I’ve once again moved and taken up residence in a new home and a new town. A new Wolof host family – the Mangane family – has taken me in. This is important as I continue to learn language and culture. My new town is about an hour and a half’s commute from the capital, where I will need to report regularly for my work on SIL’s Basic Wolof team. I think it’s a good fit to live close enough to the capital to be there when needed, but outside the capital where there is more space, less stress, and more pronounced Wolof culture. Though I know better than to make concrete plans, I’m hoping that this living situation could become a long-term solution. I pray that God has led me here and that I can finally, sort of (despite the back-and-forth-ing to the capital) settle down.
The Mangane family is large in number and in heart. I’m getting to know them, and hopefully they’re getting to know me. It will be a process. Their house is comfortable, and my room in their home feels restful. My window looks out on some wonderful trees (anything green is a source of joy!), including a glorious neem tree that’s in bloom this time of year. Its branches reach towards my window, delicately tossing at me the delicious scent of its tiny white flowers, reminding me that beauty exists in this country (though sometimes in different and less pronounced forms than what I’m used to). The smell of the neem flower is the sort of gift that often moves me to tears here – rare and small yet tangible and so very precious.
On my first day as a member of the Mangane household, I discovered a great irony in the meaning behind their family name and in my living among them. Mangane comes from the Wolof word màngaan, which means “nomadic herding to find pastures for the herd.” My time in West Africa since arriving last February has certainly felt nomadic! Who knows, maybe now that I’m living with a family named “nomadic,” I will stop moving around so much!
As I consider this new Wolof word, looking back at the moves I’ve made since arriving in this country and breathing in the smell of the neem flower outside my new room, I find myself considering green pastures. The nomadic herder moves himself and his herd in order to find them greener pastures. I admit that the moving around that I’ve done here has been tiring. In each case, though, I was brought to something that I needed, a “greener pasture” in my learning and adjustment and search for my place here. My room with the neem tree outside is the “greener pasture” to which I’ve most recently come.
But the fatigue has been palpable at times. I remember one night in particular at the Ndiaye home, where I so enjoyed living, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to stay and would have to keep looking for a long-term place to live. Dreading the thought as I lay there before drifting off to sleep, I sighed one of those deep-soul sighs to God, praying, “Lord, I know you’re preparing a place for me and that the place you promise me is in heaven, not here on earth. And I know you’re coming back for me, to take me to that place… but in the meantime, would a little corner here below be too much to ask for?”
“Just a place to lay my head, where I feel at home and can be myself,” I’ve sometimes thought. And yet, that thought always leads me to the well-known words of the Master, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” A couple months ago, I heard a devotional given on these words of Jesus by one of my Serer-Sine brothers. He challenged his fellow pastors to remember whom they follow. He said that we sometimes want security and financial guarantees before committing to ministry, and yet why should we expect these things when the Master whose path we follow did not have them? I was challenged by his words, especially considering their context here, where the role of pastor rarely brings with it a salary.
Jesus never promised His disciples that we’d feel at home here on earth, that we’d always have a physical place to call our own and lay our head. He never even promised that it would be financially easy, as my pastor friend reminded me. Any of these tangible or intangible discomforts that we experience as His disciples simply disappear when we consider His incomparable sacrifice on our behalf. And He calls us to follow.
His promise to me is that He will be my Shepherd. “I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” As I journey towards my yet unseen home, my Shepherd finds green pastures for me to lie down in, even where it feels like I have no place to lay my head. I may not always understand why He calls me out of one place to be led to another, but He knows me and the pasturelands better than I do. And He promises to restore my soul.
Since my arrival in this country last year, the Shepherd has led me, and I have not been in want. Instead of feeling the culminating fatigue of the moves I’ve made, I can look back at each “green pasture” to which He led me and the ways He restored my soul. And I know He has more green pastures in store, just as I know that my soul will continue to need restoration from the fatigue. May He give me the grace to continue following His voice and going where He leads.
As my new favorite singer Audrey Assad puts it so well in “Lead Me On”:
Your rod and Your staff are a strange mercy
In a world where I’m not yet home.