The longer I’ve stayed in Ethiopia, the harder I’ve found it to ‘blog’. A lot of that stems, I think, from my uncertainty of what a blog is supposed to be. Is it a newspaper with periodic factual pieces or is it a family update and photo center or is it a diary of daily events? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a lot of those things. One thing I think it ought to be, though, is a tool to convey some understanding of what life here is like so that people can feel connected and pray specifically. That’s where it gets hard. How do I describe something I’m having a hard time figuring out myself to people in completely different circumstances and in such a way that I don’t divulge too much information but still transmit enough useful information to get the point across? Well, I don’t have an answer for that yet but I want to take a stab at reaching out to you. As a warning, if you’re not interested in my rambling and searching thoughts, you should probably stop here and move on to something more interesting, like
To get around the dilemma of too-much versus too-little information I’ll just give you the final analysis. Life here has been really hard. This has been, hands down, the most difficult eight and a half months of my life. I thank God daily (multiple times a day) for my family, Becca and Nathan. This time has brought us all closer together than ever and I need them dearly. I don’t know how to attempt to describe the difficulty in concrete details without it sounding like a massive whine session so I don’t think I’ll try. Though many of the challenges here aren’t that big of a deal taken in isolation (some are but most are not), the total is truly greater than the sum of its parts. To dispel any myths, I’ll say that life here has not been adventurous or glamorous. On the plus side, no one has tried to kill us or chase us out of the country. It’s mostly a day-to-day grind wondering if you’re making any real progress. (There were some people who accused me of being an adventure-seeker before coming here. It wasn’t true but I’ll take this moment to emphasize if you are seeking adventure, go on a cool vacation but I wouldn’t recommend going to the mission field.)
I believe God is using this time to teach me some difficult lessons about faith. I’m currently reading a study book on the book of James. Verses 2-4 of chapter 1 say, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” What I’ve been mulling over is the phrase “let steadfastness have its full effect.” It seems to describe an element of endurance, of steadfastness not once or twice but over and over again. I’ve been reading in several places in the Bible of how God thinks it’s an important part of our maturation as believers to have our faith tested and proven. In 1 Peter 1:7, it says that the “proof of your faith” is “more precious than gold.” I think about the courage and confidence of a young man before he ships off to war compared with the courage and confidence of the returning veteran. Though both may be intellectually truthful and accurate (i.e. the young recruit actually will be courageous and trustworthy), only the courage and confidence of the veteran are tested, proven and sure, both to the world and to the man himself.
The longer I hold fast in trials and difficulties, especially those where I can only do so if God is who He says He is, the more my faith is tested, proven and sure, to the world and most importantly to myself. A long time ago I wrote a blog about an encounter I had with an orthopedic surgeon who grew up in South Africa. This man was unabashed about his cynicism of Africa and told me that, though he admired my convictions (naïve and unproven in his mind), he gave me five years before I accepted the futility of it all and came back. Having now spent some time in Africa, I realize now how generous he was. The honest truth is if God isn’t who He says he is, if the universe isn’t as it’s described in the Bible and if Jesus isn’t coming back some day, then I’m out of here. I’m not that good of a person. Jesus is that good, but I’m not capable of this on my own.
I believe that God is leading me into a deeper level of surety and confidence in Him and His guidance over my life. The road by which He seems to be doing this is one of steadfastness and endurance. I wish it were as simple as a single decision but the reality is the decision has to be made constantly, over and over again. I’m reminded of a novel I once read about World War II. It described a scene where a captured member of the French Resistance was about to be tortured and interrogated by a Nazi officer. (No, I’m not suggesting that life on the mission field is anything like Nazi torture.) Before he started, the officer told the prisoner, “You’re in charge of everything that goes on in here. You decide when the pain starts and you decide when the pain ends.” Endurance is so much harder when you know you can end it at any time. Almost daily, at least four or five times a week, my mind glances over and sees the open door. The traitor inside me whispers, “You can leave any time. You’ve got a great life waiting for you back in the States. How much are you really accomplishing here anyway?” Maybe it’s not something a missionary is supposed to admit to, but it’s the truth.
Several months ago I emailed one of the surgeons in leadership of PAACS about my difficulties here and my inability to change much of it. He responded that victory can have different appearances. I won’t try to paraphrase; he said it better:
“Are you too young to remember Mohammed Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’? When he could no longer ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’, he just went into a defensive posture taking the punishment until he saw an opening to make a knockout blow. Well, given the Parkinson’s that resulted, maybe that isn’t the best example but you get my drift! Even when you don’t think you are doing anything but taking punishment, you are getting points from God for being in the ring at all.”
Well, if you are still actually reading this, I take my hat off to you… and pity you! I’ve gone too long and I need to wrap it up. The Bible never promised an easy life after we become Christians, quite the opposite. It says that God will discipline the ones He loves as any good father would. James was able to talk about trials and steadfastness and “count it all joy” because he was able to see the big picture. God is using all this stuff to fashion us and prepare us to be with Him forever. Believe me, I’m no proven veteran. Rather I’m a scared, green little recruit who is feeling rather shell-shocked. But as I try to muddle through it all, I’m clinging to the hope that this is all truly worth it, that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and that God wants me to just keep getting up and going back in.