I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. That’s partly why the blog has fallen behind. I haven’t wanted to subject you to all kinds of disjointed thoughts. Sorry if we’ve left you wondering where we’ve been, or how we’ve been doing.
It’s still hard for me to stroll past Ryan’s house at the end of the row on our compound and accept the silence. How many times have I imagined him there in his driveway at work or play as he should be. I struggle to believe that things have changed so definitively in the lives of our ministry team. The permanence—the inability to select “undo”—is quite palpable.
Yet the temporary nature of this event, and all the events of life, weighs against the permanent. In the moments, the loss of friends and loved ones feels so complete. I guess that’s what I was alluding to in the post I wrote right after the accident. But in the course of questioning the death of my father, and then our two friends, I’ve peered into the world of loss, both broadly and close to home, and seen it reflected in eternity—even if dimly, as in a mirror.
Somehow, the process of staring into it trains the eye, or heart, as it may be. That what we naturally see as temporary and what we see as permanent are a bit mixed up. Sometimes they are completely backwards.
And so these days you’re likely to see me curiously paused in front of Ryan’s house looking at nothing in particular. With a tilted head and squinted eye—a knowing smile creasing my cheeks—happy to see my friend standing in the light while I stand (temporarily) here in the shadows. And happy to take that perspective back home with me and into my work.
We are doing well, but there’s a lot going on. I have a new job… which I hope to properly explain in our next newsletter (which is half done), a bunch of new responsibilities and, oddly, less stress (so far) than I’ve felt in years past. Renee and I are tighter than ever. Zach and Amelia seem more content and obedient. I feel blessed. Even more so after I got home last night.
Yesterday I travelled out of town with a Kenyan pastor friend who is working in a few of the many “pockets of need” here locally. I offered to help him create a video to communicate one particular ministry since he’s struggling to raise funds to carry it out. In one day, we visited five different communities of IDPs. These are the Internally Displaced People who were driven from their homes over a year ago when Kenya fell into post-election chaos. By now they are quite forgotten, but I learned there are still over thirty-thousand of them in Kenya. Pastor James and some of his friends are helping a couple hundred of them—mostly widows, orphans, and single moms. A humble, and noble effort.
It was impossible for me to simply come and shoot video though. I became a guest of honor at each stop—something I would rather have avoided. “The missionary” got to say a few words to each of the gatherings of destitute and hopeful. I struggled with what to say, even though I know pretty well what Jesus would say to them. But Jesus could also pull off a miracle and meet their present needs: Food, and healing for both body and spirit. But how does a missionary completely help people whom governments and communities have failed? How does a poor church deal with the needs of the poor around them?
These questions never go away. Twelve years experience and I don’t have it figured out yet. Surely the Church is the answer. And surely part of the answer lies in a proper perspective of the temporal and the eternal. Jesus said we would always have the poor among us. As “Christian” as it may sound to say we will “eradicate” poverty and injustice in this world, I sometimes wonder if we are out of our place. Eden is lost. And justice will only come when the King returns. And yet, the question of how to respond doesn’t get much more straightforward than “look after the widows and orphans.” It’s hard to mess that up. Even so, there are widows and orphans in Ol Kalau today who are hungry and oppressed.
Clearly, there’s work to do—both in helping the church in Africa grow, and in being the Church, which can become uncomfortably personal, and be plagued by the inevitable discouragements of an uphill battle. The most natural thing we can do sometimes is throw up our hands and say, “there’s nothing I can do.”
Speaking of uphill battles, I drove home last night with Pastor James through the rain and darkness, over bad roads populated by bad drivers and poorly maintained vehicles. I lost count at how many close calls we had. But as we climbed the Rift Valley escarpment, and James’ underpowered Honda Civic bogged down, truck after horrendously overloaded and smoke-belching truck began to overtake us. Interestingly, between moments of seeing my life flash before my eyes, there were moments where I saw a picture of missons in Africa; Where the world, all massive and awful, shouldn’t seem to be gaining ground. And the Church, vulnerable but inherently sound, should really be in better repair and a step ahead of the chaos.
Yet here we are at times. Pressing on through the night and the diesel fumes. Sheets of muddy water pounding us and obscuring our view. Holes in the road. And it mostly feels steeply uphill.
Uphill as James and his friends try to help the widows and orphans at Ol Kalau. Uphill as missionaries and pastors with poor resources minister to the poor and drought-stricken in the northern desert. Uphill as instability returns to Sudan. Uphill as AIM tries to figure out how to get missionaries back into central Africa. As our media ministry figures out how to follow its calling with half the budget. As AIM AIR tries to get back to normal; minus two of our crew.
Tomorrow I jump back into the Caravan and launch for Sudan. John and I will cover more than a thousand miles in two days. Loading and unloading cargo. Fighting headwinds and the seasonal rains. We’ll likely be filthy and spent by the time I get home, and probably feel like we only “inched forward” the work of the the Great Commission. But as I get further along in ministry, I’ve begun to revel in the inches. Love them, and live for them. And flash a knowing smile at being counted among those who have fought the good fight, inch by inch… guys like Ryan and Frank and my dad.
Perhaps this misplaced grin is the sign of a missionary gone off the deep end. Or perhaps it’s a hallmark of what missionary is truly made of. The battle is temporary. The victory lasts forever. And it feels good to be in the fight.