Hard and Unexpected
I thought my mom was going to kill me. I was sitting there in a meeting with the head of the health project and the clinic manager and I could hardly believe my ears. I knew that I would do language learning when I got to Doro but I had not expected this. They had just proposed an idea for me to live 1.5 hours away (walking!) from the rest of the team, in a village called Gasmalla so that I could learn language by immersion while I lived with the people. I wasn’t even going to start nursing in the clinic – the whole hands-on reason I’d come – for another 6 months, or even a year!
Here I was, freshly arrived back in Africa as a naive 26 year old single girl from Canada, heading into a war-ravaged nation and apparently being sent off to an even more remote village to live ‘by myself’ to learn Mabaan culture and language. Even though I was asked if I approved the idea, I felt like the only right and godly answer for a newly arrived missionary was “yes.” But honestly, I was terrified.
Writing it out like this 10 years later makes me smile because it sounds plenty more dramatic and risky than it actually was. But this is certainly what it felt like at the time.
Looking back I am astonished at so many things that God did by bringing all this about. Those first few months of language learning and living in Gasmalla were the hardest thing I’d done in my life up till then and who the Lord shaped me into during that time is nothing like the girl who first stepped off that plane. The things I was passionate about, the ministry ideals I had, the things I dreamed about, all those started shifting and changing through this long repetitious process of living and learning in the village. As look back, I have never been more thankful for a curve ball than I am for this one. But I suspect that a few years from now I will look back at another curve ball I have been thrown and it will be the source a different spring of gratitude that will rival the former one.
When I stepped off that plane and onto South Sudanese soil, as far as I was concerned, I was going to live there until my dying breath. Perhaps it was because I chose to live in a war zone or because I was ready to fully love and throw myself into one people for the rest of my days, but I had no intention of leaving unless it was involuntarily because of war or illness. This was ‘it’ for me. So you can see how Tyler and the kids being woven into the picture was nothing less than an epic curve ball of another variety. And while I eventually said “yes,” it was terrifying once again.
We are now 10 months into our marriage and therefore into my step-motherhood (another immersion experience) and I can say with much confidence that this is now the hardest thing I have ever done. I find myself once again in a repetitious process of seeking to both contribute and, in time, to belong. And, as they say, therein lies the rub…in time.
After those 9 years of life in Gasamalla I can look back and remember that those first few months were hard, but I have to work to remember how it was hard and what it felt like. Those feelings, even though they would still flare up from time to time over the years, have faded into the shadows of the sincere relationships that were built over that time. Similar to how the pain of labour fades into memory as a mother is handed her just-born baby and continues to fade over years because of the joy of what was gained, all of the most painful parts of the process of belonging in our village are harder to reach now that we live in the joy of what was built through it.
This previous experience is what gives me hope for the new place I find myself in: this new ‘village’ of relationships, these new dimensions of being an outsider, these painful processes of self-denial for the sake of assimilation. It’s not fun. Sure, there are moments of enjoyment and light and fun but there is real struggle in the day to day. The hope for what the future could look like ironically produces grief because it seems so far away. But Tyler and I remind each other that these days are the labour pains of building a new family. Of course it feels insurmountable in the moment – most pain does – but we press into the Lord and into each other trusting and believing that these hard days will fade into the shadows of the sincere relationships that are built by walking through them. We trust that in 10 years we will have to work hard to remember these hard days because the joy we have in our family has overshadowed them. We trust that we will look back and be astonished at all the things God did by bringing this about.
Unexpected curve balls can shake us to the core. But I think that it is while our insides are rattling that our God can do some of His best work as He rearranges the pieces and priorities to serve what He is bringing about. Just because we didn’t see it coming doesn’t mean He is not in it. Just because it isn’t what we had planned or even wanted doesn’t mean it isn’t from His hands. I have, by far, cried more in the last 10 months than I did over the whole of 9 years in South Sudan. But I can press forward because I remember that girl who first stepped off the plane onto that red soil… she was never the same again. The God who shaped so many wonderful things through that process is just as much at work now. Sometimes we are most pliable in His hands when we are rattled by hard and unexpected things. It is then that He seems to shape us.
If these things move you, then let’s do this together. Tyler and I are in the process of building a team that we minister with and on behalf of. Click on the “Together…” link for more information how you can connect with us and what God has drawn us into.