Raw & Real Truth: Life on the Mission Field

“Life on the mission field is made up of 10% ministry, and 90% surviving. But people across the world, they only want to hear about the 10%.”

The next time you want to ask me, or any missionary, why we’re so tired, please read this first. It talks about the things that aren’t always talked about.

Have you ever lived abroad? Have you ever lived among another people group? Have you ever stuck out like a sore thumb no matter where you turn? Have you ever tried to speak a different language 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Have you ever had to be conscience of EVERYTHING you said, you did, you wore, you ate, you implied, all the time?

For those of you who have, I know you understand this. You’ve lived through it. IT’S EXHAUSTING. To say the least.

My home is not my safe, comfortable, put-your-feet-up at the end of the day kinda place. It’s not always relaxing, it’s not normal, it’s not quiet, it’s not private. Our home has knocks on the door and feet in and out from 8 am to 9 pm. That’s 13 hours a day people. Please tell me that if you worked 13 hours a day doing things for other people, trying to love them well, always needing to give something (money, time, pencils, food, phone charger, even the blender), answering questions that are hard to answer, IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE when you can’t even explain things well, that you wouldn’t be exhausted too?!

Give me a break!

Please, give me a break. This is why AIM’s policy is to take one day off a week, one weekend off a month, and 4 weeks off a year. Because despite the perceived, “you’re at home all day, you’re just talking to neighbors all day, you don’t work a 9-5 job, what do you even do with your life,” notion of those living in developed, western countries, life here is unexplainably draining. As one of our directors says: “Life on the mission field is made up of 10% ministry, and 90% surviving. But people across the world, they only want to hear about the 10%.”

So here, I’m giving you the other 90%. Sometimes I wear the same underwear for a couple days because I have to wash all my clothes in a bucket outside and it’s raining. Sometimes we’ve been waiting at a hospital for 8+ hours with one of our neighbors who didn’t want to go alone, and there’s no drive-through to stop at and pick up food on the way home at 9:30 pm. Sometimes I’m so sick and tired of saying, “I don’t understand,” to people speaking Swahili that I just start agreeing with everything they say. Sometimes I get fed up with people asking me to take them to America because they think they’ll be rich. Sometimes I get fed up with men telling me they want a white wife. Sometimes I get annoyed when matatu drivers yell in my face as I’m already waiting to get on their matatu. Sometimes our power goes off for days and I lose all the cheese, dairy, and meat I traveled over 3 hours roundtrip just to buy. Sometimes I’m angry when we kill a few rats and more keep coming because there aren’t decent rat traps here. Sometimes I’m impatient when I can’t walk into my house and be left alone for more than 20 minutes. Sometimes I get frustrated that my room isn’t relaxing because I have to get up and answer the door every time I sit down again. Sometimes I want to cry when I feel like no matter how much I give, it’s just never enough. And sometimes, these sometimes are all of the time.

I just want people to know that life here isn’t always easy. Life here isn’t a walk in the park and going to the ocean every week. It’s not laughing with your good friends 24/7. It’s not this care-free adventure. It’s difficult a lot of the time, and it’s exhausting a lot more of the time.

That being said, I also want you to understand this is not a plea for pity. It’s not a woe-me, look at my struggles, kinda post. It’s the truth. And the truth is also that most of the time, despite the annoyances, frustrations, impatience, and misunderstandings, I love life here. I love it because this is where God has put me. I love it because I’ve tried to be obedient to Him. Building relationships is meaningful and some days are filled with laughter. When I finally understand a new Swahili sentence I didn’t before, it’s a huge accomplishment. When our neighbors love us back, that makes my heart burst. Life here is also good. I want to make sure you know that. This post is to share about the 90% and try to help those who have never been in this context understand why I say, “I’m tired, I’m worn out, I need a break.”

The most important thing I can possibly remember is to stay at the foot of the cross. If I were anywhere else, none of this would be possible at all. So, I continue to thank Jesus. I thank the One who, despite all the times when I’m being annoying, frustrating, difficult, needy & demanding, STILL loves me. He loves me unconditionally, in spite of all my sin and shortcomings. And that’s what He tells us to do- to love those around us with the same tenacity, the same unflinching devotion, the same unconditional adoration- all of us.

So we press on.

“…we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also boast in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” ~Romans 5:2-4

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Grasping for the Wind

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.

I communicated with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.

For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

~Ecc. 1:2-4; 16-18

In the first four chapters of Ecclesiastes alone, grasping for the wind is written 8 times. The Preacher mentioned is the son of David, king of Jerusalem. He has a pretty grim outlook on life while he writes these chapters, and repeats over and over that “all is vanity and grasping for the wind,” 2:17. Though he is immensely discouraged, some of his thoughts hold value:

  • Nothing is remembered forever, and things that happen in the future will be forgotten by those who come after.
  • Even non-material things like wisdom and knowledge provide more grief and sorrow.
  • Working as hard as you can, having as many things as you can, acquiring all that will make you happy, becoming great and very wise, what does it profit in the end?
  • The man who is a fool dies in the same way as a man who is wise. They came from dust and will return to dust, and those fearing God will ascend to him.
  • What you accomplish, someone else will take over when you die, and you have no control over what will happen to your accomplishments years and years from now.
  • Even a king, in all his glory, will not be reveled in years to come.

