Stereotypically Basic Riots

Facebook geniusly stole TimeHop’s idea of doing flashbacks to what you were up to on this date since you created a FB. With most of the photos and statuses, I’ve thought, “Good lord. Deleting that… Ew… Can’t believe I dated that guy… What was I wearing?… MY BANGS…” etc. We’ve all been there. Don’t you judge.

But this one… 423657_815026159448_2139105754_n

It seems so dumb. Like, stereotypical BASIC. White girl holding a Starbucks cup. Wearing a Fossil purse (not mine tho…). I mean, leggings weren’t pants back then, so that’s out of the picture, and no, I’m not wearing Uggs. And we won’t mention the time that I actually was memed taking a pic of my first frappuccino in America post-Africa and it went viral…

But I just want to share the story behind THIS picture that so many people (even myself) would label as basic. [Extra lols: my instagram photo three days ago is a selfie holding a starbucks cup… ha… okay, maybe I am a little basic…]

This picture was taken January 28, 2012. I was living in Dakar, Senegal (West Africa) with 7 of my new best friends working with a campus ministry at Université Chiehk Anta Diop. We all moved there together in September of 2011 to spend the next 10 months launching a spiritual movement. We spent four months learning two languages (Wolof and French), building friendships with our students, getting Senegalese dresses made, loving each other (sometimes trying to love each other. Sorry Aaron.), loving the Lord and loving life.

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In the background though, there was quite the potential political disaster brewing. Abdoulaye Wade was serving as president during his second term. Sometime in the summer of 2011, he decided that because the term lengths for president were decided during his second term that his first term didn’t count(I know, idk either how there was even a second term when how did the first even end??). Basically, he wanted to create a loophole in the system and become president a third time. You know, ’cause democracy…

The public didn’t receive his idea well. I mean, who would? So.. riots began. Buildings burned down. Riots in the street. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. And a few people died.

After that, things calmed down long enough for us to get the okay to head to Senegal in September. So we began our year, diving into a place that was hard, but so incredibly lovable in some ways.

Even though things had calmed down “enough”, we were still wisely prepped for the “what ifs” of a government coup. We created a “go bag” that was to be kept packed in our apartment in case of an emergency. We had to keep enough cash in it in case the airport’s system wasn’t working and we couldn’t use a debit/credit card to buy a flight out of Senegal along with clothes, toiletries, contacts, anything valuable we didn’t want to leave.

As months went by, we began to experience this political tension in tangible ways. Riots in front of our campus over tuition and President Wade that included blocking streets and burning car tires and massive tree stumps. Students throwing bricks at police. The police would come to squelch the riots with tear gas. We got used to what tear gas sounded like and smelled like from a distance. (And two times up close… both complete accidents! Language barriers, man.)

The week before this picture was taken was so anxiety ridden. It was the week that the, shoot I forget who, parliament? Congress? Prime Minister? SOME GROUP was deciding if Wade had the right to re-run for president. Everyone had been talking about people planning riots and the potential of the government shutting down cell phone towers if they said they were kosher with him being president. People assumed the riots were going to get bad, so they wanted to block communications.

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Pacifique, my Congolese twin.

 

That week was a long, hard week. We already had plans to leave the night of the decision to head out to Spain for a conference, and were going to be gone for two weeks. But we weren’t sure if we were going to be allowed back into the country. What was going to happen? Would Senegal still be at peace? We didn’t know. And so we acted as if we weren’t going to be able to come back. We acted more boldly sharing with friends clearly, unashamedly the gospel over and over again.We said temporary goodbyes hoping that it would be only two weeks, knowing it could be longer.

The night of the decision was tense. Aaron, my team leader, made sure that we had all of our bags by the door and ready to go as soon as the announcement was made. We had to be dressed and ready the whole day. So we just waited, and waited to see what the answer was.

And then, we heard. “Wade is able to run again…” I hear Aaron yell from upstairs, “Get your bags! We have to go! NOW!” And within two minutes, we all raced down the stairs, got into two taxis, told the driver to avoid the route that we knew people had planned to protest at (which of course he took that route…) and made it to the airport.

