Comfort is not a word that generally comes to mind while on mission in Senegal. Having just returned from a mission trip to Senegal (October 2021), parts of the experience are pretty far from our everyday life here in Greenville, SC.
Driving (or riding for us since we don’t do the driving) is one of the first things we encounter. One of the missionaries picked us up from the airport and drove us about 30 minutes away to the location where we would spend our first night. We think traffic is terrible on Woodruff Road, but in Senegal, if there is an inch, someone will edge their car into that space, and if there is room for two vehicles, there is probably room for a few more. It isn’t wrong; it’s just different.
Food is another very different thing. We ate a lot of rice, beans, fish, and vegetables that we would sometimes ask, “what is that?” Here in Greenville, we would serve our plate from a serving bowl, but there we just all ate right from the same bowl. Sometimes 5 or 6 men would reach their spoon into the bowl, and often the locals would use their hand, not a spoon. It isn’t wrong; it’s just different.
One of the significant differences has to do with the bathroom. Here at home, we have a nice clean room to take care of important matters. There we had one small room with a hole in the floor, a squatty potty (use your imagination if you have never seen one), and another small room where we had a bucket for a shower. We would use a small bowl to scoop up water and dump it over our heads for a shower, and by the way, make sure you keep your mouth closed because the water is not safe for us to drink, even just letting some run into your mouth during the shower could cause you to have to spend more time in the squatty potty than you wanted to. Again, it isn’t wrong; it’s just different.
Sleeping in the village is a bit of a challenge. This time we took air mattresses, but even with that, we were sleeping basically on the floor, under a mosquito net. Alton and I had our air mattresses beside each other under one net. Generally, I don’t sleep that close to another guy. One night, one of our missionaries stayed in the village with us. I watched him set up a cot in the courtyard outside; he set his journal and Bible on the dirt under his cot, then he pulled a sheet up over his body to keep the mosquitos away. I remember thinking that he seemed much more comfortable with things there than I did. While we slept fairly well, it was just another reminder of how different things were. Not wrong; just different.
When we arrived home, I will admit that driving home from the airport with cars that did basically what I expected them to do; eating a meal from my very own plate; taking a nice hot shower, and then getting into my bed with a clean, fresh sheet, well… It felt great. I thoroughly enjoyed the comforts of my familiar spaces. Also, not wrong, just different from what I had experienced in Senegal.
Sometimes people there would ask us why we would leave the comfort of America to come to Senegal. Some people here have asked us the same question. The culture of Greenville, SC, and the village in Senegal are very different. So why put up with the discomfort of the unfamiliar?
A considerable part of that reason happened two afternoons before we returned home. As we sat with my friend Adam and explained the Grace of God to a man, who has always been taught to work towards his salvation. He listened intently as we shared from God’s Word; he even read in his French Bible the passage in 1 John 4:9-10 where we are told that God loved us first and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Our interpreter shared how he had come from a Muslim background also, but realized the love God had for him and how he came to follow Jesus. Adam ended our discussion by saying we had helped him reach a new level of understanding and that he would continue to study these things. And I believe that he will.
As I read through God’s Word, I find passages that encourage us to be holy, to be obedient, to be followers of Him… but I have yet to find a passage that tells us to be comfortable.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed. And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’”
God has called each of us to be a disciple, to follow after Him. We all have a part of the mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ around our neighborhood and the world. JD Greear writes (in his book Missiology), “Christians do not need to be specially called to go overseas anymore than they need to be called to live missionally where they are—it is inherent to being a disciple. Each person must evaluate how he is best suited to fulfill that call.”
Sometimes, we all need to put our comfort aside and follow Jesus Christ into the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. In doing so, you may be blessed to see God use you in tremendous and unexpected ways.