Twenty years ago, as a starry-eyed graduate fresh out of university, I set out from America on a big adventure to be a missionary for two years in Francistown, Botswana.
Thankfully, I was blessed to have been raised in a family where international travel was a norm and formed countless childhood memories, so the idea of moving abroad wasn’t really a huge issue. However, this trip was different. At 22 years, I was now considered an “adult” capable of taking care of myself. Up to this point, I had always travelled under the watchful eye of my family, my university in study abroad courses, or even the church on mission trips. Consequently, the details of what it looked like to be a responsible traveller were not my high priority.
With this in mind, when I whisked through customs and someone stamped my passport and told me I had 90 days, it went in one ear and out the other. The only thought in my mind was “I have arrived in Botswana for my next great adventure!”
Always one to make life an adventure, about 3. 5 months later when a friend suggested we take a spontaneous trip to Johannesburg, I quickly responded, “Give me 5 minutes to pack my bags!” Arriving at the border, she quickly got stamped and headed towards the car. Not me. They flagged me and called me into an inside office explaining I had “overstayed”. I had no idea what that even meant. “Is that a bad thing?” I asked innocently. Guess it was, because next thing I knew they were putting me in the back of a police vehicle and took me to the closest jail. No joke! I was in that cell with about 15 other people for about five hours.
I still don’t think it really hit me I had committed a crime, so imagine me chilling in the cell talking to my fellow inmates, “so what are you in for?” I went around asking everyone their name and their crimes! Ha! I have always been one to make friends with everyone so why not? It never occurred to me to get mad or give the cops an attitude.
Eventually, they came and released me. They charged me a fine for every day I had overstayed and off my friend and I went to Jo-burg. Months later, I met a young girl. She felt her life lacked purpose and joy. Someone had referred her to me as someone who could tell her about Jesus and the inner peace a relationship with Him could bring. I worked daily in the government schools so often when youth approached me wanting to know more about a relationship with their Heavenly Father and what that looked like, I would invite them to church.
However, I had realized that some youth used me as a cover telling their parents they were going to church with “the missionary” and then they would take that time to go out with boyfriends their parents didn’t approve
After getting yelled at for my “bad influence” one too many times on situations I had NO knowledge of, I had begun approaching every single parent of any youth that wanted to come to our church. I personally introduced myself, shared the hours of our programmes, my phone number should they have any questions and the address of the church as well as invite them to come join us as well.
On this particular day as I picked the girl from school and we drove to her home, this girl warned me that her father was extremely strict and NEVER let her out of the house. She thanked me in advance for trying to help her but assured me her dad would not agree to let her go to church. Never one to be easily deterred, I forged ahead. We met. I went through my spiel. The whole time the father had been eyeing me oddly. When it came time to leave, he asked me if I recognised him. To which I said, “You look familiar, but I don’t know why.” He smirked and said, “I arrested you!” HA! Imagine – the poor girl is already worried about my “pitch” and now to make matters worse, the lady inviting her to church is a “known criminal”. The man hadn’t smiled the whole time. Finally, he grinned and said, “I know I can trust my daughter with you. We still talk about you to this day! We have never seen anyone be so friendly in jail! I know even on your worst day you are still a true Christian.”
Here is the lesson I learned that day. You NEVER know who is watching you. The person you are rude to today may be the person you need a favor from tomorrow. I am far from perfect, but it is a lesson that guides me even today. There is no point in putting on an act in certain circles. I PROMISE you – whatever you do in secret or whatever you do on the day someone ticks you off will come to light. I don’t know when but I guarantee it will happen. The question is “are your actions ones that you are always proud of?” Hypocrisy will catch up with you.
Ashley Thaba is a popular motivational speaker, team building facilitator, author and the producer of a hit TV show offering practical advice to strengthen families and improve marriages! Episodes of her show can be downloaded from her website – www.ashleythaba.com.You can view some of her work on her YouTube channel: Ashley Thaba. You can buy three of her books, Dive In, Making Marriages Fun, and Conquering the Giants, on her website. You can email her at email@example.com or follow her on Facebook at: Talking with the Thabas