When we arrived and made it into the airport we had like 7 hours until our flight. We all kind of sat there a little shell shocked, a little excited for Europe, concerned for Senegal, questioning what our futures looked like and just awkward.

As soon as we landed in Spain, we were all so heart-shaped-emoji-eyes at the idea of American food in the airport. And then we remembered: STARBUCKS. It’s kind of crap coffee. But it’s so American. And comfortable. And I needed familiar. So I dove in. This was my first cup, but I’m pretty sure I had like two more that day. And so much Burger King, which I haven’t eaten in America since I was 15. Senegal has no chain restaurants, so American food there is about as American as take-out Chinese is actually Chinese.

After we arrived at the conference and checked into our hotel rooms, I turned on CNN. And headlining, “Mass Political Riots in Senegal…” Okay. Cool. Pretty sure I need to let the family know that I’m in Spain and not Senegal, and that I’m okay. I think I may have called home at that time, or sent a text. I can’t remember.

 

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Aljazeera Photo

 

The rest of our conference went well. Some of us were provided with counselors at the conference to help us debrief. Looking back, I wish that had been mandatory for our team, but I’m sure that’s all kinds of illegal-to make your employees go to counseling. Yeah, nevermind…

How did I cope? PORK. I ate so much pork every morning at the hotel buffet. I literally one morning had breakfast with a guy from the Paris team, Slovenia and some other friends and had 2 eggs, a handful of bacon and 4 sausage links… I’m not even ashamed. Senegal is a Muslim country, so no pork eaters allowed. Just kidding. It’s just frowned upon and you can’t find it anywhere. So basically, no pork eating allowed.

The week following the conference we were told it was okay for us to head back to Senegal on our original tickets, but to keep our stateside directors updated.

We came back to a country that was very aware their political system was broken and could not be their source of hope. And we listened. It was a very tumultuous time for a lot of people, but I do believe that God used that political turmoil for His good. A few scattered riots occurred after we arrived, a few even not about the election but rode off the momentum of those… Things seemed to return back to normal until the elections.

And no, Wade did not win the elections that April. He was actually beat by a landslide by a guy who many Senegalese Millennials claimed was in the illuminati with Rihanna, Jay Z and Beyonce. But I guess we’ll never know that one…

Thanks for listening to my story. It’s easy to judge a book by it’s cover, so I just wanted to share: things are always more complicated and more simple than they seem. Like this picture.

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Pink Sunsets and Africa

NEWSTAFFTRAININGCRUAlthough we’ve only really known each other for about 3 weeks, Elise and I ebb and flow together pretty well. We generally keep each other grounded to some extent. Well, last week was not one of those weeks. You see, we’re currently taking two Master’s level theology courses in two weeks. [Sidenote: help?]. It’s a lot of reading, a lot of studying, great projects, and very little sleep [ESTJ PROBS]. During this hellacious (um, maybe not the most appropriate word to describe our classes) prepatory training, we had a few minor [relative] spaz-oid moments. I was stressing; she was stressing too. We kind of fueled each other’s anxious flames… especially the day we got our placements, which will have to wait until another blog post.

Well, amid the glorious ruin of IBS classes, we made a great decision. While feeling a little [also relative] stressed with all of our assignments, we thought, “Let’s go down and read by the water!” On our way down, we see these two men and their dogs. I looked at Elise and said, “I just need to play with a dog for like five minutes. I’m going to pet that dog.” So I did.

As I was receiving much needed pet therapy, we struck up conversation with these two older men about life, Florida, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. It came up in conversation [or maybe I just always miss Africa and love talking about it so I inserted it in there…] that I lived in Africa. We talked a little bit about what I did there, Senegal, and how they needed to bypass all other American Dreams, sell all their possessions and just go ahead and move to Africa [what’s life without a little adventure, right?]. Okay, so maybe I didn’t pressure them into selling everything, I did recommend visiting Senegal for mass amounts of time [nama naleen torop!].

