Monday, March 21, 2016

Everything is Broken

We were mingling in the courtyard after church.  I was trying to keep track of my kids and was slightly distracted when the woman approached me.

I spent the first few moments trying to figure out if I knew her, since I'm still desperately trying to put names with faces at this church.  But when I realized she was only using Swahili with me, I figured I had never met her, since almost everyone at this church speaks English.  I shook her hand and smiled.
I'm looking for work, she told me.  Please, I'm looking for work.  I need to pay my son's school fees. He's in Form 4.  Do you have any work for me?  I can take care of your children.  I can wash your clothes.  I can sweep your house.   She spoke quickly and eagerly.

I gave her a sad smile.  I'm so sorry, I said.  I don't have any work for you.  I already have someone who works for me.  I will pray that God helps you, I said.

Please, she said.  Tell me if you know someone who needs work.  I need to pay my son's school fees.

Okay, I said.  I'll let you know if I find someone.

But I knew I wouldn't.  Because I'm already trying to help someone else find work.  Because I get this request all the time.  Because there's 40% unemployment in this city.

I am so tired.

Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!  What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

I realized last week, as more people read my blog than ever before, that my most popular posts have criticized short-term missions, revealed the ugly flaws of missionaries, and torn apart international adoption.


I was one of those idealists in college.  You know the type--with their flushed cheeks and sparkly eyes, passion in their voices, volunteering for all sorts of noble causes.  I was going to change the world.  I never wavered in my ambitions, and I signed on to become a full-time missionary when I was all of 21 years old.

I think of all my confidence in so many solutions that I was sure were the answer.   And here I am at 39.  Fourteen years as a missionary in three different ministries.  Yet sometimes I feel like all I have seen is various forms of the problems, of course, but also in what I thought were the solutions.  And in myself.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  (Ecc. 1:7)

In the last few months, we've been devastated by massive brokenness in our mission leadership and in our Tanzanian church leadership.  We cry; we question; we rage.  We keep going, but it feels like everyone around me is limping.

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. (Ecc. 1:8)

I am just so tired.

I could choose to deny the reality of this brokenness.  I could watch a lot of television and eat a lot of chocolate and choose to turn my back on this reality.  I could try that, if I avoided the news and stayed at home all day.  Yet all I have to do is go to church and I meet a woman who can't afford to send her son to school.

Or I could descend into despair.  Many do, and it beckons me.  Sometimes the temptation is strong.

Or I could look to this Sunday.

I can look--once again--to my confidence that Jesus existed, that I can trust what the Bible says about him, that he really did enter into our madness to bring us hope.  I can remind myself that his death and resurrection really were the pinnacle of history, the axis around which everything else revolves, and the assurance that all really will be made right some day.

Jesus really is the only reason I have hope.  Without him, this world is just some cruel joke, some accidental freak of nature that will, eventually, disintegrate back into nothingness.  Why try to fight it?  Without him, denial or despair are my only options.

I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  (Ecc. 3:10-11)

Because of Sunday, I can have hope that he makes all things beautiful:  failed missionary efforts, corrupt adoption, desperate mothers in poverty.  I can have hope that eternity does exist, that God does know what he is doing, and that one day, it will all make sense.  I can get up in the morning and know that everything I do has purpose, that my small story is part of one grand story, and that this tragedy most certainly will have a happy ending.

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