From mzungu to Knowle West

This item was posted a while ago, on 1 May 2009.

I have been wrestling with something in the last year: how do we know we are following God’s will for our lives? The Christian pat answer to that is ‘follow your heart’, or ‘you’ll know because it’s right’, or even ‘you will have peace about it’. I am guilty of saying all of these to others as much as being on the receiving end of them! What it really means is ― I don’t know!

A year ago I left Lee Abbey Devon after three years on Community. I had an amazing experience, but it was time to move on. I was going to Africa to change the world! I went to Ghana in September 2007 excited, full of the Holy Spirit, arrogant and full of dreams to rid the world of inequality. Within a week I became very ill with heat exhaustion and had to return home. I felt huge disappointment, and was frustrated and angry with God. I had felt sure this was what God wanted me to do. But apparently my timing of four months in Ghana was three months, three weeks too long for God! I stopped talking to God, as he had let me down.

A few months later, I started talking to God again (reluctantly, but aren’t home groups amazing at making you do that?) and decided to go back to Africa. So, in January 2008, off I flew to Uganda, a wiser, slightly less arrogant, ordinary fool! This time I lasted four weeks! I didn’t get ill, and my experience was life-changing.

I saw people who are completely reliant on the land and the weather to feed them. I met adults and children who had never met a white person (mzungu) before. I felt incredible embarrassment as we drove through villages seeing children and adults line the side of the road to look at me. I laughed with the Ugandans when they were fascinated by the sun cream that I smeared all over at least four times a day! I wept and wept when a mother died giving birth to her child. I met women who could not afford the few pennies it costs to go on the pill. I was told off when I was working on a Sunday and didn’t go to church at 6 a.m. before work. I pumped fresh water at a well for a five-year-old who was carrying it to her home about two miles away. What a topsy-turvy world we live in!

I returned to England watching every penny I spent, knowing how far it would go in Africa, but having no clue what God wanted me to do with my new-found compassion for my neighbour. After a few months of volunteering in projects aimed at the poor in Southampton, I have come to the Knowle West Household.

I want more than anything else to follow God’s will for my life, which means spending time with God to get to know him. I know that niggling little nudge to go and talk to a person I’ve never met before is God saying, ‘It’s not about you feeling inadequate to do that, it’s about me being more than adequate to do it!’ I don’t know how long it will take for me to find out if I am following God’s will, but I’m up for the journey! Are you?

Ruth Chapman