It Feels Like Redemption

We sat in lawn chairs that sat in lush grass. Kids around us, running with cupped hands, catching summer fireflies. Friends, Amber and Seth, drawn together by the uncommon, only to us, common.

Seth leaned in and asked this question as if the night hinged on it, “What was it about Africa that was so redeeming for you?”

I almost laughed it away when I heard the word Africa because I’ve written and talked about it so much. What else could I say? But I didn’t laugh. I stopped and I let the question surround me, sink in. Because in his question, I found my answer.

I’ve struggled with this trip-turned-obsession. I was only in Kenya for 9 days, NINE short days! What is wrong with me, why can’t I get out of Africa?

I was redeemed as a child. I have lived my life serving God. I’ve made mistakes along the way, failing miserably, but God has always been in my life, a push and pull relationship. But before Africa, Jesus wasn’t enough. I sought after the American Dream and treated my Savior like a side dish. Somewhere along the way in my Christian walk, I’d forgotten the most important thing: Christ.

On that humid night in Arkansas, with fireflies lighting the night, I answered his question: It was the time, the place, the emptiness of my life coinciding with the hope that I saw. Africa renewed my purpose in Him. It’s the legacy I want to pass on to my kids: to love others more than I love myself.

Sarah Markley bravely asks the question, “Do I have to go to Africa” to be wrecked by God?”


I believe it comes when you least expect it, but are ready for it: next to a hospital bed, at a birth or death, alone with God or surrounded by friends. God uses the ordinary and often the extraordinary to grab our attention and refocus it on Him.

Compassion Bloggers visit Kenya

But for me, it was Africa.

And it feels like redemption.

What about you?


  1. 1


    This sermon in one minute sums up how misled we are in the US and many other places. It’s not about where you live or what you have, it’s whose in your heart. You are doing amazing things, Kristen, by being so outspoken. Keep on doing what you’re doing!

  2. 3

    Corrie says

    Actually, your blogs help a lot, God is still working on my heart. It’s been pretty tough so far but these posts help me to keep focus. Thank you so much!

  3. 4


    for me, it was sitting in an icu room in january 2007 watching my husband fight for his life. as he spent seven days on life support, i spent seven days on soul support. his body nourished by tubes and liquids pushing into his veins; mine by words and living water breathed into my soul. there is something about GOD showing you that HE is SUFFICIENT, no matter what you lose, no matter what you keep, that changes you. i hid from the loving church members who just wanted to hug me. i let others answer the phone and give the latest details. i hugged my daughter and tucked her into bed with whispered prayers through the tears we both let loose. but i crawled with the my meager faith into HIM … i cried, “i believe, help my unbelief.” and HE answered, “my grace is enough.”

    it has been said that it is our suffering that draws us closest to CHRIST. and i believe that is true. for it is only when we reach the end of self that we see what a short bit of rope it was we were clinging to.

    you’re right, it’s not about going to africa. or sitting in a hospital room. it’s about being desperate for what HE has.

    {sorry for the longevity}

  4. 5

    Cedarhillmom says

    I stayed in Africa for 9 weeks and loved it. I talk about it to the kids cause I did a lot of travel before I got married. Before I started having kids. It was terrific. I met with Chiefs of Tribes, school kids, toured slave castles, saw Kenti cloth being made with real strings of gold, had an outfit made by a seamstress with the same gold, traded rmevery piece of American anything traded, I was spoken to in 16 different languages, met folks from Nelson Mandelas tribe, learned about the clicks that you make with your tongue when you talk in Mandelas native language, saw a Coo happen, sung the national anthem of South Africa in the government office and talked with a tour guide that was working 3 jobs in order to afford a dowry to marry his girlfriend of five years…he had 18 months to go for a total of three years with three jobs and so on…I talk about it all the time. I show the pictures. One lady I went on the trip with have become life long friends. I went Ghana and South Africa shortly after Apartheid was abolished. It was life changing. You will find the words hard to find. It is something that you experience. Nobody understands. Not even my hubby (whom did not go). It was great. So I understand.

  5. 7


    When things are going smoothly and day by day passes without a crisis, it’s easy to serve up Christ as a side dish because it’s our human nature to think we are in control We are fine when things are good. We don’t need Christ…

    It’s the farthest thing from the truth.

    We do need Him.

    That’s why our brokenness brings us to His feet.

    You never know what event is going to push you to that place, but once you are there, you see the truth in the light and it’s amazing.

  6. 8


    no, i don’t think we have to go to africa to be wrecked by Him, but i was, too.

    in uganda. sitting on a concrete floor. red dirt on the bottom of my feet. watching little ones play with a ball of trash with more joy than i’d ever seen. breast feeding a 3 week old little boy that had been abandoned at the gate of the orphanage.


    and i always want to stay that way.

