My two years in Namibia were, in a word, lonely.
I didn’t know when I took the position in Swakopmund that everyone had forgotten that the position was even still in the books. It had been created years earlier for another girl who had been to Swakopmund and felt led to go back and begin youth ministry there. Her plans had fallen through shortly after they had begun, but the position remained. When I went to candidate conference, I read the description, created for someone else, and knew it was the one for me. I’m told that the news that I would be coming was a surprise to the personnel on the field, who didn’t even remember that there had ever been a request for a missionary for Swakopmund.
As such, I was coming onto a “team” that didn’t actually exist. There were two families in Windhoek, another up in Rundu, and… well, that was it. Swakop wasn’t close to either of those destinations, so my first day on the African continent was spent traveling to the seaside town where I would essentially be by myself.
Life was busy, and things were “hectic” (as was the term du jour back then among the teens in the town) as I settled into life in my seaside town. My South African pastor and his amazing wife became like family to me, as did so many members of the sweet church I joined, and as the days turned into weeks and months and seasons, Swakop became home.
And it became lonely.
I had come straight from college in a big, exciting city, with a roommate, sorority sisters, and a BSM full of people always looking to go out, have fun, share a meal, and just do life together. Now, I was in a sleepy holiday town where young families were the norm as far as locals went, teenagers were my job, and I was something of a fantastical oddity with the way I talked. (Didn’t even know I had an accent until then, y’all.) Because I was in a holiday destination, there was a group of missionaries from a more remote location in southern Africa who came seaside for a break during my first year, and I spent a handful of days with them… well, with the single, young missionary in their group, at least. During his last day in Swakop, as we sat on the beach together and watched the sunset, something I had occasion to do every day on my own in my amazing home, he leaned over and whispered, “This place is great… but you’ve got to be lonely out here.” (Kudos to me for refraining from throwing myself into his arms and begging him to take me back to his village, where I would have had to kill my food with my bare hands and survive without electricity. I was lonely, and he was cute… but y’all. That song “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” comes to mind. Seriously.)
I remember praying often for a friend who was in the same place and in the same stage of life as me, who loved God and who was seeking Him whole-heartedly, and who could relate to being alone in this place. For months and months, God didn’t answer. After a while, I figured His silence in this to be a lesson in the sufficiency of Christ alone and determined that I would most definitely be stronger later because of the loneliness.
And likely, I was. Which is why I wasn’t throwing a pity party for myself but was actually looking to minister to others when I got to church one Sunday that January and saw that for once, I wasn’t the only person in the twentysomething age range there. She smiled over at me as soon as I saw her, and for a moment, I thought maybe we already knew each other, that I had met her at some other point in my two years there, likely when she might have been coming through town on holiday like so many others. I was quick to go over and introduce myself, to start a long drawn out conversation with her, and to tell her that we should go out and have lunch together as soon as possible.
In other words, I risked freaking her entirely out because — hello! — here was someone MY age, in MY lonely seaside town, in MY church! And the Lord had spared me by sending me a female friend instead of more of the very distracting, attractive, Afrikaans pilots that had already paraded through at other points in my term. (Shame, man. For real.)
Lucky for me, she wasn’t completely freaked out and didn’t even correct me when I completely butchered the pronunciation of her name — Margit. She was from Namibia originally, back in the country after finishing up a masters degree in South Africa, and so in love with Jesus. For as much as we didn’t have in common as far as background and aspirations went, we never seemed to run out of things to talk about whenever we met up. Soon, Margit was helping out with the youth activities alongside me, becoming deeply immersed in the life of our church, and showing herself to be the answer to all those prayers I had prayed for a real friend in Namibia. We found the same things funny (like putting sunglasses on a cabbage), thought that fries and Cokes were the best conclusion to a Friday night youth Bible study (still are!), enjoyed singing Shania Twain songs at the top of our lungs on the beach (who doesn’t?), and came to the same truths about Jesus when we read Scripture (mainly that, as Margit would say, “Jesus is so clever”).
I am convinced that we probably only get a handful of these true, deep friendships in a lifetime. I remember being so surprised, in the last few months I had in Namibia, that God had blessed me with one there for that season, in His timing and most definitely for His purposes, as we grew in our faith and were able to minister together to teens as they grew in theirs.
And I’m encouraged to know now, as we seek God for many things in our day-to-day lives, to know that He hears and that He understands. And the things that we don’t require or need but would be blessed to have, like friendship, fellowship, and unity with other believers — are sometimes the very things that He chooses to give to us at just the right time.