Something has changed. I am not sure exactly when it happened, and only in looking back can I see that it did. But there is no arguing it; things are different now than when we first got off that plane. Back then we were fired up – and ready to take on the needs of the poor even if it meant that we had to sacrifice anything and everything of our own. We had just sold the sum of our earthly possessions back in America, and it was time to give it all for those in need.
That was almost four years ago.
Four years of power outages, bad roads, no money, missing home, water shortages, mystery sicknesses, car trouble, and countless cultural frustrations that brought us to our knees daily. As evidence I submit the following, a photo of our first “kitchen” in Ethiopia.
Now, though, things are easy, or at least easier.
We used to wash dishes in tubs of cold, cloudy well water; we now have a $50 instant water heater next to the sink in our indoor kitchen. We used to spend hours waiting for taxi’s; we now drive a new (if you can call 1997 new) car that rarely breaks down and even has seat belts for all of the kids. We used to run out of water a few days a week; we now have a tank on the outside of our house that keeps the showers on even when the city pipes offer up nothing but air.
Not that life is all perfect and roses now. We still live in a foreign land, and people yell “Ferenj” (foreigner) at us when we walk down the street. Our skin is still the wrong color. We still can’t get Oreos or chocolate chips at the supermarket. On the other hand, we don’t even like Oreos anymore. You don’t miss what you can’t remember.
Part of me, though, feels that with this shift we are not here for the same reasons that we came for. Even though I know that is not true. If anything, we are exponentially more effective today than when we first arrived.
We came to help orphans. When we got here we had to work at helping just one child. Now we help hundreds.
Less complications = more help. Right?
The truth is, though, I kind of miss the struggle. I miss the closeness to God that I felt when I was hurting for the least of these. I miss feeling like I was doing something of value just by being here.
But should I? Was I ever really helping the kingdom more because the couch legs were falling off? Was I somehow holier when I smelled like a tribal person because the water had been out for two weeks?
People keep asking me when I will write a second book. My first was about how we sold everything to move to Ethiopia, messed up our perfect lives to rescue children who were being killed due to a tribal superstition, and nearly lost ourselves in the process. The second book, if I were to write one, would be boring as all get out! I am left to wonder what part of this change our lives has gone through is good.
Today with this post I want to pose a question to all missionaries, missionary hopefuls, and missionary supporters.
I want to open a discussion about suffering and productivity. I honestly don’t know where I land on this. Some days I am all about making our home as comfortable as possible so that we can “last” longer in this place. Other days I am ready to give it all up so that I can help more people who have nothing themselves.
When visiting friends I can see that every missionary has a different point of view when it comes to how much is “enough”. I know it will never be the same for everyone. Still, I am left here wondering: is there a right and a wrong when it comes to how we should live as missionaries?
Okay. Enough said by me. What do you think?
Levi Benkert – lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with his wife and four children where they together created a ministry called Bring Love In that unites widows from the local community with orphans from the government orphanages to create new families. He wrote a book called No Greater Love and writes a personal blog at www.LeviBenkert.com