Those of you who know me personally have probably heard the news – that I’m headed back to the Sahara for at least two more of these 9-month school-years. If you haven’t heard, then surprise! The desert must have trapped me somehow, but at least it lets me come home to visit for the unbearably hot summers :)
Usually the first question I get is, “why?” Which makes sense. It’s definitely a different standard of living than my middle-class American upbringing. Though Smara has some infrastructure and is fairly well-equipped as a refugee camp, it’s still a refugee camp. Nobody actually wants to be there. We’re only there because the Saharawi people are there, and if they had a choice, I’m sure they would return to their homeland in a heartbeat. I’d definitely go with them rather than stay in the barren middle of the Sahara Desert.
So, maybe it’s the people, or the culture? Though, are those even strong enough loves to keep a person away from their own homeland and family? Maybe, but the fact of life is that people come and go and sometimes you have to say goodbye. And even though in all cultures there are beautiful qualities you learn from, there are clashes and difficult adjustments you have to make. As with knowing a person deeply, you see their flaws, and it takes work to develop a love that is stronger than those flaws.
There are various reasons I might move on to a new adventure, but also many for why I might choose to go back. Honsetly though, my nature is comfort-seeking, selfish and ambicious… and if left to my own devices I’d probably be chasing after grad school or a high-paying (or paying-at-all) job rather than dedicate several more years to volunteer work far away from the life I know. I am certain I would not be doing this on my own.
It is only through the grace of God, and him revealing his love and dedication to the Saharawi, than I can say I’m extending my time there. The Bible, Old and New Testament alike, is filled with references to God’s heart for fighting oppression and living in freedom, not only in the physical world, but spiritually as well. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and shows us that it’s not just our immediate neighbors but everyone we live with on this earth.
I feel God calling me to embrace the risk and difficulty of living immersed in difference so that I can see how he has hand-crafted every culture to glorify him. I hope, through continuing in this experience, to see what it actually looks like to love the world as he does. Each moment I spend listening to the Saharawi hearts and to God’s heart for them I learn more about how much he loves them – as much as he loves me, actually – and how he longs to see justice and freedom in their lives. So how can I sit back, when I know that he has put all these experiences in my life because he wants me to be a part of his love for them? When he confirms, with open door after open door, that this is where he wants me to be?
After these next two years, I don’t know what he has planned for me. Maybe he’ll keep calling me back there, maybe he’ll finally let me go to grad school or get a paying job :) But I do know where he wants me now and the commitment to the Saharawi people he has put in my heart. And I know that these years spent with the Saharawi will shape my life in ways I will never forget.
I would love if you would consider partnering with me in some way as I embark on the next two years! Prayer is number one – reach out to me if you would like some specific prayer requests regularly emailed to you. But generally, pray for wisdom and guidance from God, and that we live in accordance to his Spirit and love. Pray that the Saharawi can move closer to the justice and freedom we are fighting for, and that this can be achieved with peace.
If you feel like God is moving you to help me finance my next two years volunteering, I would be extremely honored to count you as one of my partners! There are a couple of ways you can do that online. One is on my GoFundMe page:
And if you want your contribution to be tax-deductable, you can give to my fund through our organization, Not Forgotten International. You can choose to donate once through a Guest page, or contribute regularly through a Sustainer Giving account. After entering the amount, click on “General Fund” and scroll down to “Field Worker: Jost, Heather.”
Any contribution is SUPER appreciated, and I definitely can’t do any of this without the support of others. If you feel led to, please consider a monthly contribution to help sustain throughout the years, but of course I’d be incredibly greatful for anything!