Towards the end of the conversation, when the sun was setting, the man on the left said, “Do you know why sunsets here are pink?” Being a person who is baffled at the fact that the technology exists that can tell us at what moment the sun will set, I have no idea as to why the sunsets colors are the colors they are. Bypassing the first answer that popped into my mind, “Jeeessuuuss..”, I respond inquiringly, “Why?” He then leans in to tell me, almost like a secret, “Africa.”

“The sunsets here are affected by the heat and dust that comes off the Sahara belt. It makes our sunsets pink.”

Be still my wildly beating heart…

I walked away from that conversation enamored by God’s specific love for me. Of all the people I could have run into [’cause let’s be honest, Florida is full of old people with dogs…] God placed these two men there. As Elise and I were sitting by the water and the sun was setting, I slipped deeper and deeper in love with my Savior. He sees me. He sees my heart.

He knows that part of me is and will always be there. He knows the depth of my heart that cried out, “Why?” when we saw so few students giving their lives to Christ. He reminds me almost daily that while I love Senegalese people, He loves them more. He beckons me with every pink sunset to pray for lives within the 10/40 window to move from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of His glorious Son.

And being faithful, He will act.

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SkyBridge Blog: 7 Tips to Prepare for Purposeful Living Overseas

I always get so excited when I get published on other places, well you know, other than my own blog. 

I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED!!

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I figured all you beautiful 62 followers needed the link to be able to read this post I wrote for an online community of expats and ex-expats. Check it out HERE. Let me know what you think. 

XOXO

Mary Lou

Walking in Heaven

Sometime within the past two years I have become a crier. For those of you who may not know me and are reading this blog, this is a massive transformation. I used to have trouble trying to produce tears, but nope not anymore. I tend to blame a lot of things on Whitney Marie Low, but this one REALLY is all her fault. If you want to the evidence that it’s Whit’s doing, ask her about Christmas day 2011. It’s not really my story to tell. 😉

So today, I’m working on some cards for my best friend here Epiphanie. She’s a Cameroonian student here and will be returning to Cameroon before 2014. I’ve known her since my first STINT year, and I have so enjoyed walking along side of her in her walk with Jesus. The first time we met I asked her, “What kind of music do you like?” She said, “Do you know Jer-eh-mee Comp?” I was a little confused at the accent, but together we figured out that she was talking about Jeremy Camp. I looked at her and said, “Yes, he sings about Jesus. Do you know much about Jesus?” She said, “Yes, I asked to receive Jesus a year ago.”

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From that point on, I began to meet with her for discipleship, Bible study, CPC meetings, and just hangout time. If there was ever a source of life here beyond the Lord, it would be Epiphanie. She is so much fun and so easy to love. Her growth in the Lord this past year has been amazing. Seeing her pursue the Lord spurs me on to love Christ more. She told the man who led me to Christ, “Mary is my spiritual mother.” Although I didn’t lead her to Christ, it’s been sweet to walk through this life together for this small amount of time. Truly, she’s taught me, encouraged me and fanned the flames of my heart for Christ more than I think I ever did for her! She’s my best friend in all of Africa.

I’ve been working on some cards for her. With each one, I tear up more and more. The first card is a goodbye card saying, “My friend, I’ll miss you. Know I love you. These letters will be a reminder of that through the years.” You all know African mail systems and just how easy it is to lose track of someone for long amounts of time, so I have written a few letters for major events that I am thinking more than likely will happen just in case we lose contact.

I wrote her a card for the day she gets engaged to her future husband, a card for the day she gets married (which I have promised to be at her wedding but just in case!), a card for the day she finds out she’ll be a mommy, and a card for the day she becomes a mommy.

Today, I wrote the card for the day she realizes that there’s a baby growing in her belly. Ugh, I’ve never fought back so many tears in my life! Imagining what she’ll look like, how happy she’ll be, some of the hopes and dreams she’ll have for her baby… And imagining myself not being there to walk through all of that with her. I wrote a prayer for her firstborn praying that he/she would be a mighty picture of God’s redemption and mercy to the world. I encouraged her in her walk reminding her that first and foremost of her family’s needs: a wife, mother and friend that loves and follows Christ.

