Guest Post on Ann Voscamp's Blog: Traveling a Winding Road from our Suburbs to our Sahara

guest post by Jeannie Marie

I sat cross-legged on the floor of a Bedouin-style tent, eating couscous and camel with my hands from a common platter alongside North African Arabs.

With the Saharan heat drifting in, my short-term team and I laughed with our Bedouin hosts and talked of this Jesus we followed, who taught that when someone sues you for your shirt, you should say, “Here. Take my coat too.”

Later, when one of the men on our team failed to find a suitable African burnoose, a traditional hooded cloak, to take home, one of our new Bedouin friends said, “Here. I have two. You can have one of them.”

He grinned and winked, saying, “That’s the kind of thing you told me your Jesus would do.”

In stifling heat and desert sand only a few hours from an al-Qaeda training camp, I was wrapped three times in a mulafa, a long cotton sheet worn by the Muslim women in that area. And I felt freer than I had ever felt in America.

Could I possibly live in some strategic place overseas like this, God? I prayed.

What do I have to do to make that happen? I figured I would just buy a plane ticket and go!

But would I be able to actually live overseas longer than a few weeks? I frowned.

Back home in America, just a week after returning from that cross-cultural vision trip, I gazed out at our perfectly manicured lawn, watching our youngest child play.

A cloudless blue sky and dreamy sun shone down on our four-bedroom home in a master-planned community. Our Phoenix suburb was touted as one of the safest places in America. The smell of summer grilling wafted through the neighborhood, and I could hear the compelling jingle of the ice cream truck making its afternoon rounds.

The Sahara seemed far away and completely unreal.

I pictured my husband, hunched in a swivel chair and crammed into a cubicle at that very moment, fingers poised on the keyboard, staring at a thousand unread emails. I felt the four walls of his cloth-covered cubicle closing in on my soul like a coffin.

What are we doing, Lord? Working to live and living to work, just to have a nice, comfortable life? Surely you have more in mind for our lives as followers of you?

Then I remembered sitting one Sunday in the comfortable, theater-style seats of a church, watching yet another clip of a natural disaster killing thousands overseas, accompanied by pleas for prayers and funds.

It had happened in Pakistan, a country where few Christ followers live and where Westerners can’t easily enter. Muslims in countries like Pakistan live their whole lives without ever experiencing a God who could draw near to them and offer them life here and forever.

The pastor had preached about Peter, the disciple who asked Jesus if he could walk on water and then did it. Jesus had told Peter to follow Him, and Peter dropped his fishing nets and did it. How could I sit there in that comfortable place and do nothing?

I quelled the welling up in my heart as I sat on my back patio.

Could an ordinary couple with children living in suburban America really do anything of significance globally long-term?

My cell phone rang. “You’re late picking me up from my friend’s house!” my daughter said, her voice clearing the global angst from my thoughts.

The immediacy of everyday life crowded my global daydreaming to a faraway space. The welling up of holy dissatisfaction receded as my vision filled with bills, a house payment, the busy activities of four children, and a husband who just laughed when I suggested insane things like moving overseas.

My perception of reality created a rather impassable chasm between my suburbs and my Sahara.

I never could have imagined that, four years later, my husband and I would quit our jobs and sell our house and everything we owned.

Soon after, we would find ourselves living in a bright-green house on the edge of the jungles of India, on the outskirts of a city of a million people.

Our family would land in the middle of a sea of nine million Muslims—the population of the entire state of New Jersey—who had never been introduced to Jesus Christ as the way to God.

You might experience this same restlessness within your own heart as you open yourself up to the world beyond your doorstep.

Often, an experience, a message, a book, the world news, or an interaction with a person from another country fosters a willingness to consider radical engagement with the world in a way you might never have considered before.

This angst often includes a recurring global wondering in the back of your mind, perhaps even unearthing a buried desire to be involved across cultures in a meaningful, spiritual way.

These thoughts prick the soul of what we’ll call an apostolic person. God shapes an apostolic person to pave new paths to cross cultures with the good news of the kingdom of God.

It starts with us—ordinary, regular us—taking one step, then two, and then a hundred small steps in an intentional direction.

We’re meant to discover if we are the kind of genuine, humble Jesus followers whom God might choose to send to be a blessing to the nations. It’s about revisiting the way we think and act to find out if our souls, minds, and actions align with the character—and willingness—of someone who can thrive living in other cultures.

It starts with us—ordinary, regular us—taking one step, then two, and then a hundred small steps in an intentional direction.

We don’t let this spark get swallowed up in diaper-changes, daily drives back and forth to school, or preparing for that presentation at work.

We invite our daughter’s friend at school from India over to play, and then invite their family for dinner.

We connect with the refugee resettlement agency across town to meet a family from Sudan at the airport with signs and smiles.

We fold internationals students from Saudi into our Thanksgiving dinner celebrations.

We take a trip, take classes, and read books about global things.

We pray and stay open.

We pray and stay open.

Someday, we may find ourselves eating chicken liver on a stick, talking to a rickshaw driver, sweat trickling down our back with a child on our hip, talking about this Jesus we know.

It won’t happen overnight.

But it happened to me. And it could happen to you.


Adapted excerpt from Chapter Ten of Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond.

by Jeannie Marie

Get inspired to change the world right where you live…and it may lead you around the world! A deep read with lots of tools, try-it sections, and crafted prayers, Jeannie Marie will gently guide us by the hand to grow spiritually deep friendships with people from other countries, wherever we happen to be.