  7. 9


    It was the 3.5 months I spent on my back in a bed, fighting for my son’s life. That’s when I realized that, whether my son lived or died, Jesus was more than enough for me. Despite 20 years of following Him with what I thought was all of my heart, I realized that He wanted more. So I gave it to Him, and He’s showing me what he wants to do with this empty vessel, this mound of clay.

    And you’re right: It feels just like redemption.

    Praise God, my Rock and Redeemer!!

  8. 10


    Through your words I am reminded that God needs to break us in order to truly use us. We should count it a blessing when trials come along, trials are how we grow closer to God and learn more about Him. I have had my share, and I no longer look back on them as these horrible things that happened but as wonderful gifts if I only can learn how to use them to serve Him better.
    I enjoy hearing your posts about Africa! Thank you for being so open about how God is working in your life!

  9. 11


    I just love your blog. I love your honesty and your openness. This post, ah-mazing. For me, it wasn’t just one event. It was constant searching for something to give us peace and contentment. A bigger house for our growing family. The perfect curriculum. The balance in life between loving and serving God, but making others around me happy (uh, fail). And then finding people like you, who said it’s okay to not love the stuff, and throwing it away (gasp!). Francis Chan in Crazy Love calling us to not be lukewarm anymore. God using each of you, and many other things along to way, to change our focus. Wow. Thank you.

  10. 12


    I have spent 7 out of the last 10 summers in Africa, mostly in Kenya. I have discovered that this is where God brings me to deal with me, to discipline, open my eyes, heal and restore. This is where He refreshed my perspective and deepens my faith. This is where He stretches me and grows me. It is often painful and humbling, but this is where I am stripped enough to allow Him to move. It does not have to be Africa, but we do have to be bare and moldable. This is where I am most vulnerable because I am so out of my comfort zone. All worldly things that I would normally turn to while at home are removed here. I do not know the culture, I do not know the language. The only One I know is God and His faithfulness. My life was completely wrecked on my first trip to Africa, and it has been a part of my being ever since. There are some things that you just can’t move past. Praise God for what He is doing in your heart. I pray that you never go back to “normal.” Yours is now a new normal, which is anything but.

  11. 13


    I don’t think I even have to answer this. I think this is probably the main thing that drew me to your blog in the first place. To share the experience, that passion, of serving our Lord in Africa creates an instant bond to me. Not everyone understands (you know this) and that can get hard, even lonely.

    I so closely relate to every word in this post. The phrase you used “trip-turned-obsession” is perfect. I guess that’s obvious, as we just picked up and moved here. (I still can’t really believe we LIVE here.)

    Have you seen the Mocha Club video “I need Africa more than Africa needs me”? That’s it for me. Alone, I have nothing to contribute to these people, but God has used this place to change the way I see the world, the way I see HIM, and to bring me so much closer to Him- redemption. And during that time, by His grace working through me, I pray that He has used me as a vessel to encourage them, to help them know Him better.

  12. 14


    I absolutely relate to your phrase “Jesus felt like a side dish”… for me, it was until I went to Calcutta, India. Then it was re-affirmed after my visit to Africa. – This was so well written and completely captured how I feel as well.

  13. 16


    Kristen, thank you.

    It was your words/heart about Africa that drew me to you! My heart burst reading….

    I understand completely “losing friends b/c you talk about it so much.”

    Not many want to hear how my life was changed since last Oct.

    Thank you


  14. 17


    For me it was losing my brother suddenly two years ago. It’s like my whole life/Christian walk was building up to that moment when I realized “THIS is what it’s all about.” Though I still haven’t figured out what to do with it all yet, it pretty much consumes me.

  15. 18


    Our oldest daughter Heather, my husband Ray, and especially I want to go to Africa SO bad. Reading your post just made me long for it that much more. Africa is so much on my heart and I know when I go there, God has something for me there – some kind of impartation, just as He did when I went to Israel several years ago. Thank you for posting this. You write so beautifully.

  16. 19


    God wrecked me when my husband was out of work for a year and a half with no unemployment checks and I was a stay at home mom…. He’s a pastor and we lost our church family, our very nice home, moved in with family, and I started cleaning houses so we could buy food. We are still in these circumstances but last night we got the call inviting us to candidate at a church finally. Praising God for the storm He took us through to break us down, humble us, show us what is important and what is not, change us, grow our children spiritually, tear materialism from us, rebuke us, discipline us, make us desperate for Him alone, and ask us if our faith was real. Praise God for the pain! We are changed people!


  17. 20

    Karrie says

    Kristen, I have been following your blog for quite some time now and never have commented. Your honesty is so encouraging! I don’t know how you do it, but you always manage to say what I need to hear when I need to hear it. I love how you so completely open yourself up to be a vessel for Christ, and as a former Sunday school teacher I love even more how you involve your family in your walk with Christ. Keep up the fantastic work! :)

  18. 21

    Seth says

    I remember when I asked that question, I wanted for all the world to hear the long story. I remember a soccer ball flew precariously between you and T-dub and was reactively batted away from my nose. I remember trying to lean in, to get to the marrow of that question before minor melt-downs by my three young’uns–a semi-sanctification moment. I remember when y’all left I had an answer but I wanted the whole answer–the answer that comes best in a quiet place where I could think.

