Welcome to Africa! I have officially been in Benin for a week and all I can say is "wow". As i write this i just have to laugh thinking about what i thought my first week would be like verses the reality of what it ended up to be. Grab a coffee and sit up straight because here is the breakdown of my first week in Africa.
Arriving in Benin was great as we were welcomed by 3 friends from our past Mercy Ships training in January. As we traveled out of the airport with our duffels containing all of our life supplies, i took a deep breath and realized that I was officially in Africa and that this was now my new home. As this concept slowly seeped into my brain an unknown African bug decided to give me a little welcome bite too. I shrugged it off and thought that this was going to be the first of MANY bites. hehe!
My first few days on the ship were good. I made sure to find out about all the different things that were taking place on or off the ship. Running groups at 6am Monday - Friday, ultimate frisbee, soccer games, worship services, hiking trips, beach trips, market trips, and small group meetings. Oh yeah and on my days off I can also sign up for prison ministry, gardening, orphanage work, Jesus film showings, etc. As you can imagine I was VERY excited about all of these opportunities and instantly started planning how and when i could fit them all in. But most of all I was excited to start working on the wards as a nurse and also to start and or continue building relationships with people both on the ship and off.
So to start off my week i was feeling pretty good. I went on a couple runs in the morning; I signed up for activities on my days off; i went to the worship meetings that are held during the week; things were looking good. Or so i thought. Now if you recall i mentioned my little "welcome bite" and me thinking not much of it. Well this little bug bite was turning into something much worse. Everyday the redness around the bite would double in size. I kept pushing it off and hoping that it would just go away. Day by day the redness would continue to fall down my arm and the girth of my arm continued to increase. Finally i realized or stubbornly decided that i needed to go and see the doctor. Over the next few days my condition continued to worsen and the streaks now continued down my arm and around my elbow and my forearm was about double in size (classic signs of cellulitis). At this point I had been on oral antibiotics which proved to not be as effective as hoped. My neck and back ached, my stomach turned, my fingers thobbed, my head spun; I just hurt. I sat there in bed just praying that God would ease the pain enough so that i could fall asleep and forget about the pain shooting through my body. The next day i started on IV antibiotics.
As i lay there i thought back to what i imagined my first week in Africa being and realized it was exactly the opposite. Instead of running around and getting involved in all the differnet activities on the ship I would find a quiet spot and just sit and read. Instead of going over and meeting new people I would sly away to places where no one was. As most of you know this is completely anti-Becca.
During these times of solitude and silence the only person I truly wanted to be with was God because honestly he was the only one that could comfort me or give me strength. I knew that he was the only one that was going to get me through this. And even more than that i knew that there was a reason why he was letting me have this illness at this exact time at this exact place and that he is in control of it all.
After my third sleepless night waking up with night sweats I decided to just go sit and pray. As i sat there and felt the pain throbbing throughout I prayed the same prayer i had every morning and every night. " God, help me to know and love you more." Thinking back over the last few days of having this infection raging through my body, I thought about how close I had become with God during this time. All the hours i would have spent running around outside or going out and doing differnet activities instead i spent my time and my focus with Him. For the first time since starting this whole ordeal I thanked God for letting me know him more and for teaching me how to truly rely on Him and think about Him every minute of everyday (literally everytime my arm throbbed or my body ached i would pray...).
So after finally coming to grips with this whole crappy infection this is my conclusion of this whole situation.
First off God doesn't give us anything we can't handle. I have learned to be content (or at least try to be content) in whatever condition God puts me in. And that God will remedy sickness in His time. ("Practicing His Presence"). Even though this infection is really bad imagine if i was like most missionaries around the world living in some bush in the middle of Africa. God placed me one floor above a state of the art hospital.
The second thing I learned is how easy it is to put God aside. As soon as I arrived in Africa I started planning out my days and weeks of what I was going to do and who i was going to meet. Instead I had to be antisocial and even had to call out of work which was by far one of the hardest things i had to do. But God even used this to show me it isn't about serving people, it isnt even about serving the people of Africa it is ONLY about Him. We have to make God our focus and priority at all times.
The third thing he taught me was the power of prayer. Everyday as I would go to the doctor and they would try to figure out what was going on in my arm I finally realized how serious the infection truly was. I didnt want to draw attention to my sitation and i definitely didnt want to make people worry but i realized that prayer was going to be the main thing that got me through this season of my life. My church, my family, my friends, my Gates family, and even new friends i met while on the ship, all were praying for my arm to heal.
And the last thing I learned from this is how much the devil would love me to leave this place. What is the chance of getting bit by an African bug as you get out of the airport and having it turn into a raging cellulitis? hmm interesting! Anyway well all i have to say is Im not going anywhere so bring it on!
(sorry this is such a long email but i am hoping next week will prove to be less painful.. you guys are in my prayers and please continue to keep all of us here in yours as well)