After eight years of service in Botswana, Sarah and Kevin Witt felt a stirring in their hearts. They began to pray about the next step. With two small children and one on the way they chose to leave comfort and a semblance of normalcy in Africa for the unknown awaiting them in Asia.
If you are just starting out, or you have lost count of how many times you have uprooted, hopefully this interview with Sarah will help you feel not so alone during your own times of transition.
After 8 years in Africa you recently decided to move to Asia. What spurred that decision?
I am not sure we ever really had a time table in our heads, to begin with. As the years passed the thought of leaving became more and more distant as Botswana became our home and our lives.
Quite honestly, some of the decision to make a change came from a conflict with leadership. The conflict was quickly resolved and the relationship still was strong, but it caused us to look a little deeper. When we did, we realized we were too comfortable and just moving to the rhythm of life. We were accomplishing things, but not growing like we wanted. We both knew we needed to be open to the changes that the Lord was making. It would have been easy to continue to stay in Botswana and ignore what He was trying to say to us, but we both knew in our hearts that wasn’t what we needed to do. We decided to put in our resignation before we even knew where the Lord was going to send us next.
Our hearts have always been in Africa, so naturally we figured our next assignment would be within in Africa. When our friend suggested we come and check out the Philippines, we almost laughed. “No way, we’re Africa missionaries!” Kevin went and visited. Shortly thereafter we determined that was indeed where the Lord was calling us.
I was very comfortable, after eight years in Botswana, getting around the town and knowing where things were at and how to access materials and supplies.
Arriving in the Philippines meant starting over in every aspect. Not only in establishing our home, but also starting the process of learning to just “live” in a new country and place. It’s almost like I felt like I was a new missionary all over again and that my previous 8 years of service never happened! Learning a new culture and a new place and how to get resources has really been my entire life since arriving.
Also, just the sheer fact that it’s a totally different continent with different faces and places creates some culture shock. We are learning a different culture, and how to live in a big, crowded city, versus the African bush!
What advice would you give to someone considering a huge change in their life?
Lots and lots of prayer and most of all grace! It’s hard to take a step of faith and change directions after being in one place for so long. I don’t know that I have it figured out, but I do know that I tend to be hard on myself. I think I expected to just jump in and know what to do. I am learning to take it slow, build a supportive home for my family and children, and learn this new place as I go.
Pray through it and give yourself the grace to make mistakes along the way, it’s part of the journey.
Be open to other areas of ministry, not just the ones that you originally thought you would be a part of.
I’ve discovered wherever you go in the world people still need Jesus. I know, that sounds cliché right? Really though, the needs don’t change, there are just different looking faces behind those needs. Kids here are still begging in the streets and needing stable homes. There are a lot of cultural roots that run deep into the hearts of religion here just as there is in Africa. Their traditions are very much a part of who they are and both are very rich and colorful.
What adjustments have you had to make since you arrived in the Philippines?
I had no idea really what to expect. I moved here sight unseen as Kevin was the one who “scouted”. In some ways, I think it was a blessing as I am not sure I would have ever agreed to move here! With Africa, it was about the rawness and beauty of the place. With the Philippines, it really has been the people who have drawn us in. They practice hospitality as though it’s second nature. I think it’s hard for us to not compare the two places and there are for sure pro’s and con’s to each country of service, but we are learning to be present in where the Lord has us for the “now”. It’s easy to keep one foot back in a place that you love and considered “home” when you’re not really sure if this place will ever really feel like the home you once had before. I am trying not to do that, as I want both my feet solid in this place, so that I can learn as much from them as I did the Africans.
Since we are serving independently, we have to be pretty focused and purposeful about our ministry and how we go about it. Our first year is really committed to learning as much of the language and culture as possible. We have a few things planned, but aside from that, we’re just learning what the country needs and how we can help. It’s hard because we’re so used to “doing” and not sitting still. But there is something quite wonderful about taking the time to really get to know people and settle in.
As the mom, my ministry focus is our children and home schooling… something I never thought I would do. At times I miss those days of functioning 100% as a missionary, but I love that my children are my ministry right now. As our children get a bit older, we’ll incorporate them into our ministry so we can give them a good world view and missions experience.
Give yourself lots of grace. I am learning that now. Don’t expect to come in and fall right into place and for everything to work out exactly like you think it will. Remain open to God’s plans and timetable. I am learning to enjoy the adventure in the small things that are normal. Taking time to really look around and see people and things instead of trying to always figure out what I should be doing. I think as missionaries sometimes we’re really hard on ourselves and as one who raises support as well, we feel we have to be “doing” to show our supporters. It’s true, we do, but sometimes just the daily normal things produce the most ministry.
In what ways can you relate to Sarah? Has comfort led to complacency in your life? How do you decide if / when it is time to change things up?