Reflections from Abroad: Rachel Mann, YAGM

Date posted: Tuesday 14 November 2017

Unexpected. That’s the word I would choose to sum up my Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) experience thus far. During orientation in Chicago, back in August, the ELCA staff and YAGM alums mentioned many times how we would face all sorts of unexpectedness this year. I knew I would meet different people, encounter new situations, and discover diverse ways of thinking. I was definitely excited (and I still am). I thought I was prepared for anything that might come my way. But how can you possibly be prepared for things you never even imagined?


I enjoy not having expectations. It’s not that I’m afraid of disappointment if my expectations aren’t met; it’s that I like being surprised. I like experiencing things without the shadow of my own preconceptions. As much as I tried not to have too many expectations for this year, though, there were some things I assumed were certain. I figured I would be settled into my host community right after our three-week in-country orientation. I assumed that, once there, I would soon start teaching English, which was one part of my placement I was looking forward to the most. I believed that when November rolled around, I would be in the midst of my second month living in Fianarantsoa.


These past months, however, have reminded me again and again that God’s plan doesn’t always match my own. For example, I didn’t expect a bridge to collapse in mid-September that would delay our departures to our host communities. I didn’t expect to spend the majority of my first month in Fianarantsoa on my own, waiting for my schedule to get figured out. I didn’t expect to have only taught one class by the end of October. I didn’t expect there to be an outbreak of plague in Madagascar. I didn’t expect to temporarily relocate to South Africa with the rest of the Madagascar volunteers.


God works in mysterious ways. It would be easy to write off all these unmet expectations as problems or setbacks. It would be easy to get caught up in my own vision of this year and ignore God’s vision. It would be easy to be angry that things are not going as planned. Instead, I am choosing to view these unexpected events as gifts. Because, through them, God has given me so many wonderful blessings that were equally unexpected. Because of the bridge collapse, I gained bonus time with my fellow YAGMs. I was more excited than I would have thought possible to reach my host community. I was more prepared with my Malagasy language skills, thanks to an extra week of tutoring. Because I didn’t teach often, I spent more time bonding with my host family. I got to know some of my future students outside of the classroom and establish relationships with them, which will only improve my teaching. I not only started learning how to be alone but also how to enjoy the time to myself. I gained more free time to explore Fianarantsoa. Because of the plague, I experienced firsthand my host community’s boundless love, support, and understanding. I was reunited with the “Madagasgals” sooner than expected. I had the chance to strengthen my relationships with the other volunteers. I had the opportunity to travel to another country and learn about another culture. I realized, through being reluctant to leave and missing Fianarantsoa while in South Africa, that I’ve already come to consider my community home.


I hold fast to Philippians 4:11, which reads, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I trust that God has a plan. I know that God has placed me where He needs me to be. I have faith that God’s grace is always sufficient. I believe that it’s okay when expectations aren’t met. I am hopeful that this year will exceed my expectations in ways that I never could have imagined. And I embrace the unexpected.


Rachel Mann


Rachel Mann is serving in the Madagascar through Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) on behalf of the Saint Paul Area Synod & her home congregation of Our Savior's Lutheran in Circle Pines. She blogs at rachelmannyagm.weebly.comLearn more about Rachel & other missionaries here.