Facing my Worst Fear: Leaving Congo

Sarah Gorenflo is an MAF missionary kid who spent seven years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For most of my life growing up, I didn’t face the normal fears of heights or spiders that other kids faced. Instead, my one huge fear was that one day we would have to leave Congo and not be able to come back. I tried to ignore my fear and concentrate on living life to the fullest.

Until one day, my fear came true.

Sarah and her family are greeted by villagers upon their arrival in Kikongo.  Photo by Marilyn Gorenflo.

Sarah and her family are greeted by villagers upon their arrival in Kikongo. Photo by Marilyn Gorenflo.

Change has always been hard for me. Moving from the only place I’d lived longer than three years in favor of a place I viewed as only inferior was possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. One wouldn’t think that someone with an American passport would have trouble adjusting to life in America, but the differences can be quite shocking. The first blow was the weather. Even though we landed in the middle of summer, it felt much cooler than the conditions I was used to. It only got worse in the winter. It was dry, too: green was only possible through irrigation (at least in the Caldwell/Nampa area) and it hardly ever rained, a far cry from the tropical rainforest I called home. That was just the beginning of the differences.

Sarah with one of her sisters at an interior village WDRC.

Sarah with one of her sisters at an interior village WDRC. Photo by John Gorenflo.

To help us get settled in, we enrolled in the public school less than a mile away. The difference between it and our old school was overwhelming. The classes were huge and the schedule was hectic; the students and their culture were nothing like what we were used to. Friendships among missionary kids tend to be fast-to-form, deep, and long-lasting. To me these teenagers seemed shallow and cared about practically nothing outside of Idaho. We floundered in the differences.

Sarah in 4th grade playing Blind Man’s Bluff with classmates.

Sarah in 4th grade playing Blind Man’s Bluff with classmates. Photo by John Gorenflo.

There can be no doubt that it was hard. But slowly we began to adapt. Technology helped; we were still able to connect with our friends in the DRC. Meanwhile, we found our outlets here. With perseverance, family and God, we began to survive.

It’s still hard. I still miss Congo every day and, often, I’m so homesick it hurts. At times, it feels like no one around me quite understands my ordeal. I still don’t understand why God has put us here and, some days, it’s all I can do not to drown. But God works all things for good for those who trust him and if I continue to trust Him, even on the bad days, maybe this will turn into something beautiful after all.


  • Bryan pill says:

    Thought this was well written and a reminder moving back ‘home’ means leaving home!

  • Nellie Johnson says:

    My heart goes out to MK’s. I promise to pray more for them. May God keep them and carry them in His arms.

  • Rusty Weaver says:

    Hi Sarah: I, too, grew up in Congo, and would like the chance to send you some of my similar writings. Just email me in return, and I’ll send something off to you. Aloha, Rusty

  • Tracy Helling says:

    Dear Sarah,
    From one old African MK (really old) to another, living in the frigid Northwest, I feel my heart aching a bit in sympathy. I’ll never stop missing Africa, my boarding school friends and other MKs. But something beautiful can certainly come from being where you are, and everywhere a MK lives is certainly a mission field. Even though I feel as though, even after 17 years living in Washington state, I’ll never quite fit in, I find friends everywhere, and how blessed we both are with the technology that keeps us connected in real time with our dear friends all over the globe. I pray God gives you wonderful, true friends where you are.

    In Him,

  • Andy Kauffman says:

    Hang in there, kid! You never really leave Africa behind. It’s always in your heart and in the hearts of those you know and love from that great place. Don’t try to purge it or cling to it too tightly; just focus on God and be who He wants you to be. That is your most important identity. Hopefully this saves you the 25 years it has taken me to learn since I last lived there.

  • Beautiful post, Sarah. Thanks for sharing your heart with us. I admire your courage as you walk through fears most people never have to experience.

