By Meredith Rubeling
Nine years ago. That’s when I first visited Tanzania. It was my first mission trip, the first time I had traveled outside of the United States, the first time I had been away from my family. I remember the feelings of excitement and expectation I had, and the joy I experienced as I encountered so many beautiful people. I was pleasantly surprised by the African people, who had infectious smiles and joy, even in the midst of their poverty and illness.
During my time in Tanzania, the majority of my ministry was spiritual. The leader of our missionary group, Fr. Jack Lombardi, encouraged all of the missionaries to remember that even during difficult times, “it’s all part of the pilgrimage.” This little motto has remained with me. It is a beautiful reminder that the “pilgrimage” of life is filled with joys and sorrows, and all can be used for God’s glory. With this mindset, we set out and visited leper colonies, hospitals, schools, Churches, and homes for handicapped children and adults. All we had to give were our smiles, prayers, songs and presence…There was this unexplainable peace that I felt as I helped the people we encountered, as I gave of myself. I had no particular skill set, but my smile and joy was enough and God used the gifts He had given me for His glory…I went to give to others, but ended up receiving so much.
As I had mentioned before, the majority of our ministry was spiritual…but there was one instance where I distinctly remember feeling as if I desperately needed to help minister to people in a physical and medical way. At one of the houses where we were volunteering, there was a handicapped woman who was receiving a dressing change from several other medical missionaries. While I was watching them bandage her wounded leg, I had this overwhelming desire to help more tangibly. I wanted something I could see, to make more changes, in addition to the effects that God was having on them through our spiritual ministry. That was one of the pinnacle moments where I felt called to nursing. I remember internally promising God that one day I would return to Africa to help people as a nurse, to come back armed with knowledge and skills that could help them in a completely different way.
Fast forward to the summer eight years later: I was finished with my Bachelor’s degree in nursing, had worked in a hospital for three years, and was finally settling in to a life free from the demands school. During my time in school, I always kept thinking back to the promise I had made to God. The desire to return to Africa hadn’t left me, and with the end of school, I saw a new freedom to finally pursue the mission trip that I had prayed about for so long. That summer, my mom had mentioned a group of nuns who had lay missionary opportunities all over the world. After thinking about contacting them for several weeks, I finally broke down and called Mother Revelacíon, the sister in charge of lay missions for the order of sisters, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará. After explaining to Mother that I was especially interested in a medical mission trip, she told me that their order had two medical missions, one of which just happened to be in Tanzania. When she told me that, I was filled with an unbelievable excitement – God would not only allow me to return to Africa, but to the exact same country where He first put the desire on my heart to become a nurse! It was a sign; I couldn’t be more convinced.
I remember having a difficult time conveying my excitement and enthusiasm to Mother – I was going back to the place where I had left part of my heart. God’s will became even more evident later that week; I was at a work party, and had quite an extensive talk with my boss about mission work. That night my boss mentioned that one of her best friends growing up had done extensive mission work. When I mentioned the idea of taking off work for an extensive period of time, she was completely supportive, and was agreeable for me to leave for up to three months. I felt like this was another answer to prayer, and a sign that God was paving the way for me to be able to return to Africa.
Now I am settled into the small village of Ushetu where I'm here to work in the sisters' medical clinic. I've delivered babies and provided medical care and have endured several rounds of impending and intense fear.
Several weeks ago I remember having a beautiful consolation after hearing the words of St. Joan of Arc, “I am not afraid, I was born to do this.” That phrase gave me strength in the moments when I was petrified, when I considered the danger of traveling alone through different countries to a remote village in the middle of Africa. I have had many, many people tell me that they are terrified for me, one friend even said that he would never let his daughter travel alone, for fear that she would be taken captive or killed. That was not a consoling thought, to say the least, yet God in His mercy gives strength to continue to do His will. I have prayed for so many years about this trip, and the desire has not left me. And quite honestly, I feel that my heart will not rest until I have gone and fulfilled this promise I made to God. I have realized that more than anything, I just want to do His will. I fail daily at following Him, but I keep trying. He is the best leader, and has such mercy on me to keep sending me bright beacons of truth and clarity.
Although at times I’m afraid, I know that He has such a wonderful plan in all of this. He’s so good to me.