Seriously, when I stepped off the plane and headed into the indescribable heat of Chad and then further into the chaos and insanity of the 'airport'....I thought....oh my word.....just where have we moved to? I wish I could say it got a whole lot better and easier after that....but it didn't. It got worse. Way worse.
Our first year in Chad would be characterized by health problems, hospital stays, a miscarriage, difficulty with language, ridiculous driving conditions, pregnancy sickness, major struggles with the heat and also feeling lonely to highlight a few. Sounded like fun eh?
We left after 1 year of living in Chad to go back to Canada to have Evelinne, and we actually came back to Chad 6 months later. Why you ask? Part of me thinks ya, why did we come back? There was really nothing good (for me at least) to come back to.....as my first year had been tainted with such awful experiences. Why in heavens name would I come back to a place that held such suffering and misery for me?
Well, I didn't want to throw in the towel just yet, and I wanted to see if things were going to be different this time around with my health and if I could overcome the struggles I had with driving, language, loneliness etc. I couldn't quit before I had given it a fair go. Plus, I knew in my heart that this is where God wanted me to be for this time....and I held onto the lessons that He had taught me throughout my struggles in my first year of living on what seemed to me like a different planet.
Looking back on the 3 years we have lived in Chad, I can honestly say that I have learned so much and been challenged spiritually, emotionally and physically 1000 times more than I could have been back in Canada. God knows exactly where we need to be for Him to shape us into who He wants us to be....and for me, that place is Chad. (On a bad day I ask....WHY not a cooler place??? On a good day, I thank Him for not giving up on me and for loving me enough to relocate me halfway around the world to the only place I could have learned these important truths about who He is and who He wants me to be).
Interestingly enough, 3 main words/phrases stood out to me as I was reflecting back on our time here in N'Djamena, each word represented the theme of the lesson God was teaching me in that year and this is something I want to share with you all.
In the first year, the Phrase that stood out to me, that I kept on encountering over and over in my reading, in my praying, in my journalling and in my talking to others and reflecting on my experiences was that 'when everything is taken away from you, God is enough and God is there'.
I remember several weeks after my miscarriage I ended up back in the bush hospital (no running water, no electricity, no food/water provided, oh and it was 40 plus degrees) with a major skin infection (cellulitis) in my arm and I had had a friend drive me to this hospital as Phil was out flying that day....the Doctor admitted me right away and so there I was, alone, in the this room at the very corner of the hospital, sweating like a beast, waiting for Phil to arrive and bring me some food/water and some sheets and a pillow. It was pitch black by the time he arrived (his flight was delayed and then he had to sort out the kids and pack for sleeping over at the hospital with me) and he found me, laying in the pitch dark, on a vinyl mattress, in the heat, in pain and just at a serious low point and he said he felt like crying for me.
I remember waiting for Phil to arrive, and just battling with God....one minute I would be so angry with Him and wondering why all this was happening as hadn't we sacrificed enough for Him to come to a very difficult place like Chad and we'd given up being close to our families and friends, given up the comforts of life, given up nice weather, and being able to wear what we wanted, given up speaking English and having modern stores and roads and given up the only way of life I had ever known......and then the next minute I would be thanking God for his provision of good British Doctors at this sketchy hospital and for the people who were stepping up to take care of our kids for us.
I do remember very clearly as I was laying in my hot bed during my 5 day stay there, as I was complaining to God about all the things we had sacrificed for Him and why was He letting us go through all of this etc....I remember a clear voice saying to me "Haven't I given up everything for you?". Pause. Gulp. Yup. God gave up His ONLY SON for me, so that I could come freely to Him. The ultimate sacrifice. That most definitely trumped my list of sacrifices. That wasn't to downplay the serious struggles we had been through (and would continue to encounter as the year went on) but it just put things into perspective and helped me to focus more on what God was trying to teach me through it all rather than just complain about it.
I would like to say that this realization after being in Chad for only 4 months at the time of my arm infection, meant that I was good to go for the rest of our time here in Chad, but nope...I guess I am a slow learner. Many more trials and difficulties came our way during that first year and I left Chad on May 1, 2014 to have Evelinne in Canada and I remember having a conversation (more like me bawling my eyes out) with Phil on how much I hated living here. Yup. I said it. Hope you realize now that missionaries are just normal people who struggle with the same stuff you all struggle with. God was faithful to me as he was trying to teach me this lesson that He is enough when everything else is taken away (health, family, comfort, friends, home culture etc).
Believe you me, by the time I stepped onto that plane to head back to Canada, that lesson had been drilled into my head, an important one to learn early on, as when you think about it, nothing in this life that we have is certain....everything and anything can be taken away or lost at any time....we in Canada have a false sense of security and it took me moving to Chad to figure it out, but the only thing we can be certain about is God. Who He is: unchanging (that means He's the same God in Canada as he is in Chad), that you can count on Him to walk with you through the darkness and give you exactly what you need to make it through.
No promises it's gonna be easy, in fact, there are more verses in the Bible telling those who believe in God that it's gonna be hard, and that we will suffer but that we can cling to the One who never changes, who is totally in control, who knows the future, who does what is best for us (doesn't mean He does what we think is best for us)....all of which are such important truths for someone who feels like their whole world as they know it is shifting daily as they try to navigate this new life in a new place.
So, on October 15, 2014, I, Merilee Henderson once again, stepped off the plane in N'Djamena but this time, I knew it was going to be different, and it was.
Stay tuned for Part 2.....
(This has already become a bit of a novel (congrats to those who read this far down!) so I am going to highlight the 2 other themes of my time here in Chad in another blog post.)
Thanks for all your prayers, your support, your friendships and encouragement. God is doing a good work here in Chad....not only in me but in many others who are also living, working and learning some crazy God lessons here in Chad!