That verse about how we should “make it our ambition to lead quiet lives, minding our affairs and working with our hands” has taken on a whole new meaning this week. It’s hard not to feel like a pioneer out here, and the introduction of a new activity this week took it one step further.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, we hoed our field this week. I hoed a field, in our front yard, in front of our mountain, in the heat of the day with my spaghetti-sized arms, in order to plant crops to help sustain me. How wonderfully and epically 1850s is that? You stand before a plot of land, and go through using the fiyeka (a machete that’s bent like a golf club) to clear the tall grass and small shrubs and also toss rocks aside. That in and of itself can take an hour or so. Then you take the hoe, hold in directly over you head, swing in to into the dirt, pulling it forward to free the huge clump of dirt and grass you hopefully got. You do this, over, and over and over again, for hours, days in a row and then you’ll finally have a workable plot of land for planting.
It took me a while and I had to bind my hands on day two to protect my growing blisters, but I can’t explain how exhilarated I was to discover that I could actually do it. As a skinny girl who routinely acknowledges her lack of athletic build, I’m intimidated by manual labor. Here, I don’t even have the chance—I just do what I have to. I felt very satisfied indeed as I collapsed into my bed after the second day of hoeing, stomach full of a glorious feast of boiled potatoes, fried chicken and kasava leaves, after three days of beans and rice twice daily. Nothing like working hard for your food like you imagine those on homestead in the Wild, Wild West did.
All the pride I felt at my accomplishments was tempered by the kindness of a sweet eleven-year-old named Aeroboti. While the rest of the village kids played on their Saturday, this thin boy with a worn shirt missing all it’s front buttons came to visit with his little brother, Cassian, in tow. After somehow procuring an extra hoe, he worked by me silently while Cassian stood by further up the yard, just as shy. He worked for nearly 3 hours without breaks, except for when I encouraged him to come have water with me every so often. He worked well, maybe even better than me and he did so in silence. I managed to get out of him that he has four siblings, he does attended school and he’s actually Mule, (Moo-lay), rather than Wasukuma or Rungwa. I was touched; most of the kids in the village will help us out of boredom (literally there is nothing better for them to do for fun than help the neighborhood wazungus) and they do well, but lose interest after a while. He worked right until lunchtime, which is when we finished the plot for the day. I found some of the candy canes Auntie Paula sent me and gave them to him and Cassian when we finished, which he again took silently and they disappeared. I saw him down in the village with all the other boys later that day and called him by name, thanking him for all his hard work. The transformation was amazing. The boys previously leading the pack slowed down and crowded around him in amazement that he knew one of the new lady wazungus. I saw their respect grow for this very shy boy and he stood taller as he walked and ended up leading the group away. Small things like this are my favorite. Seeing each child more than once and learning their personalities and who they are, is so much more wonderful than just taking pictures and leaving.
Take Kasali for example.
He’s three and he’s the one that grabbed my hair in curiosity last week. He didn’t fail to disappoint and did it again when I saw him this week, and even breached the distance that all the children have been keeping and climbed into my arms. I had just bathed and finally gotten myself clean for the day, but with his great brown eyes and his little black arms clinging to my neck like a Koala, I just sighed and happily resigned myself to carting him around for the next twenty minutes. It was wonderful.
Oh, how I love these babies. Even when MySue is sassy and won’t listen when I tell her to go away because Pam and I are bathing, or when Serena is grabbing my chest to be naughty or when the boys immediately greet you asking for lollipops and are cross when you don’t give them to them. Each one of them is a little person, growing into a big person, with thoughts and dreams and hopes and there is so much potential for love in their little hearts. I aim to prioritize my growth in relationship with them as time goes on.
Most tasks I’ve been assigned to this week are pretty menial and not glamorous, but missionary life is as much about wiping rat urine off of New Testaments (welcome to my entire Thursday) as it is about building relationships and helping deliver people from years of spiritual bondage. Since we’re still moving in and building additions to the house, Tori says our 10 – 15 hired workers will probably be with us another two weeks at least. The kitchens, the storeroom and choo still need to be finished, and we need shutters to keep the rain out. Amid our daily work, the team is going out to meet our neighbors when they can; Hillary, Joseph, Pam and Gabriel actually already started a home group, which they attended on Wednesday evening.
I went out for the first time on Saturday afternoon with Hillary, Joseph and Issac, our new translator who has come to help us for a while. We’re to go out two by two, so as not to be overwhelming and I’ve been paired up with Tori, but since he’s been running around heading up an entire construction crew each day to help us get settled, I decided to go out with the others.
I need to interject here for a minute and say that door-to-door evangelism is one of the things I do out of obedience. It sounds terribly unchristian of me to say (especially as a missionary, oh no!), but nine times out of ten, I don’t buy it. Rarely if ever, can I discern genuine motives from the “solicitor”. Whether it’s others, who knows nothing about me, but have determined my needs somehow and intends to sell me something on my front steps. I watch my heart and I don’t buy it from myself, either. The pastoral, shepherding nature God has given me for cultivating relationships and seeing growth over time loathes this “quick fix”, with no intimacy and no sharing of life with that individual I’m trying to “win”. To watch myself trudge out to fulfill the obligation that’s burned into my cranium (that I probably put on myself)—that I must immediately convert people through whatever tactics necessary or else be considered a failure. The still small voice that whispered there is more than this.