I’m realizing with each passing day, how hard it is going to be to say goodbye to all of these faces, friendships and memories; especially Epiphanie. I am trusting the Lord with my Muslim friends knowing that He is for them. I am trusting the Lord with change, with growth and with provision of new community. It’s so hard to love deeply for a short amount of time and potentially never see people again this side of heaven.

But, alas I am reminded of the new heaven and new earth in which the glory of the nations will be displayed all for Christ! And in Heaven, in that sweet, blissful place I’ll get to go on walks and meet Epiphanie’s little boy or girl that I’ve prayed for. I’ll get to meet Senegalese people who came to know Christ through reading a Bible they received through one of our Bible distributions on campus. I’ll get to hear cool stories of how God used CPC students to reach the nations. I’ll see people who we’ve shared with and pleaded with God to save, that we never saw the fruit of this side of heaven.

And that’s the hope that those who are in Christ have. That it isn’t about behavior modification, being a good person, but rather a belief in a God who loves you, wants to walk day in and day out with you, and has extravagant plans for your future. It is the hope that says: I know you can’t do it on your own, that’s why I sent Jesus. Trust in me and believe that I can do marvelous things because I am a marvelous God. Walk with me here and now. And believe that we’ll go on plenty of walks in Heaven.

And so now, I praise God that friendships within the body of Christ are eternal. I praise God for even the labor now that I can so quickly believe is in vain, those will testify to His faithfulness in Heaven. On my walks with Jesus I imagine Him pointing across a beautiful field saying, “You remember that taxi driver you and Elaina prayed for and gave a copy of the Gospel to? That’s his son that you prayed for. Through that book, his dad trusted in me and led him to me!” Or saying something like, “You see those groups of girls? That one over there, Fatou, received my word at your Bible distribution on campus. She took it back to her dorm and all of her roommates wanted to study it too. They had a Bible study and all came to trust in me!”

I can’t promise that’s what Heaven will be like and I can’t say that’s what Jesus will say, but I imagine seeing in Heaven the Lord’s faithfulness and seeing the fruit from being here fully displayed in His kingdom.

So, I walk here. I press on to fight the good fight of faith even if it does make me teary eyed at times. I long and confidently hope for the things of heaven, and l love that I serve a God who has amazing plans for us in this life and the next.

So Not Ideal.

We’ve all had them.

If you say you haven’t, I would call you a cotton headed ninny muggin. Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t call you that, but I would highly believe you to be a liar.

The “them” I am talking about is properly referred to as hair dramas that you wish were saved for “yo mama.” 

What did you do this time, Mary??

I really wish I could say this was a sudden lapse in judgement or a temporary psychosis, but I had actually been thinking about re-dying my hair for the past few months. Mind you: deciding to dye your caucasian-textured hair in the middle of Africa may not yield the results you desire/fantasize about while in reality being constrained my day-to-day “all nat-ur-al” lions mane. 

So why the sudden urge to dye a portion of my hair bleach-blonde? Yes, feel free to gasp. Bleach blonde. I blame it solely, entirely, cent-percent on Elaina. 

There I was. Sitting in a café listening to a John Piper Podcast on women’s beauty and their adornment not being in the things of this earth (literally.. could the Lord have been warning me anymore??), and I receive a phone call. Little miss Elaina C is at the pharmacy and found hair dye. She decided she was going to dye her hair dark brown and wanted to know if I wanted join her [apparently it’s Transformation Tuesday on Instagram]. I’m working on being more spontaneous and adventurous, so I said, “Sure, let’s do bleach blonde.”

