They want us to go for us as much as for Africa. So I try not to feel too guilty that I am doing this because I really want to see Africa and worry that I might get more out of it than I give.


  26. This post made me smile. I could so relate. I wasted many years of my life being determined to never go to Africa, and it turned out to be the best and most fulfilling (ok except for motherhood) thing I’ve ever done!

  27. you are SO right. Nothing like a reminder that our little world here is a direct blessing from God, not that we deserve it. Seeing how the rest of the world lives is an eyeopener!!

  28. This is truth. Your words made me cry for the truth and the love in them. My heart so longs to return to this beautiful place. Thanks for being one of the many to share your thoughts on this. It is a joy to be a part of!