I’d always said that I’d never go to Africa, that it wasn’t my thing. But that didn’t mean that it wasn’t God’s thing for me. In fact, as I settled into my new job as assistant girls’ dean at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Kenya, I strongly suspected it was His thing because it seemed that everything was conspiring to make me grow!

One unpleasant experience in particular taught me several meaningful lessons. It happened one evening as I walked down the dormitory hall to make sure the girls had quieted down for the night. As I passed one room, I heard loud voices coming from inside. I paused to listen. I could hear every word as the girls vehemently criticized someone. Then, to my horror, I realized they were talking about me!

Few things are as painful to me as being criticized behind my back. I was so upset that before thinking the situation over, I flung open the door and just stared at the girls. They sat in silence, staring icily at the floor. They may have felt ashamed for being busted, but they were definitely not sorry. At least not enough to apologize.

I loved being able to engage in community outreach!
My favorite thing about being an assistant dean was getting to hang out with the girls. These beauties dropped by my apartment to talk about their joys and sorrows.
Enjoying a little down time with fellow volunteer missionaries and contract workers.
It was wonderful to enjoy God’s creation in game parks such as Maasai Mara.

I don’t remember much of the conversation I had with the angry girls that night, but I clearly remember the talk I had with God. He’s the best listener I’ve ever known. It was hard to be far away from family and friends who shared my culture and mind-set, and through this experience and similar ones, I learned what it means to depend on Jesus as my Comforter and Counselor.

“What they said really hurt me,” I told Him, choking back the tears. “I’m doing my best to show them Your love, but no matter what I do, it’s never good enough for them. Have I really failed You and my mission here?”

As I knelt alone in my apartment, I felt God’s tender yet firm response. “It doesn’t matter what they think or say about you. What matters is what I think of you, and I love you. I’m proud of you.”

Sweet comfort washed over me and with it a strong impression to release my grudge in forgiveness.

That week I was responsible for school worship. I had prepared a topic for the next morning, but I felt that God wanted me to talk about forgiveness instead. I shared my hurtful experience without mentioning any names and my desire to forgive as Jesus forgives me. Before the day was over, both young women sought me out to apologize. According to some staff members, this was unusual for them. I was touched by the girls’ gesture and grateful that God’s leading in my life had touched their hearts.

To say that the girls and I became best friends or that we never had conflicts again would be a lie. We’re all sinners in need of grace. And the fact that God created us as unique individuals means our differences can create interpersonal challenges. But the experience helped me grow in dealing with these frictions in a more Christlike manner. They also helped me realize that it’s OK for me not to be liked by everyone. God created us to be different to enable us to reach different people for Him. Some people will be inspired by my life; others will be more inspired by someone else’s. He hasn’t called me to be popular but to be faithful in loving people.

In the end, I praise God that it’s not about me. It never was and never will be. It’s about Jesus.

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Tina Jeanette Gustavsen
Originally from Norway, Tina Jeanette Gustavsen spent a year as a volunteer assistant girl’s dean at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently living in Norway, studying biblical counseling.