The Preacher’s mindset is painstakingly clear: what’s the point of it all?

I can become wise and knowledgeable, but that only brings me more grief and sorrow; and eventually one day, someone will come along and become wiser and more knowledgeable than I. I can build up many treasures on earth and enjoy them for the time, but then I die. No matter what I do, what I accomplish, what I learn, how far I travel, who I met, what I build, etc., it will all come to an end. An end that will eventually be forgotten. My name will one day no longer be remembered. I will eventually be surpassed by others. My time on this earth is short and what can I possibly accomplish in that time that’s got any real, lasting value? We all die, no matter what life we lived.

This is the king’s utterly hopeless thinking. And partly, he speaks truth. Each of us live just a fraction of time on earth. A fraction. What can you do with your fraction to make it significant? Through his hopelessness, the king also provides us some answers.

  • “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor- it is the gift of God.” ~3:11-13
  • “So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” ~3:22
  • “Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” ~4:9-12

The key phrase in these verses is HE. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put eternity in their hearts. He gives us the gift of enjoyment, of rejoicing, of being part of a 3-strand cord which is lasting. We truly are just humans; there isn’t much we can do of lasting value, without God. Everything is vanity and grasping the wind, if you don’t have God. He is the one who creates lasting change, who makes eternal footprints, who has control over what happens to what we leave behind, who judges rightly. And who gives us the freedom to enjoy, to laugh, to rejoice in our lives now, because even though alone we may be wind-chasers, His power in us gives our life meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

So why do we do it? Why do we wake up each morning and go to work? Why do we rejoice every time our paycheck comes? Why do we teach our children what’s right from wrong? Why do we start projects to change the world? Why do we go out of our way to love people? Why do we share the Gospel with others? Why do we fight for world justice? Why do we run races for people we’ve never met? Why do we travel across the world to live in a place devoid of Jesus’ name? If everything is vanity and grasping for the wind, why do we do it?

We do it because even though we cannot take the accomplishments of our labor or the money we’ve made when we die, He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Because even though our children grow up to become their own person, even though projects may fall apart after we’re gone, even though people may hate us back, even though the world continues to fall apart, He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Because even though we may not change anyone’s heart, even though people may rebuke the Gospel and turn away from hearing Jesus’ name, He makes everything beautiful in its time. He puts eternity in their hearts. We know that nothing is good except that we rejoice, we do good in our lives, and we should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all our labor- it is a gift from God.

So do not be discouraged. Do not feel hopeless. Do not feel like you’re not making a difference. Do not feel like all you do is worthless and grasping for the wind. Because it’s God. It’s always about God. He makes beauty rise from ashes, man rise from dust, and purpose rise when you get out of bed every morning. My friends- rejoice, do good, eat, drink, enjoy your labor, love your neighbors, love God.

He will make everything beautiful in His time.

Set Free in the Truth

St. Marks has long been one of my favorite coffee shops, with large rolling garage doors in the front and back, tall chairs fit for a queen, an upside-down rowboat hung up on the back deck, and blue bottles lining each window. As I sit next to the open garage door feeling the cooled wind and smelling the left-over fragrance of fresh rain, I am reminded of how silently powerful my Father is. I am reminded that He is like the wind; we can feel Him, we can watch Him move, we can sometimes hear Him, but we cannot see Him. He whispers and dances around us delicately, pulling us in His direction and gracefully guiding us towards the narrow path.

He does not always work in obvious ways, and He does not always do exactly what we want, but how comforting that is because He KNOWS. He knows the past, present, and future. He knows where we’ve been and where we’re going. He knows our passions, our fears, our sins, and our righteousness. He knows what’s best and what’s good. How much pressure that lifts off my shoulders to know everything and have everything figured out! How incredible it is to have someone else in charge whom I can fully, 100% trust with my life. Now that doesn’t mean I always do 100% trust Him, because I am human and I want control more often than not. But I am reminded that I can let go, that I can surrender, that I can breathe because He SET ME FREE.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

And the truth is that we have a Savior who sent His Son because He wants to have a relationship with us, because He nailed all of our sins to the cross along with Jesus (Colossians 2:13-14).

The truth is that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

But here’s the thing. Good does NOT mean comfortable, stable, wealthy, perfect relationships, and absence of suffering.

Good means joy. And joy is separate from happy. Unhappy circumstances should not be given the power to take away your joy. Saying yes to Jesus, accepting Christ, is the single most joyful decision one can ever make. In that decision, a joy is ignited that should never go out, because you just received the ultimate gift- eternal life in heaven with our Creator, our Lover, our Father, our King. Even when the worst of the worst happens (often humanity calls this death), that is a beautiful celebration because you are reunited forever with the One who called you Home.

So no, being a Christian is not a happy-go-lucky, easy life. It demands sacrifice, it demands suffering, it demands picking up your cross daily and following Jesus (Luke 9:23). And believe me, Jesus does not go to the clean, prosperous, “safe” areas. He goes to the dirty, the marginalized, the sinners; He goes to areas most people deliberately don’t go.

