Sunday October 6th 2013/ Tanzania update
I struggled to know what to share about the 5 weeks I spent in Tanzania. In many ways, my time there was not at all what I expected. God used the experience to humble me, remind me of my neverending need for dependence on Him, and to shatter any romantic notions of what life as an overseas missionary looks like.
One expectation that I didn’t really know I had was that being a missionary meant you were a “superhero” Christian. I thought my time there would be full of opportunities to share the gospel, study the Bible, and pray for the Rangi people. What I found was that for the most part, the missionaries there were just living life in a different place among a different culture, looking for opportunities to plant seeds of the gospel. The biggest barrier they face is learning the local language. They have had to be creative at coming up with ways to study and practice the language, since there are no formal books or classes on learning Rangi. It didn’t take long for me to see that this is a very, very slow process.
A good summary of my trip is in a quote by Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary who spent 53 years in India. She said “She was finding firsthand that missionaries are not set apart from the rest of the human race, not purer, nobler, higher, ‘Wings are an illusive [notion],’ she wrote. ‘Some may possess them, but they are not very visible, and as for me, there isn’t the least sign of a feather. Don’t imagine that by crossing the sea and landing on a foreign shore and learning a foreign lingo you ‘burst the bonds of outer sin and hatch yourself [into an angel].’’” This, of course, also challenges me to share the gospel here at home, where language and cultural misunderstandings are not barriers.
I trust that God had purposes for giving me a very honest look at the reality of the frustration, disappointment, and burn-out that missionaries face. They are not immune to loneliness, depression, and wondering if they are actually serving the purpose God has for them. One thing I know I definitely want to share with you today is this: please do not forget the missionaries you know serving overseas. Now I know that as believers in Christ, we are all called to be missionaries, to make disciples of Jesus. But most missionaries trying to reach a people group or culture that is not their own are isolated from their friends and family, removed from the culture they know and understand, and feel far away from the body of Christ. One of the women here at Gulf Coast gave me a package of encouraging notes and Scripture to take with me to Tanzania. Sometimes, these notes felt like my only link to home. They were incredibly encouraging to open at the end of a long day, when I was feeling alone, and they always reminded me that God was in control. I want to encourage you that small acts of kindness and encouragement will be an incredible blessing to any missionaries you know. Send them a letter, an email, a text, a package – whatever means of communication will work, even if they won’t receive it for a few months after you send it.
Although so far I have maybe painted a depressing picture of my time in Busi, God also gave me joy and hope while I was there. I did get to volunteer at the health center in Busi. I absolutely loved getting to know the midwife and nurses there and was blessed by working alongside them. Through my time with these women, I felt like God answered many of my prayers and gave me some ideas and vision for ways to share the gospel in unreached areas. I also got to catch a couple babies while I was there, including a twin, which is a crazy story.
I do hope to be back in Africa in the next couple years. I hope that my skills as a nurse-midwife will give me the opportunity to go to places where Jesus’ name is not known. Honestly, I have wrestled a lot with the “cost” of going back to a place like Busi, Tanzania, now that I know more of what distance from family, friends, and material comforts looks and feels like. But God keeps asking me the question, “Whose kingdom do you want to build while you’re here on earth? Yours or Mine?” For me, answering this question has been about letting go of how I would write my life story and taking joy in being a part of the story God is writing.