See how it’s all her fault? In all reality, I’m working on my extremes. Being adventurous can include spontaneously dying one’s hair, without jumping from one side of the spectrum to the other. Less, I divulge, I’m in progress. Sanctification doesn’t happen overnight, and apparently me learning from my past hair horrors doesn’t happen overnight either. Have I never told you about the Jennifer Aniston cut that turned out like the Cindy Brady cut? About the Pixie cut? Let’s chat sometime..

So what happened?

“MY HAIR’S BLUE. IT’S BLUE! AND I’M GETTING MARRIED IN A WEEK…. so not ideal.”-Bride Wars

Okay, so it’s not really blue. I’m being dramatic. But it is really orange.

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It’s not that bad. It’s not that… baaad. Okay, it’s just confirmation on why I should never touch my hair. I’ve now decided to pack up my bags, move far away from hair salons and hair dye (apparently Africa wasn’t far enough), and I’m going to become a Mennonite so that people can restrict me from ever touching my hair… too far? Scratch that, dramatic effect sometime gets the best of me.

Really, there is hope though! There’s always hope. Praise Him! I would like to say, Elaina and LB look beautiful. Their hair turned out great. LB’s locks make her look like the sweet and innocent, 1990s version of Britney Spears. Elaina’s hair makes her look like an arab princess. Therefore, I am encouraged that even though we have a limited selection of colors, we can fix this. And I’m all for that!

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Until next time, which hopefully will be an update on how I have ultimately learned my lesson and will never again fall into the horrid temptation to mess with what the good Lord gave me, I’ll leave you with the encouragement my roommates gave me during my crisis.

“Well, it is transformation Tuesday on Instagram.”-LB

Staring at me, Elaina says, “I’m thinking of a witch. No, not you. You’re hair is like a lion’s, mine is dark like a witch and LB’s is like a wardrobe. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!” To which I mentally reply, “CS Lewis would be so proud.”

“This is just to encourage you. It could be your whole hair looking like this.”-Elaina then proceeds to show me a YouTube video of “Orange Hair Dye Gone Wrong.”

“It could always be worse. You could have no hair. I mean, what if your eyebrows were like that.”-mix of LB and Elaina

“It could be a great conversation starter. A great sermon illustration: contentment in Christ.”-LB

“You’re so less likely to get hit by a car now. It’s like a reflector on your head.”-Elaina

#ilovemyroommates

Laura Beth + Tyler

History

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, grace-filled, southern belle named Laura Beth. She grew up in a small, fanciful town in North Carolina with a family that highly valued cultivating her relationship with Christ. Throughout college LB sought to deepen and enhance her relationship with Christ. She became involved with a college ministry at Peace College called Cru. In the summer of 2011, the Lord led her to go on a stateside mission trip, also known as summer project, to Santa Cruz, California. It was that summer that her heart began to break for people all across the world who were hungry to know and experience God’s love. Senegal specifically was laid upon her heart.

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Now meet Tyler. Tyler is a very lovable man of God. He grew up in North Carolina with parents who loved the Lord as well. After his sophomore year of college, Tyler really began pursuing a relationship with Christ and began growing in his faith. Tyler was involved in the Cru movement at North Carolina State University (go Wolfpack!). He actually led a bible study with our team leader, Ryan. He was involved with Cru’s intermural outreach that emphasized building bridges with students that were less likely to attend a Cru meeting without a personal invite. If I could briefly describe Tyler’s character it would be that he is someone who cares deeply about being intentional with everyone and loves people well.

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How They Met 

Well, let’s just be honest. This is the part that we all want to know about. Was it love at first sight? Did you say anything stupid? After you met, did you walk around with stars in your eyes for days?

This is LB’s version:

” The Friday night of Cru’s Fall Retreat, I was sitting with my small group and I heard this voice in the group beside me say “I’ll close us in prayer.” Taken away by his heart for the Lord and how cute he was, I began talking to my friend, Kaitlin, about who he was. It wasn’t until Saturday night, as I was filling up cups of ice with a staff member, that this young man came through the line, grabbed a cup and said, ‘thank you.’ With butterflies in my stomach I responded with an awkward, ‘You’re welcome.’ Little did I know that a few moments later I would lock eyes with the man that would later become my husband.