But the most beautiful thing about that, is that there is still joy, always. We do not go looking for suffering, but when it comes, it is okay. Amongst the sacrifice, the suffering, the burdens, there is JOY. Joy in knowing that just as Jesus suffered on this earth for us, we get to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41). Joy in knowing that trials produce perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). Joy in knowing that we are becoming more like Jesus when we suffer for His sake, because we experience the hope and faith in our Father like He did (Philippians 3:10-11).

Good means that we are being disciplined, trained, taught, loved, and pushed to be more like Christ and grow in His likeness. It means we get to experience this thing called joy in a way that only God can provide.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.1 Peter 1:8

And that is GOOD. The safest place that I could possibly be is right in the middle of God’s will. Because neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Stop and think about that for a minute, for an hour, for a day. Do you understand the implication of that? That means we are FREE. Freed from needing to measure up, freed from needing to be the best, the wealthiest, the most outwardly beautiful, freed from needing what society tells us we need in order to be happy, freed from the shame of this world, freed from needing worldly acceptance. Because nothing, NOTHING, will separate us from the love of God. He loves you, He loves me, He loves us already unconditionally and there is nothing that can happen to change that. What a beautiful truth.

And the truth shall set you free.

Journey to the Digo

4 off-white, stained, cracked walls. 2 broken, sunlight-inviting, open windows. 1 dusty, familiar, Rooibos-scented smell. 10 beautifully fierce, harmonious, passionate voices.

This is South Africa. This is Masiphumelele.

This is the room where I realized I felt a call to mission work. It was during a song called Jehovah is Your Name. English and Xhosa words were intermixed as these voices carried out of the windows and drifted down the dirt streets into the ears of all passersby. Ten sets of eyes were closed, hands were open, and hearts were on fire.

“This is it, God. I want to do this. Here I am, Father. Lead me and I will go.”

An intense joy and peace settled into my heart and since that moment, God has continued to affirm this call. Throughout the next year, I heard countless sermons and chapel speakers, read numerous books and devotionals, and talked to several people in which the resounding message was “Go.” It was undeniable. God wanted me to go, and I had only to say yes.

In September 2015, I applied for a program through my school, Azusa Pacific University, called H.I.S. Years. It stands for hearing, investing, and serving. This is an amazing program that allows students the chance to do mission work in unreached areas for 2 years without needing to worry about their student loan payment. In December 2015, sitting on Cougar Walk eating a Mexicali burrito on my work break, I received the email that I had been accepted into the program. Tears immediately came to my eyes as my body echoed, “I’m in.”

Over the next 6 months, I encountered many, many bumps in the road as I tried to push past lies from the enemy, honor my mom and dad while following God, and apply to organization after organization when teams kept falling through. As it seems to be, the closer you get to God and the more you play for His team, the more the enemy will try to knock you down, take you out, call foul play. “You are not worthy of this. Why do you think you can do this? It’s too hard; just live the comfortable life you know is easy. Sit here, don’t do anything, don’t feel anything, it’s okay.”  In those moments, I needed the cheerleaders God had put in my life to encourage me, cheer me on, catch my tears, listen to my fears and then speak truth into me. I needed the Word of God and I needed time with my Father. He seems to constantly pour out peace when I need it, and confidence in Who He has made me.

Becoming a missionary opens the door for really difficult conversations and confronting a lot of unknowns. There were numerous times when I felt like taping out. Yet each time I walked away from a tough conversation, God said, “I am here, and I am greater.” I knew I was filled with strength from the Holy Spirit because there is no way I could have walked away from some of those conversations still at peace and confident in this calling and the truth I knew in my Father.

So how did I get to the Digo people? In the very beginning of this journey, I was pursing North Africa and the team I was close to accepting unfortunately disassembled. I talked with several organizations and applied to a few more. To my dismay, the teams either had no nursing, had no placements in Africa, or had no teams ready to leave in the next year. Then I stumbled upon AIM, Africa Inland Mission. The more I explored and found out about the organization, the more I began to love it. I applied in May 2016 and was officially accepted as a full-term missionary in November 2016.

Throughout this season, God has absolutely been teaching me patience and reliance on His timing. While the whole process took much longer than I had originally anticipated, I needed to remember Who was in charge. After a few more months of different team possibilities coming and going, the Digo people, in Southern Kenya, finally seemed like the door God was opening. Lo and behold, I was accepted onto the Digo team in March 2017 and I am so ecstatic!

A year and a half after applying to H.I.S. Years, I finally had an answer.

I then found out that I was to join this team as soon as possible, with a July send-off. Now I was simply swimming in excitement, nerves, unknowns, and lots and lots of work that suddenly needed to be done yesterday. It has been a roller coaster, but it has been one I know I will look back on and keep learning from for years to come. God is faithful and He delivers. Not always in our timing, in our fashion, or in our miniscule idea of the right way, but He does. And now I can be certain that God has been preparing my heart and the hearts of those in Digoland for what He will accomplish in the next few years.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” 1st Peter 1:8.

Praise to the One who creates all, knows all, and loves all. Amen!