(The following post is a reprint, originally published at Relevant Magazine and reprinted with permission. Thanks for understanding the limited writing opportunities while I am homeless for a month, wandering the Horn of Africa.)
In 2003 I moved to the Horn of Africa. My husband had a teaching contract at the only functional University and I was going to concentrate on raising our twin toddlers. I brought with me peanut butter, English novels, Legos, and certain expectations. I expected my husband to make a significant contribution to the development of the nation, I expected to be a good mother and a loving neighbor. But the most foundational expectation I carried was that Jesus was not a liar.
Jesus promised some things and I came to Africa expecting, needing him to fulfill those promises. I thought the promises were that life would be fascinating, challenging (but not quite death-defyingly difficult) and meaningful. I thought I would feel reasonably comfortable and useful, that I would be able to mask my weaknesses. But then things got hard. There was an emergency evacuation, a deadly flood, a car accident, a move to my third country in less than a year. Sick children, loneliness, futility, oppressive heat. And I started to wonder. Had I misunderstood? Or was Jesus a liar?
I like to be comfortable. I don’t like sweat dripping from my eyelids, dirt caked between my toes, or my hair falling out in clumps. I don’t like speaking in accented, broken Somali, like a child. I don’t always like wearing baggy local clothes that look like pajamas or throwing a black cloak over an already-sweat-soaked outfit. I don’t like living far away from my family or being stared at, pointed at, talked about. I really don’t like cold showers.
If Jesus promised a comfortable life, he’s a liar.
But he didn’t. He promised his presence. (Matthew 28:20)
Mercy doesn’t come easy to a sinful heart. Sometimes I cringe when my children step in human feces left in the yard after a meal for homeless women. I close my eyes when I pull sweaty unwashed HIV-positive hands, sores oozing, to my lips for the traditional kiss of greeting. I grow impatient when beggars stop me and ask for medicine when I am late for a meeting or a play date.
If Jesus promised a natural affection, he’s a liar.
But he didn’t. He promised to show mercy to the merciful. (Matthew 5:7)
I don’t understand why I have so much. Why my children attend school and eat dessert, why we own a car. Why my neighbor can’t afford school supplies and skips dinner so her children can eat. Why I am not the one selling my body every night for a bottle of water. Why I have all my limbs and all my senses and all my education.
If Jesus promised this life would all make sense, he’s a liar.
But he didn’t. He promised that caring for the needy is also caring for him. (Matthew 25:40)
I am angry about poverty and disease and injustice and oppression. I’m angry about insulting movies and murdered ambassadors. I’m angry about being called a whore and watching people make throat-slitting motions at me because of the color of my skin. I’m angry about Christians who say, “how can you stand, hand-in-hand with Muslims?” and about Christians who pass cruel, judgmental emails around the internet.
If Jesus promised world peace, he’s a liar.
But he didn’t. He promised to be our peace. (John 14:27, Ephesians 2:14)
All I have is this one life, all I have are insufficient words, all I have is this temporary, weak, selfish body. After ten years in Somalia and Djibouti, I’ve started to wonder if I have made any impact, made any difference at all.
If Jesus promised superhero strength and powers and effectiveness, he’s a liar.
But he didn’t. He promised the power of an empty grave. (Philippians 3:10)
So here I am in Djibouti, east Africa, living in a place that thrusts me into uncomfortability. Here I am, trying to show mercy. Here I am, caring for Jesus in the poor of my community and learning active compassion. Here I am, pursuing peace and trusting him to be my peace. Here I am, weak and totally dependent on the power that conquered death.
This assurance of the presence of Jesus, no matter where I live, is the source for fullness of joy, the sustaining fountain to which I return daily. Overflowing, over-spilling fullness. Not because his being with me makes things comfortable, but because he reminds me to fix my eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. To look deeper than a dirty hand or the stifling heat or my own sin. To see his handiwork in a newborn baby and a dusty-rose sunset and a merciful response in place of an impatient one.
His way of living, of loving, of dying, and of reigning reminds me that I am not supposed to be completely comfortable. I am an alien and a stranger, longing for the heavenly country Jesus secured for me.
So here I am, relying on and loving and (dimly) reflecting Jesus, the One who is no liar.
*image via Wikipedia