Saturday, February 4, 2017
I'm Not Faking the Joy
In the summer of 2003, Gil and I returned from our first term in Tanzania. We had been broken in just about every way imaginable. I had been mentally ill for at least a year of our two-year term. We had been criticized and left on our own in ministry. We had no idea what we were doing in our very young marriage and hurt each other deeply. And the guy we invested in most had stolen from us.
But we had more disillusionment waiting for us back home in California. Though we had been sent out with much fanfare, our return was a lot less enthusiastic. Not one group in our home church asked us to share about our time in Tanzania. So we put together two evenings in our home for people to come hear about it. We sent out about 50 personalized invitations to all our supporters and friends. We cleaned our little apartment and I spent the afternoon cooking Tanzanian food. The first evening, four people came. The second one, no one came.
It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Gil and I both slipped into depression.
Yet despite all of that, two years later, we went back to Tanzania. And now it's been almost 13 years. So what does that make us? Saints? Martyrs? Angels? or....Stupid?
We did it for the joy.
Earlier this week, many of you read the post I wrote for A Life Overseas, called Dear Supporter, There's So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You. I wrote that post in a very general way, so that other missionaries could use it and share it. And though everything I mentioned was true of me, it was true over a 12-year span. It's not necessarily true now. I am glad you read it, but I kept thinking that I wanted to say more to you--the people who know me personally, either in person or through my writing.
Yes, I have often felt like a failure. Yes, I have just as many personal sins as any Christian anywhere. Yes, I have often struggled with what to tell you because I fear your judgment. Yes, I have often felt disconnected with those who sent us out.
But I am not faking the joy.
We returned to Tanzania because there was a significant need we were gifted to fill. And there is joy in significance and there is satisfaction in filling a need. There is always joy--in a deep conversation with a student, in that light that goes on when someone understands an important concept, in a changed life. There is joy in learning. There is even a way to find joy in feeling ignored or going without or being afraid because of how hard things points us to Jesus.
True, we had a lot to learn. Sometimes I see those 20-something young people, with passion in their eyes and fire in their bellies, ready to go change the world for Jesus. And I want to pat them gently on the head and say, Be teachable, Younglings. You have no idea what is about to hit you.
Gil and I pushed through the difficult years of early marriage--through 6, 7, 8 years (it takes a long time, doesn't it?) before heading out into relatively peaceful waters. We pushed through thousands of cultural mistakes into a place where we could have a voice here. We persevered through years of struggle of living in a developing country. When I look back on the early years of this blog, I am amused by how many posts were about electricity and driving and shopping. How much it consumed me then, and how little I worry about it now in comparison. Part of that is because Tanzania has changed for the better. Part of it is because I just got used to it. And part of it is because we adapted our lives, like when we purchased two forms of back-up power.
And we adapted our expectations for our support back home. We don't sit around and wait for people to come to us anymore. We realize that people are busy and distracted (just like we are!) and it's unrealistic (and arrogant) to expect a red-carpet. So instead, we take the initiative to come to you--to your groups and meetings--and we find that once we are there, people are very interested and supportive and encouraging.
We've learned and grown a lot, but we've also changed our expectations, and that's half the battle.
So yeah, there's the failure, and the loss, and the rejection. But what I also want to tell you is that the joy keeps increasing, and increasing exponentially. When students come back and tell us about the impact they are having on others. When pastors come back and tell us that their church went from 10 to 105 in one year. When we can get through new struggles because we have the experience of the old ones. We have incredibly deep friendships here. We have fun. We like life, most of the time. The longer we stay, the more the joy increases. It just took a while to really get going.
I do want to be real with you; I do want you to understand what myself and other missionaries feel and experience. But I don't want you to either put me on a pedestal or feel sorry for me. Many years ago, I believed John Piper when he said Missions is gain! Missions is hundredfold gain! And I believed Jesus when he said that if I gave up houses and family that I would get a hundredfold in return. That in losing my life I would find it.
I don't know if every missionary you know is there yet. I don't know if I could have said it myself ten years ago. But the longer I live, the more God's promises prove to be true.