Following a Heartbeat

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We’d just got engaged, inside a tree in Kew Gardens. And then, soon afterwards, He said Africa. And I could barely believe it, it had been a desire of my heart for so long. It was so outlandish, so extravagant I didn’t dare say it out loud and so I pondered it in my heart, waiting for more confirmation before I shared it with Nick. One night as we worshipped I fell to my knees and wept. I wept for Africa and I could not contain myself. For fatherlessness, for hunger, for prostitution, for little girls. Finally when I got up, Nick was standing there and I knew I had to explain. It’s Africa.

After a flurry of activity to the finishing line of the wedding day, we said I do – him calm, me trembling – and settled into a little flat of our own in a corner of London. And we cooked together and prayed and thought about our future and after six months, I said to Nick what’s next? And he said, it’s Africa.
We had one friend living there, in Manenberg, a turbulent area of the Cape Flats, South Africa. He was almost the only friend we had in the entire continent, and we loved everything he was doing, so we imagined – after coffee with him – that we were headed there. And then we heard about a school for missionaries in Northern Mozamqbiue, and we thought, we want to be missionaries, let’s go. And we got on a train through Europe, blazed a trail through the desert of the Middle East and spent long, bumpy hours on a bus down through Africa. We got out at Pemba, and He told us to stay a while, and that ended up being four years. It was a long, beautiful, hard stay. And every day I think of it.
We had two babies in the meantime. And I felt God lead me to give birth not in my British homeland with family and friends, and not in my Mozambican homeland in the dirt. But in Cape Town. We went. To that city of mountain peaks and dark blue ocean, of heartbreaking violence and relentless hope. And in the quiet moments between nursing and cuddles and night wakings, we wondered if God might yet call us to this city, just as we’d imagined after coffee with our friend all those years before. But this time it was gentle and clear. It was a no, and it was time to pack our bags to go back to Pemba.
A few months ago we were broken and tired and sick. We asked our friends, who knew our journey intimately, to pray for us. We asked people we love, but who didn’t know our journey, to prophesy. And then came a little message from a sweet South African mama warrior, raising her toddlers in the UK. It said this: leave Pemba, work in Manenberg. How could she know we had pondered this so often? How could she know we were sensing our time in Pemba was closing?

Little nudges from the Holy Spirit reared their head throughout our days. We had coffee and the man next to us was a vicar, whose first church, he told us, was in Manenberg. We drove to the airport, going back to Pemba one last time and the song playing on the radio was ‘Manenberg’. The word flashed back and and forth on the radio screen. We dreamt of buying a house, and that same week were offered the money. We drove two hours to stay at another ministry to find we were to share a house with another missionary moving to Manenberg. It is beginning to feel like momentum.

Which I needed. It was only a year ago, as I cradled my newborn Willow, that I spoke out loud my fears – that I didn’t want to go near Manenberg. My tiger-mother heart would not negotiate. Now I will. And that is because my children are not mine, and there are a thousand other reasons. All revolving around Jesus and His worthiness, and the lost and the severity of what that means, and the burning love I have for my kids and the weight of this holy call of motherhood. It’s all wrapped up in there. I am going to Manenberg. I will apply all the wisdom of Jesus to make sure my babes are safe. And beautifully holy. Both.
So we start to base our entire lives on what we know, even though much is unknown. What we know is the Manenberg song is on the radio and a friend sent a prophesy. What we know is we are getting all these little nudges. What we know is our desires and our theology and the dying world all collide as we contemplate moving into this community. So it all leads us to this point, even if it’s scary and new and I have all these doubts. (Bashing this out on a computer is a tiny step of faith.) Even though much is unknown. We step out on what we know. And it didn’t surprise us much when we told our friend – the one we’d thought of joining in Manenberg five years ago – and his beautiful bride that we planned to come, that he told us he had written our names down in connection to Manenberg five years ago. Because he had a sense back then. And so did we.
I want to know everything. Everything right now. I have a thousand questions and I throw them relentlessly at my patient Father every single day. Where will we live? What house? And the ministry. I need to know exactly who, exactly what. In which building? Partnering with who? The visa. Every day there are people getting visas quick and easy, and others being thrown out the country. Which visa should we get? Oh God, what are we doing? We need a blueprint! A blueprint! Did you hear me?

And this is what He says about the unknown parts. That I am to I curl up to His heart and listen to it beat. And I echo David’s words:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Beat, beat, beat goes His heart. On planes, with packed bags, moving into a culture I know nothing about, learning a language all over again. Beat, beat, beat. Like a child with its mother. Wishing I had plans, being content with presence. Beat, beat, beat. To stare in the face of mountains and gunshots and women with pain beyond measure, whispering in my heart, do I really have the faith? Will it be too hard like Pemba? Can I raise my children there? Beat, beat, beat goes His heart. I love you, I know you, I am with you. I am desperate, desperate for souls and I have no idea how to win them. No idea how to win the heart of this beautiful community so torn and ill-treated. Beat, beat, beat goes His heart. And here, I start to believe.
Curled up, a little baby in his arms, I may not know. But the miracle is that the intimacy of this place is enough to make me believe. Which is all I ever needed anyway.

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  • Nigel Branken
    February 7, 2015

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Nigel Branken
    February 7, 2015

    So wonderfully written! It brought many memories of our own journey to Hillbrow and all the questions, and fears and then the decision to go in obedience to our convictions and the voice of the Father. We have since found that grace is on the other side of our faith inspired actions and pray that our loving Father would fill you all with much of His empowering grace! Lots of Love Nigel and Trish

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