One thing I remember most about our time preparing to move to Africa, was how little we knew about what life was going to be like; what would happen when we arrived, or how we would live.
Family and friends would eagerly ask us interested questions, and our answer?... ‘I’m not sure’ or, ‘We will find out when we get there.’
Of course, we had some helpful hints, like what type of wardrobe to pack, personal items you couldn’t buy in country, medications to bring for your medical kit, and malaria prevention. There was also the fact we were corresponding by email, so we assumed there must be some sort of internet connection...somewhere.
We packed as best we could.
Looking back now, some of the most important preparation was becoming accustomed to not knowing, not being in control, and living in limbo without answers.
Letting go of control is a hard thing to do.
Arriving in a new country, we didn't know the schedule, the accommodations, the route to take, we were seriously trusting those leading us to get there, to provide for our needs, and to handle anything that came our way.
We needed to depend on those around us...and most often, that's not a simple thing to do either.
Accustomed to being self-reliant, to having all the answers, and independent, doesn't help when you arrive in a new situation.
We find ourselves spiral out of control in the uncertainty, and desperately try to regain control, or any semblance of it. However, when we try to take back control, we are close our hearts to the opportunities inside the moment, to allow our vulnerabilities to surface, to surrender control, and choose, instead, to trust.
You may not be moving overseas, but the open-handed obedience I learned, flying across the pond, has relevance for us, even as we move into a new season of life, a new town, or a new job; even as we navigate the changes to our world in a pandemic.
Open to Learning
If you’ve lived overseas, you know it’s hard. In your travels, or even at home, you may have felt what it’s like to be present when those around you are speaking a different language.
You feel lost. Confused, at times (maybe all the time), even frustrated when you are trying to follow the conversation and can’t. It’s mentally exhausting; headaches became the new normal.
Language wasn’t the only thing I needed to learn. Most everything about how locals did life was new. New food to cook, new ways of taking care of a mud house (learning to protect our stuff from rats, ants and snakes), new seasons of planting and harvesting, and, (my favourite) new illnesses and injuries to treat (gangrenous fingers from snake bites, an impaled axe head, tropical infestations like malaria and jiggers).
To live well and adapt meant relying on my new neighbours who could teach me.
If I had maintained my western independence, closing off my heart to those around me, the beauty of a new culture, I would have stayed stuck. There is so much to learn from the people around us, especially those who aren't like us; different cultures, different personalities, different passions.
We need each other to learn, grow and adapt, as life shifts and changes. God created each of us with unique talents, abilities and perspectives. He planned that his church would be both diverse and unified, but it requires us to embrace a humble heart.
How can you demonstrate a willingness to learn from others?
Open To Interruptions
The culture of Africa, and many others, does not move to the tick of a clock, rather the rising and the setting of the sun.
Ladies would begin cooking their meals, once the sun was going down, as they had finished a hard day of work either at their farm or around their home. Visitors come and go, not according to appointments, or schedules, just as they happen to pass by.
Being a nurse in the community also meant that at any time people came to my home with someone who was sick, or to ask for a ride to the health centre. At times, it meant dropping whatever I was doing, to go out for a long walk to the field where they lived, to love, serve and care for others.
A life connected into community was challenging for an introvert like me. My own laundry could take the entire morning to finish, as visitors came, tea was served and conversation happened. I learned to develop a flexible attitude, to invite 'interruptions', so that I could truly appreciate what relationship means.
It wasn’t something that came natural to me, but by God’s grace, I learned (and continue to learn), little by little that the day ahead of me is a gift, and that means it holds surprise. The circumstances I view as 'interruptions' are God's hand at work in my day, and I can choose to participate with him in it.
How do you handle the interruptions to life?
Open to Trials
Whether life has you in American suburbia, or along the dusty roads of Africa, there are circumstances we don't determine, that come at us, whether we are ready or not.
Life may not be what you expected.
I could never have imagined what my life would be like in the African bush, believe me, I tried! In the waiting, the preparing, the anticipation of an exotic new life across the pond, I came up with all kinds of glamorous ideals (conveniently missing the un-glamorous ones).
If I stepped into Africa with lavish expectations, I would have been sorely disappointed, devastated even.
The "beautiful tropical climate" is code for scorching-hot-and-humid-constantly. "Bring clothing that breathes easily" really means you are going to be sweating, all the time, resulting in fungal infections and heat rash all over.
"Bring a water filter" means shopping at the cool camping stores for supplies... but you tend to forget that you're using it because parasites and bacteria, can have you literally sitting over the squatty potty for days if you aren't careful.
Accepting our circumstances, whatever they may be, and as hard as they are, helps us remember that God has us in this moment, exactly where we are, for a purpose. He doesn't leave us in our sweaty skin all alone, he is there, molding us into the people he wants us to be, as we adapt to the newness around us, learning to enjoy the shade of the mango tree, praying for the next cool breeze.
Little by little, trials develop resilience inside us, as we walk with the Lord in them. We learn to trust more, to see his hand at work all around us, and pray specifically for the needs and people around us.
How have hardships grown your faith?
Open to God's Grace
Missionaries are often strong, go-getter personalities. And let it be known, we are just as prone to legalism and pride as everyone else in the world.
Organizations check-in, 'How many people have you baptized?' 'How many attend your church?' We can become discouraged by lack of "numbers" or, prideful, if we are in a region where the Gospel is advancing.
The "success" of our circumstances isn't determined by numbers.
Will we trust that he will move, in his timing and in his will? To let go of our control and our pride and allow his gracious love to fill us, to enjoy him and what he has done for us? Can we walk in obedience, spending lavish time abiding with him, and trust his promise that fruit will follow?
God gives us grace sufficient for each new day, for each task that he sets before us. When life shifts and changes we need a firm foundation to stand on, but it is built one step at a time, digging deep roots into the Word and prayer.
How do you see the grace of God in your circumstances?
Our transitions in life are marked with uncertainty and unfamiliarity. As we approach these tumultuous seasons, we can view them as opportunities to learn and grow, or write them off as impossible circumstances.
The promises of the gospel are not that we would never endure change or hardship, but that he would be present with us in them, and working all around us in the midst of it.
They say that the missionary's most familiar place is on an airplane, which marks their life of transition. I once thought that I was good at navigating life's changes, only to realize the same lessons get learned again, in different ways.
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