As I was finishing up my job, I noticed he was looking at me from across the room. When I was finished, I started talking to Aaron Adams about playing the game Signs. Tyler decided to join in on the conversation and smoothly looked at me and said, “Hi, I’m Tyler.” We spent the evening laughing, giggling, and playing Signs. At the end of the night I pulled a Cinderella and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow at the meeting,” when really I was leaving the retreat before then! You gotta keep the mystery, you know. 😉

After spending a whole week of his life without me, he decided that was too long! (Totally a joke!) I received a Facebook message asking for my phone number. And then he asked me out for dinner and dancing on our first date on November 18, 2011! Throughout our relationship, I still had a burden for the people of Senegal and I knew the Lord was calling me to invest a year of my life here, proclaiming his name in a nation that is over 95% Muslim. Even though I’d fallen head over heels in love with Tyler, the Lord is worth following and He is trustworthy in regards to all aspects of my life.

Over my senior year, I continued to pray for the Lord’s will in our relationship. I knew that if this was the Lord’s will for us to head in the direction of marriage, as was me coming to Senegal, this would only strengthen our relationship and provide clarity. It was not easy, as our relationship with the Lord can be, but He calls us to love and trust Him. So, in October, I fully surrendered to the Lord’s plans and let go of mine. I got on an airplane headed to Senegal, without Tyler.

Much to my surprise, Tyler actually eventually did end up in Senegal with me (even if it was only for a week and three months late). Here’s a video that highlights the most recent progression in our relationship. Please enjoy these wonderful photos that Mary took for our Save The Dates. :)”

Gives a new meaning to shine bright like a diamond :)
Gives a new meaning to shine bright like a diamond 🙂
I love this one.
I love this one.
she's such a beauty
she’s such a beauty

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Bonne Année! [Bringing in the New Year right…]

I am unashamedly sitting in our room at the Phare D’Esperance (Lighthouse of Hope) eager to inform you of the events that occurred on New Year’s Eve. Okay, so I am also dancing around the fact that I am listening to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On… There’s no judgement here, you judgers.

Can I just be honest? Of course I can. Dakar on New Year’s puts our Fourth of July celebrations to shame. No. Joke. Here’s what had happened…

Since we’re having our Pamoja conference here at the Phare, we decided to have a dance party. Two observations: 1. Who would have known our boss would be so great at Gangnam Style? 2. Senegalese music is so fast, but they dance so slow. I prefer lé Wobble.

Around 11 p.m. we walked up to the top of the lighthouse that overlooks all of Dakar to watch the fireworks. My team of seven, our boss Pascal and his family, and our students watched Dakar as it was beautifully illuminated with “le feux d’artifice” (fire works, translates to artificial fire, who knew?…).

The whole “Island Time” thing or “Senegal Time” doesn’t disappear just because it is New Years though. We celebrated the end of one year and the birth of another for about 10 minutes. No one knew what time it really was! 🙂 Fireworks began going off about 15 minutes before my clock said 12:00 a.m., and they continued until long after 1:00 a.m. If there hadn’t been as beautiful and as many fireworks, I would say it would have been anticlimactic. Thank goodness for there not being any laws against the selling and setting off of fireworks here otherwise this would be a very different blog post. 😉

I can’t even begin to describe to you what the city looked like. There’s about 2 million people in the city of Dakar. It seemed like every family had their own set of fireworks and were lighting them all at the same time. There wasn’t an area in the sky that wasn’t being grazed by a magical display of greatness. Seriously. I’m not trying to be dramatic. It’s just true! This was truly a great celebration into my last year in Senegal. Thank you Dakar!

Anyways, next time you feel like going anywhere for New Year’s, I’d suggest Dakar. It’s beautiful, especially when you’re bringing in the year right: with a glimmer of hope and the next generation of African leaders.

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Photo Credit:

Mamadou Toure Behan/AFP/Getty Images

http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/01/new-years-celebrations-around-the-world/100431/