Thursday, June 19, 2014

Continuing the Journey: Confirmation

We had been in Cameroon for a few months and were talking with a missionary couple, asking questions about their life as missionaries.  We sat in their home, a beautiful space surrounded by exotic plants and flowers, and we asked hard questions and got hard answers about the daily life of a missionary.

This couple had spent a few years as missionaries before having kids, and I remember asking the wife what it was like to raise and homeschool their daughters on the mission field.  Her response has stuck with me.  She said that after discipling Fulani believers alongside her husband, it was a difficult transition to being a stay-at-home mom on the mission field.  Her role changed.  She couldn't spend as much time ministering because she had to take care of their daughter.  Then another daughter came along and she was twice as busy at home as before.  What I remember most was this: it took her five years to be satisfied with taking care of their girls.  Before they had kids, she was involved in the ministry.  She knew the language just as well as her husband.  She was invested in the community and had good relationships with other women.  Then their babies came along and, well, that changed things.  She was changing diapers and feeding hungry mouths while her husband's local language skills improved.  She stayed home so the girls could nap while her husband was visiting and discipling men in the Fulani church.  She was teaching her girls numbers and letters while he was praying over the sick and sharing the Good News.  It took her five years to be satisfied with her new role on the mission field.  (It should be noted, however, that by the time we were talking with them, she had since found great satisfaction in it.)

This conversation played over and over in my mind for the remainder of our time in Cameroon, not least of which because one of my fears about living overseas was the plight of being relegated to being a homemaker if we had kids.

We had gone to Cameroon with a lot of questions about missions, but the overarching question was, "Is God calling us to medical missions long-term in the future?"

As I listened to the missionary wife, I remember thinking, "Wow.  That's what I'm gonna have to do if we have kids.  Okay.  Okay.  Wow.  That's not what I want to do.  How am I gonna come to terms with this?  But okay."  At which point I realized, as one of many times during our stay in Africa, that my response to that conversation was also a response to the bigger question at hand.  Would I raise and homeschool our future kids on the mission field even though that's not how I really want to spend my time?  Yes.  Because are we called to medical missions long-term in the future?  Yes.

I was able to say, "That's not what I want to do, but okay" because the call to missions was informing all other decisions.  The idea of doing something I didn't necessarily want to do was not shaping whether we felt called to be missionaries.  Quite the opposite.  Our call to missions was shaping all else, even the idea of coming to terms with being a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler to our future kids.

We spent nearly five months in Cameroon with the purpose of discerning whether we should pursue this again.  The answer to our question was a resounding "Yes."  The confirmation came at many times and in many facets.  There wasn't writing on the wall or a banner in the sky.  But there were nudgings, as well as an underlying peace about the idea of spending more of our life doing this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed through the work we were doing.  Joining the clinic staff and a missionary as they took an old Toyota truck into the middle of the bush and gave babies another round of vaccinations has a way of tugging your heart.  Hearing mothers say, "Our kids don't get sick anymore since you brought the medicine" has a way of planting your heart right there in the African soil, refusing to be uprooted and taken back to America.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed just by being there.  Waking up to the smell of dirt warming in the African sun and then hearing children run through the yard as they chase an escaped chicken has a way of making you feel at home.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed by the immense opportunity to help.  Watching men build a house with mud bricks or seeing women haul firewood and wash clothes in the creek has a way of reminding you that it takes a lot of work to live here.  And there's opportunity to make one part of life a little easier for many people: bringing healthcare.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed by the friendships we developed.  One of the greatest lessons we learned from our entire time in Cameroon is that, yes, cross-cultural friendships are possible.  Not only that, they are deep and meaningful and they challenge and grow us in ways that friendships from within our own culture cannot do.  We learned that we do not have to fear being lonely in Africa because friendships will happen, and they will ground us there.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed through purely selfish reasons, like our love of the hiking or our intrigue in the exotic.  There's good hiking in the African bush, as long as you're not wary of termites or snakes or spiders or the occasional monkey.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Sometimes our call was confirmed through the people we met at the clinic.  A young burn victim who had never learned to read or write inspires you to have her beautiful name carved onto a sign so she can see it anytime.  Her faith in Allah drives you to your knees, praying that her name will be written in the Book of Life one day.  She needs someone to pray for her, to cry out to God on her behalf, to bring her name before the Throne.

Yes, we felt called to this.

Through many moments, many conversations, many prayers, many inklings...yes, we felt called to this.  It had been confirmed.

Our experience in Cameroon led us to the conclusion that, yes, we were called to be medical missionaries long-term in the future.  We praised God for making it clear and for granting us the freedom to take the next step: medical school for Eli.  So we returned home, packed up and moved, and less than two months after returning from Africa, we began the next phase of the journey.