    You’ve done beautifully here. I’m glad you came back to this. I’m glad you’ve written this. I needed it today.

  19. 22


    Kristen, I rarely comment here, but I have been reading about your wreck and redemption with great interest. It is an amazingly literal example of what Jesus said about how those who have everything truly have nothing, and I am so inspired to hear about the spiritual riches you are finding as you cast aside some of your material riches.

    I had a major turning point when I was 20 and God showed me the path at the end of the road. I felt myself wrecking and scrabbled for God and wondered if He’d forgotten me, but when the moment of the actual wreck came, His call was so clear I actually heard it! My ambition was smashed down so that I could turn toward a less self-aggrandizing, more helpful career. I wrote the story in a way that minimizes the explicit talk of God to avoid alienating my many non-Christian readers, but God is in there and I’m sure you can see His hand in there even where I don’t point it out. If you have a chance to read my LONG story, drop me an e-mail; I’d love to hear what you think!

  20. 23


    We might not all have to go to Africa. But it does seem as if the common thread among those who are sold out to Jesus is a story of wreckage. Why is that, I wonder? Why do we have to be wrecked in order to love him fully and give our all? Why can’t we, the abundantly blessed, just lay it down willingly?

    I wonder these things.

    • 23.1


      I wonder the same things. But I’m so thankful that God is willing to wreck our lives and get our attention. Can we blame it on our sinful humanity? Makes me appreciate David even more.

  21. 25


    For me, it’s been a series of things: Realizing that if the man I loved never loved me back, Jesus would be enough. Having my heart broken for the women who work at the strip club down the road from our church, and reaching out to them with other Christ-following women, because those dancers have no idea how much God loves them. Learning about human trafficking, and being wrecked by the daily reality that so many children and women face. Traveling to Kolkata, India to bring home our daughter, and now waiting for another daughter from Kolkata.

    I do get frustrated with myself, though, when I slip back into being “comfortable.” I want to pour my life out for Christ, but sometimes I don’t know the proper place for a nice meal out, or enjoying a TV show. When I know so many are so desparate, how or how much do I choose to enjoy things that are “frivolous”? I think the answer might lie in the miracle at Cana — kind of a frivolous use of Jesus’ mighty power, but it’s in there for a reason. Any insights for this tension?

    • 25.1


      Nancy, I struggle too with allowing myself to enjoy things others don’t have. I hate to “waste” anything, so I try to resist having/using things I don’t “need”, but sometimes I realize that the way I’m defining those words is not right, is not the way God would define them. It’s possible to make an idol out of self-sacrifice. I think it’s particularly tempting for moms. When I tell myself, “I want that, but I won’t get it. I’m a good mother! I don’t indulge myself!” often I’m actually feeling self-righteous and prideful. Nothing good about that. And sometimes the things I “want” that sound frivolous are actually needs–like, I want a cup of coffee now, and if I don’t have it I’ll wind up with a migraine and scream at my kid all evening and be unable to do the laundry–so that’s even worse!

      Anyway, I think you are on to something with studying the miracle at Cana and other situations in which Jesus seems frivolous with what he enjoys himself or allows to others. I think he was trying to show the abundance of God’s provisions for us and how faithless it is to fear scarcity. It’s confusing because we should help others and share what we have and not waste God’s gifts…but we also should appreciate those gifts and take care of ourselves. Maybe sometimes it is okay to be comfortable. Maybe allowing ourselves comfort does not automatically cause others discomfort, if we have faith that God will fulfill each person’s needs and we are alert for the times when we’re being called to help.

  22. 26


    For me, it was being diagnosed with a brain tumor and hydrocephalus 2 1/2 years ago and living 6 months not knowing what would happen or if that would be the end of me. Before that experience Jesus wasn’t enough for me either. Now I know I rest completely in the palm of His hand and He is SO in control. There is an amazing amount of comfort in that knowledge.

    I love what you are doing here and are asking these hard questions!

  23. 27

    Melissa says

    I have recently found your blog and LOVE it. Thanks for your soul searching posts. I didn’t go to Africa (yet!!), but I did go to Jamaica – 3 times now, and ready for 4 with my oldest child – just now old enough to go. I, too, want to leave a legacy for my children to help others, those less fortunate, being Jesus with skin on. I was so wiped out by life the first time I went to Jamaica, I honestly thought I was going there to help others. Instead, MY life was changed by Jesus even more than I thought possible by the people there. Their hope, faith, joy. I physically ache to return. I love how God moves in our lives – and how he gets us to be ready to receive what He has to offer.

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