  • Eli says:

    Know you are not alone Sarah, even if it feels like it where you are. All over the world there are MK’s just like you with aching hearts feeling like they will never fit in.
    We’ve been home now for over 13years, somedays I still ache for ‘home’ I just don’t know where ‘home’ is…
    Life will get better and you will start to adjust, but the hole in your heart will probebly always be there. You may never ‘fit in’ with your peers, but to be honest thats probebly not a bad thing 😉
    Great big hugs from one MK to another XOXOXO

  • Carol Oswald says:

    Each of my children has had the unique experience that you are having of living one place long enough to get attached and then having to move. We happen to be moving because of the military instead of ministry but the circumstances are similar. You are definitely dealing with culture shock of the deepest kind. May God bless you as you continue to walk with Him and focus on His plan for growing you bigger inside. There are many small people (small on the inside) who do not have the capacity to think bigger or feel bigger. You have the room inside you to encompass half the globe with thoughts and feelings and that is a blessing you will appreciate as you get older. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and reminding me to pay special attention to my kids when they are missing their “homelands”. God’s Love!

  • Phyllis Burtch Porter says:

    From a old mk from Peru, I feel for you. I hope you have a chance to visit home again (as I have 4 times in the last 35 years). Facebook is one of the best ways to stay in touch with mk classmates, I’ve found, and occasional reunions help.

  • Krista Paradowski says:

    You will always have a special place in your heart for the Congo. I grew up at Lusekele/Vanga and was able to go back this past Aug for the 100th anniversary. It was amazing and wonderful and heartbreaking all over again. I hadn’t been back in 21 years and now I can’t wait for another reason to go back.
    You will always be different from the people who only grew up in the States. Keep your connections with all your friends from the Congo. I was just chatting with a friend who is in Vanga on Facebook this morning. Technology makes the world a much smaller place. Glen Chapman posted a picture today of a satellite being installed at Kikongo. Amazing!
    If you ever want to chat, send me an email. No matter the age difference, all us MKs/TCKs are in this together.

  • Miriam Noyes says:

    Andy gave you good advice. You may never fully “fit in” in the States because, unlike them, you were born and raised a world citizen. It is a gift, and like most gifts in fairy tales, some things are taken away to make way for it. But it is a gift to use wherever God puts you, first of all in Idaho. Use it to learn culture, to reach out to others, and to appreciate the best there, just as you did in Congo. If you put it at God’s disposal, God will use that gift for his glory and your happiness.
    “Aunt Miriam”

  • Robin Pippin says:

    This is lovely, Sarah. I have a feeling that God is not finished with this great love he has put in your heart! Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a beautiful way.

  • Joyce Floyd says:

    You definitely have a gift for writing. Very well done.
    Sarah, I’m sorry you are having such a hard time adjusting. Your story reminds me of Tony & Jean’s boys. They too have a hard time adjusting when they come in on furlough.
    I pray that God will allow you to adjust and that He will use you to share your love for Him and for family here in the States. It seems teenagers especially are mostly at loose ends about life in general. Without Jesus in their lives, how can they have values? My heart breaks that this nation has become a nation who has rejected God.
    Praying for you to be blessed beyond measure.
    Ms Joyce

  • Jennie Petrack says:

    Wow, Sarah, I am so proud of you. I understand your pain. I was in the Congo only a short time and I miss it horribly many times. I had and still many times have a hard time understanding…..Reading your writing made me get it it just a bit more…maybe. Love you, Sarah. I have the picture that your mom fixed for me on my computer desk. Ms. Petack

  • Hi Sarah, I’m glad you are writing about your feelings. Sometimes emotions can be overwhelming. To write about them helps you to identify and acknowledge what is going on inside. And as you see from these comments, many people have the same experiences (just not at your high school). I grew up in one city in the US with very little travel experiences. But, lots of missionaries passed through our church and our home. Knowing those people helped me to have a bigger view of life and the world than just my one location. Maybe you can be that window to the world for some of your classmates. They may not all “get it”, but you will find a few who do and want to know more. Blessings to you! We would love to see your family any time we can!with love from all the Gills

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