Joy: A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

Last summer, I went to Africa to serve. However, I found my life was transformed by the people I met there. I never could have imagined the lessons they would teach me.

During my visit, I struggled with comprehending the amount of suffering the people face. The pictures I saw and books I read about poverty never could have prepared me for experiencing it myself. When I met the faces behind the issues, it made them so much more real to me. No longer was it the numbing statistics that flooded my mind - these issues were now personal... they were impacting my friends. Seeing a child sleeping on a little mat in the slums or seeing two boys sniffing glue at the market is heartbreaking. Honestly, I can't even put those experiences into words. When I heard the stories and pasts of the children at IAA, I couldn't even begin to fathom them. I thought to myself, how could someone beat this precious child? How could someone abandon this sweet little girl?

Despite all of the hardships these people face, whether it is lack of access to education, clean water, or healthcare... they are filled with JOY. I don't even know how to describe the joy they have. Peace reigns in their hearts. They are so content and their whole beings are made up of LOVE.

As the Mocha Club puts it, "The truth is, in Africa I find hearts full of victory, indomitable spirits. In places where despair should thrive, instead I find adults dancing and singing, and children playing soccer with a ball crafted of tied up trash. Instead of payback, I find grace. Here, weekend getaways are not options to provide relief from the pains of daily life. Relationships and faith provide joy. Love is sovereign."

For me, I experienced their joy when I watched the children dancing and singing while they praised God in church, or when I held hands with the village children as we played games in the field. I found joy when I heard the powerful prayers of the children, or heard the laughter of the staff echoing throughout the site. I experienced joy whenever the children gave me goodnight kisses, or when I saw the staff cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry with a smile on their face.

I came home with the realization that the people in Africa take joy in GOD, not in their circumstances. This has deeply challenged my faith and I am reminded of this lesson every day as memories from my trip flood my mind. The Mocha Club explains it as, "It is Africa that has taught me that possessions in my hands will never be as valuable as peace in my heart. I've learned that I don't need what I have and that I have what I need."

People ask me if I'm afraid to go to Africa - they question if i will get AIDS or Malaria, or they fear I will get raped or murdered. But to me, Africa isn't just a place of chaos and despair. I may have lived a "simple" life while I was there, but my heart has never been as happy as it was. I felt God's presence as I loved His people. I am counting down the days until I return to Africa this summer and I can't wait to see what God teaches me this time on this continent.

I want to be like the people in Africa -- characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being. (Francis Chan) 

My goal: to fall deeply in love with God.

What is your goal? What do you want to take JOY in? 

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