Eight things Senegal taught me (including trust, good tea, and community)

Jeremy Height
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

As we sat around our coffee table surrounded by half-packed suitcases and the remains of our shwarmas and half a birthday cake, it hit me:

We were leaving Senegal in 24 hours. 

After one year of prayer and preparations and another five months of living in the beautiful country of Senegal, our time in the capital city of Dakar wrapped up with the conclusion of April. 

The day before we made the multi-leg journey from Dakar (Senegal) to Accra (Ghana). We celebrated our friendships and my 27th birthday with good food and several hours of our favorite board game - Settlers of Catan. Image

That evening together left me with both a sugar high and a sense of reflection about my family's time in Senegal. Like any chapter of life, there were highs and lows. Beautiful moments and painful lessons. Tears of joy and tears of pain. Through it all, our family has come to love Senegal with her beautiful people, culture, and food. We will deeply miss our friends and church family there as we step into a new (and exciting!) chapter of life. 

As I reflect on our time in Senegal, here are a couple of the essential lessons I learned along the way:

 1) Being humbled is not the same thing as being humble. Life events can leave us embarrassed and 'taken down a few notches.' One of my mentors reminded me that we could either start the day choosing to be humbled before God or we can allow life to do it for us. When we do not willingly choose a position of sacrifice and humility, we can't claim to be humble just because life allowed our pride lead to a fall. Choose humility; don't wait to be humbled.

 2) It's too easy to brush over the dark parts of humanity, but we must look evil in the face and not forget it. That is why Gorée Island is one of the most heart-wrenching places I have ever stepped foot on. As a former checkpoint on the slave route from West Africa the Americas, this beautiful yet scarred island serves as a poignant reminder of slavery and the profound injustices that tore apart the lives of millions. I met a fellow American recently who came to Senegal as he traced his family lineage to the country. When I mentioned how saturated the island was with the memory of slavery, he responded by saying, "You have no idea." And he's right. As a white, middle-class American, I don't have any idea. I cannot begin to grasp the horrors of slavery and the wounds it has left for generations to come.

3) We are called to be, not do. God created us as His children, not tools. As an American, I can easily be drawn into doing more things, quicker, and more efficiently. But I have been re-learning the importance of relationships and relationships can't be microwaved. They take time, effort and attention. That is what I have been trying to focus on. Leaving plenty of margin in my life to be. To be a child of God. To be a husband and a father. To be a friend and neighbor. That should be our starting point and priority, not an occasional add-on. 

4) Moving to a country where you are not a part of the majority ethnicity, majority religion, or majority languages is very, very humbling. I don't speak (much) French or Wolof. I am not Senegalese. These facts put me into minority status as we lived in Senegal and, while very little of my experiences reflect the harsh realities any immigrant faces, I have tasted a small sampling of the daily struggles and exhaustion that come with navigating an unfamiliar culture, city, and language. My eyes are more open to the profound bravery and resilience that immigrants and refugees must embrace to survive and thrive in a new country. My respect for immigrants has grown tremendously.

5) Sometimes God calms the storms; sometimes God calms the sailor. The last several months have reminded me just how integral the characteristic of trust is to the Christian walk. My grandfather's favorite verses (from Proverbs 3) tell us that when we trust in the Lord completely, he will guide our paths. We may not always know what lies ahead, but we have a God who journeys with us nonetheless.

6) We are who we are because of who we serve. In a conversation with our property manager, he and I began talking about different religions around the world. He commented that the deity we serve impacts our character and values. It left me thinking about what type of God I reflect in my life. Is my life a glorifying and holy reflection of my God? Image

7) "I used to think God's calling for my life was about me. Now I realize it's all about Him." As we talked with a group of other Christians recently, a good friend of mine made this statement. We must come to realize that God's call is about Him, not us. Our focus should be on God and join his mission, not crafting a path of our own. I am reminded of over and over again of this collective versus individualistic mentality.

8) Speaking of a collective mentality, the final lesson is the one that has been the most impactful for me: "Nous sommes ensemble." Translated from French: "We are together." We are not in this journey called life alone. We journey with others, and because we journey together, we sacrifice for each other - not out of obligation, but out of love. The success and joy of one is tied to everyone. The success and joy of everyone is tied to every one person. We are not alone. We are together.​

Senegal taught my family and me a lot. About God. About ourselves. About the world. And we have left a piece of our hearts in that beautiful country. As we transition to the wonderful nation of Ghana, we take with us the lessons learned from our Senegalese teachers. These eight phrases and thoughts are a small sampling of the impact that Senegal has left on my life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

I have much to learn. And Senegal has been a great teacher.