Places we don't want to go
Truthfully, though, the most significant reason for my hesitation was the image I had of Johannesburg. I pictured it as Kolkata, India - with guns. Big city. Masses of people. Poverty. Crime. Keep your doors and windows locked.
I was wrong.
Or at least only partially right.
Yes, Jo'burg is a big city. There is lots of crime. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and keep your doors and windows locked.
But there are not masses of people. I didn't see a lot of poverty - which doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist, just that it isn't quite so obvious as in some Asian cities like Kolkata. The infrastructure was amazing - good roads. little traffic, no garbage, no bad smells. The people - both black and white - were friendly, helpful and lots of fun. In spite of stories of robberies and car jackings, I felt very safe there. And the climate was marvelous - "sweater weather" is my very favorite.
We took a weekend break in meetings to travel to Cape Town - one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The landscape along the coast was breathtaking. The wharf was a great place for dinner and shopping, and I learned more about Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid on a tour of Robben Island than I ever learned in school.
After a return to Jo'burg and a few more days of meetings, we traveled by car to Kruger National Park - both for game viewing and a spiritual retreat. Along the way, we saw places with such picturesque names as "The Three Sisters" and "God's Window." On our first game drive in Kruger, we saw the Big 5 - rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion - before 9:00 a.m. The leopard was having breakfast in a tree. He was eating an impala he killed a few hours before. A couple of days later, we saw hippos fighting and a pride of lions chowing on a cape buffalo they killed earlier in the day.
It was an amazing trip. In spite of my earlier misgivings, I was grateful I came. I realized I saw things I will never see anywhere else - rugged beauty, amazing wildlife, wonderful people.
Sometimes God takes us to places we don't want to go - like Africa - to see and experience things we will never see anywhere else. As I put that in the context of this season of my life - preparing to send my oldest daughter off to college later next year - I realized that God is going to show me things in the next 2-3 years that I will never be able to experience any other way. Living an ocean away from my teenage daughter will cause me to trust Him in new ways. It will also allow me to see good things happen in her life as she transitions to adulthood that will no doubt amaze me.
Of course, sometimes God takes us to places we don't want to go, and we experience suffering and pain - through the serious illness or death of a child, when a spouse walks away or families are separated by "greater" commitments. This was the case when Habakkuk cried out for relief from injustice. God's answer took him to a place that resulted in suffering and pain. God revealed to Habakkuk that the Babylonians - the enemies of God's people - were going to sweep into the southern kingdom of Judah and destroy them. For a time - about 50 years - the enemies of God prevailed, and by God's doing His people were in a place they didn't want to be.
Habakkuk could have responded to this revelation in a number of ways. Not all might have been "God-honoring." Instead, he concluded his recorded conversation with God with a bold statement of faith:
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God, my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to go to the heights." Habakkuk 3:17-19.
I know that God is going to continue to take me to some places I don't want to be. I pray that most of those experiences will be like my journey to Africa - surprising me with His majesty, beauty and power. But I know that some of those places will be difficult - requiring all the faith I possess just to make it from minute to minute. I pray that I will be grateful for all of the places God leads me, realizing that the Sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to go to the heights.
Travel light and wear comfortable shoes,
Copyright 2011 by Ann Lovell. All Rights Reserved.