Eight Months in North Africa

Angela reflects on her experience  in North Africa partnering with an organization that does Bible translation work. This is the first of two posts.

This is the first time I’ve written publicly to my family at All Souls about my experience in North Africa. I waited a long time because I was hoping I’d be able to package my reflections concisely and thematically. Lol. Maybe someday I will get there, but it hasn’t happened yet. So, in the meantime, I am sharing some of the thoughts and feelings I have as I look back on my time overseas.

I feel humbled by the complexity of ministering in the Muslim world. At times in the past, I have approached conversations about contextualization with certainty that correct theology is the answer. I don’t have answers anymore.

I feel glad and grateful for the privilege of spending eight months studying the culture, heritage, and language of an amazing country. I enjoyed lavish hospitality during my time abroad, and I learned so many things that I can’t put into words.

I feel disenchanted with the industry of missions. I can’t quite figure out how to articulate it, but—in my experience—the traditional support based-model rarely leaves “workers” in a healthy mental space.

I feel sad as I watch missionary kids pay a high price when ministry comes before family.

I feel dishonest about my reasons for coming to North Africa. As a “worker” in a country where missionary work is illegal, I wrestled a lot with how to talk about myself among my local friends. I didn’t like using two entirely separate vocabularies—one for my audience at home, and another for my audience abroad.

I feel conflicted because I encountered so many missionaries who desire to love Jesus and make him known, but at the same time could be deeply vindictive in conflicts over methodology.

I feel equipped to love my refugee friends in ways that communicate that I see them, I honor them, and I empathize with their experience as foreigners.

I feel brave. I faced a lot of my fears during my time in North Africa. Things that used to scare me don’t scare me much anymore.

I feel secure. In my most vulnerable moments walking down the streets alone, I knew that Jesus walked with me. In an honor-shame culture, walking with my Father was deeply significant. It identified me with His name, His reputation, and His protection. If anyone shamed me, they shamed Him too. Facing verbal harassment alone was difficult, but facing it with Jesus was bearable.

Why I came home…

Most of you know that when I left for North Africa, I was discerning whether or not to pursue a career in missions. It didn’t take me very long to realize that the answer was no. But I want to share a little bit about that decision…

In North Africa, I felt paralyzed by my gender, my whiteness, and my language. Those three things impacted most of the decisions that I made outside of my home. I knew that even though my Arabic would get better and better, the unwelcome attention that I received as a white woman would not change. It would always be the limiting factor. That felt unsustainable.

On top of losing so my autonomy, it felt like my identity as a Western Christian reinforced many historic barriers that stand between Muslims and Jesus. I often had to fight the feeling that I was a liability to God’s work instead of an asset. To share about Jesus, I felt I had to undermine my own Western expressions of faith—reassuring my friends that following Jesus is neither colonial nor American: following Jesus doesn’t have to look like me.

While I deeply respect those who have committed their lives to overseas mission work, I left Africa with the conviction that I—Angela—am much better equipped to invite people to follow Jesus in my own country, in my own culture, and in my own language. As an insider in the US, I have credibility and my identity doesn’t create extra barriers to Jesus.

What’s next?

Love people. I don’t see my calling today any differently than I did while I was in North Africa. Jesus commands me to love Him and to love others, and I am striving to do that with the same intentionality here in America as I did in Africa. In my next post, I’ll be sharing a little bit more about what that looks like.