Stay with me, there is redemption yet.
So down we went, down our winding driveway, turning left down our dirt street and to the first house on the left. I prayed constantly as I went that God would be glorified regardless above all, with a desperation typically unfamiliar to me. I felt very hungry and very tired and like I was starving, going out to feed those hungrier than myself without food having yet been provided, holding onto this hope that seemed so faint in my mind as I watched the fields of maize pass me: Let be and be still, recognizing that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. My purposes will not be frustrated by anything, not even you, little girl.
I treasured this promise given and walked with a bit more determination. Moments later, fear threatened to steal it away as the typical story of many women here unfolded before my eyes. Faustina is 26 and seems to be simply resting on her straw mattress, slightly under the weather, but healthy nonetheless. One of her children, and her mother, Julia, sit beside her. We discover she has two more children and a husband in Mbaya. A battered notebook with crude English scrawling of the best assessment she could get from the village doctor catches my breath for a moment as I see the hated word, the word that harnesses all the powers of hell to destroy life here: HIV.
Our educated guesses leave us with two options: someone took advantage of her or her husband is being unfaithful to her. Both bring equal amounts of shame and are not to be discussed with strangers, especially through a male translator. Her eyes were so tired and sad looking, and I couldn’t help myself as tears welled up in my eyes. A five minute walk from our house and there she was, and I never would have known if I hadn’t been obedient to go out regardless of my reservations.
They professed to be Catholic, but judging by the beads I saw around the infants waists, there’s a good chance they’re mixing superstition and good luck charms, a practice very common here in Tanzanian. Often, one man is a Catholic priest by day and a witch doctor by night.
While I’d love to report that she came to a saving faith in Jesus and was instantly healed, during those few minutes we sat with her, that’s not what happened. I’m learning as I go, and it’s scary to learn when someone lays in front of you with HIV and you try to tell her that Jesus loves her and can take care of her and all she wants to know is if we’ll have the clinic running soon. I feel myself getting weaker in my resolve. We tell her we will return and try to take her to the hospital in a few days and I throw myself at Tori as soon as I get home to tell him her situation. And I cry all during devotions the following day because Faustina is suffering, probably from the worst imaginable and I feel powerless to help her. What if she doesn’t get better? How will that make God look? What do I pray? How I can pray for her when I’m not sure what will happen? Your purposes won’t be frustrated? Are you sure, God?
None of this is glamorous and none of it sounds like what a good missionary would say, but I am still me. I still have my reservations and insecurities and very blatant lack of faith in certain areas, but it’s not meant to be something that shames me into silence and denial. Part of me being here is facing myself and these are the things I think when push comes to shove. Yet, praise be to God, there lies in each moment of raw honesty the moment that He speaks.
God is just as much as work in what seems to be our unanswered prayers, as He is when we feel we get the results we asked for. I am not here to assume I know God’s mind on each point of doctrine and I would be arrogant to assume that if I just prayed a specific formula God would do the same thing every time. This is the lie that I’ve believed for a while: that if I do this, God is obligated to do that and I can expect it. I have become no different than a witch doctor in the wielding of the phrase “in the name of Jesus”. Maybe if I just rubbed my relic again or shouted louder or believed more or gave more of myself, I’d get the result I’m expecting. Without consulting God for the specific situation and allowing His Spirit to speak to me, I take His Name out and use it, and put it back on the shelf when I’ve done what I felt like I needed to do.
Here me now: I believe God can and does heal people. I believe that there is a power in the mere mention of the name of Jesus that is greater than any other force in the world. I believe we are to lay hands on and pray for the sick. I believe God is capable and willing to do things that we aren’t bold enough to pray for. And I also believe that during this time, we will see radical conversions as well as signs and wonders.
What I no longer believe is that God owes it to me to reveal all His reasonings as to why He does what He does, nor that He owes it to me to do the same thing every time. I can’t always explain God, and while that may seem like a cop out, the idea that we as Christians are suppose to have all the answers and be able to predict what God will do in each situation is completely presumptuous. God’s mystery is part of His glory and His other-ness. He will make His Name great among all the tribes and nations, and I don’t have to be afraid that because He didn’t do what I think He needed to do in the moment that He is in capable. He is faithful to His Name and uses all our experiences for our good as I am called (Romans 8:28) and I don’t have to pray small prayers in fear that God won’t protect the honor of His name (Isaiah 55:11).
And that’s all I have here, guys. There’s no neat resolution that I can tie up with a bow and I can’t say I have it all figured out. All I can say is I’m confident that God is working out of me mindsets and fears and attitudes that don’t make Him look good and keep me trapped and that He’ll be just as faithful to do that in others that I meet. I am called to be faithful, not “successful”. Pray with me for Faustina, and that God will change her circumstances as well as her heart towards Him, and that we can grow in our friendship with her. God will make Himself great, one of His beloved children at a time.
And there are a lot of them.