Madeline Watts, Duke Divinity School student and 2014 Umoja Project intern  

Walking edit

If there is one thing I miss most about Kenya, it’s the dust…
the orange brown particles still embedded in my chacos that once coated my feet, turned my boogers orange, and made it appear like I’d spent all day in a tanning bed.

Literally the dust was evidence of my daily travels, the kilometers I walked to visit schools and students. I prided myself on the stark dirt lines that appeared when I finally released my feet from their binding at the end of the day. The dust reminded me of how far I had traveled, where I had been, and the new stories I carried with me.

Metaphorically, the dust was a daily reminder of the simplicity of life. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

Yet, there were so many things that certainly were and are not simple about life in Kenya.
After coming back into the country so many people asked if I was having difficulty adjusting or what that adjustment process looked like. Of course the first thing I did upon returning to my host mom’s house in Indianapolis was to walk to the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, watch my glass fill with water, and drink deeply from the abundance we take for granted every day. The same can be said for the first time I brushed my teeth with water from the sink, used a washing machine, and took a hot shower. I just about wept with joy and reveled in the luxury of the American lifestyle.

Those were the things I told people about when I first came back, because that’s all I knew how to say…how grateful I was for all of the little things. You could call it the dust, the tiny things that make up our daily life.

It was not until I came back to school that everything really hit me.

Walking through Target, imagining a student with dusty feet, a stained school uniform, and a holey sweater making his way down the aisles washed in the overpowering fluorescent lighting and blinded by the shiny white tiles…

It wasn’t just the material disparity, it was the stories I carried with me. I imagined their faces every time people asked me how my summer was and I was filled with a deep sadness. I couldn’t explain it, and I didn’t know how I should even begin to try. Let’s be honest, when people were asking me about my summer, they want to hear about how amazing it was. But if I were to tell of my experience faithfully, I would also have to admit how often my heart was broken and how much time I spent angry at and wrestling with God.

Then, when I was sitting in my first spiritual formation class of the semester our instructor put into words the feeling that had been nagging at the pit of my stomach and the depths of my heart. He said, “Sometimes in ministry you learn things…and sometimes they are things you wish you could unlearn. But you can’t, so we need to learn what to do with this knowledge and how we can be sustained in spite of it.”

I realized at that moment that since coming back to the U.S.A I had been hiding from God.

Pretty silly, right? I spent so much of my summer identifying with Jacob, but now I was Jonah. Trying to hide from God.


Because now I knew things, and understood this knowledge came with responsibility. I knew that if I didn’t pray, didn’t read, didn’t journal, God couldn’t charge me with a scary new task as a result of the new knowledge I had obtained.

The things I wished I could unlearn.

But, like Jonah, I found that hiding from God isn’t easy. Something about God being all knowing makes God the master of hide-and-seek…so I have begun to read and write and pray again.

I still don’t have any answers, and still don’t know how this experience will shape me, but what I have learned is…

I’m grateful for the dust.