Over 40 years ago and a brand-new baby follower of Jesus, I promised God that if He’d have me, I’d someday be a missionary for Him when I grew up.
In what is now approaching 25 years ago, I met a guy who also felt God might just be directing him towards a lifetime of cross-cultural missions work.
I ended up marrying that guy, and twenty years ago he took a “survey” trip to “deepest, darkest” Africa, confirming in our hearts that Niger was where God was leading.
Nearly a generation ago, with three small ones and one on the way, we moved out of the United States for the very first time… That first move was a temporary one… a stepping stone… a place for us to focus on learning a new language and to first dip our toes into the waves of cross cultural living.
I fell in love with that temporary place. If it had been up to my heart, I would have never left. My heart no longer cared that a city on the shores of the Sahara was our ultimate goal. Maybe it was a little like love at first sight…???
Now, years later, after working hard to choose to learn to love our desert home, her people, her culture – God started impressing upon our hearts that He had another transition in store. My heart entrenched, feet firmly planted, work I loved, community I adored, surrounded by immense needs – on every level – so great that we would never more than scratch the surface. Yet God insisted it was time to leave the place that had finally become home for me. It was the only place our eight children really even wanted to call home.
God brought us back to my first love, that first transition spot…
My far-out there dream had come true. We’ve been here for six months and I feel a bit like a kid at Christmas, staring at a tree surrounded by gifts and wondering where to start.
Recently, I met an African refugee family whose journey to Quebec also started roughly 20 years ago – not unlike ours. There’s a huge difference, however: they’ve been long term refugees in one country after fleeing their home… only to end up here, once again refugees fleeing their now unstable and dangerous refuge.
It isn’t fair that He gives some above and beyond -overwhelmingly blessing- while others don’t even seem to have the promised-in-the-Bible daily bread.
I’ve been wrestling with this idea for a few months, now – and, like Jacob, I feel like I’m walking with a permanent limp. God didn’t have to, but for right now, He’s put me in what just might be the one place in all of this world where I would have put my finger down on a map and said, “I’d LOVE to live here!” Not for spiritual or lofty reasons, but simply because I love this place, the weather, the culture, the people. I want to celebrate this gift without feelings of guilt, yet…
Others, with better obedience and deeper faith than I, who’ve sacrificed more than I could imagine just to wear the label of Jesus follower? They’ve lost family, friends, homes, possessions, opportunity… and I’ve been gifted the luxury of working in a ministry I love, with friends and family relatively near, in a place I’ve long dreamed of.
Somewhere – probably on social media – I read a quote about having a theology that travels well… a theology that “works,” not just in my culture and present situation but in all cultures regardless of the situation and all over the world. I’ve tried and tried to find the actual quote again, to no avail. But as I remember, the context had to do with crediting God for what some might consider a trivial-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-blessing in the very real face of another’s great suffering and lack (i.e. gushing about God providing a dreamed for “luxury” car when others around me have lost home, family, job…).
I get the point and it’s valid.
The goal is to NOT transport theological concepts blindly wrapped and packaged in Western cultural baggage and trappings.
Yet good theology insists that we rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who weep – valuing others above self, not looking to self interests but to the interests of the others, and remembering to be sensitive to the very real and very hard life actualities overwhelming those around me.
Good theology also acknowledges the sufficiency and sovereignty of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and all sufficient God. Thus, every good thing, every hard thing, even every bad thing… every single thing… comes, ultimately, from or through His hand.
If you go back and look at the story of Job, a man well-known because of his great suffering, don’t miss the fact that Satan didn’t come to God singling out Job. It was actually God who first mentioned Job’s name… God who focused Satan’s sights on Job.
As I’ve wrestled, I guess I’ve finally decided that I don’t want a theology that travels well – although having such a one might be more convenient and less messy.
Rather, I want a theology that accurately presents, represents and reflects the character of my sovereign, all-sufficient, all gracious and holy God – even when, from my perspective, the results are messy and inconvenient and any answers I might offer fall short.
To quote CS Lewis: “He’s not a tame lion.”