[Editor’s Note: A young couple with two young children (one 2 years old and one just 6 months old) began their first term as missionaries in East Africa in June of last year. After their first four months on the field, the wife wrote an article in their newsletter that speaks of the challenges she faced and why she continues to be willing to face them.]
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My Life as a Big Baby
People learn to bloom where they are planted. I grew up in America, so I learned most of the important skills for living there. I can boil spaghetti as well as the next person. I can drive in Dallas rush-hour traffic while eating a cheeseburger. I have learned how to write a good term paper, how to find a bargain on quality children’s clothing, and how to use the internet to expedite nearly every facet of my life.
But now I live in East Africa, and the three-year-old next door knows more about how to survive here than I do. I scorch the beans and let the milk boil over. I don’t know how to wash my clothes when the electricity goes out. I can’t drive myself to the grocery store.
I don’t know the names of the trees in my own yard, and I had no idea that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant. I’m reminded of the little farm girl in the movie version of Love Comes Softly, who asks her citified stepmother, “How’d you get to be so old without knowin’ how to do nothin’?”
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I speak like a toddler, with halts and mistakes and frustration at not being able to explain myself or ask a simple question. Many times I want to tell a story from my childhood or make a joke or just explain that the reason I’m cranky is because I miss my family. But like a child in the throes of the terrible twos, I don’t have the words to say what I mean, and I’m reduced to awkward silence in order to avoid bursting into culturally inappropriate tears.
It is a humbling experience to find myself in a world different from the one I have always known. I grew up in a charmed place where clean water flows from every faucet, public restrooms exist, we have entire retail chains devoted to pet supplies and baby care gadgets, and the amount of food that we throw away is more than enough to feed every hungry person in the world.
I have thrown away half a casserole before just because I had so many other things to eat that it lost its appeal before I had a chance to eat it. That thought actually brings tears to my eyes now. I have been padded and protected from the realities of life. I have learned to bloom in a greenhouse, but I know nothing about how to sink my roots deep to find water, push my way up through the weeds, and stretch my leaves high for my share of sunlight.
(And lest you feel sorry for me in my exotic plight, I confess that even here I am still sheltered from the hardships of life. I live in relative luxury, and I stand in awe of the strength and grace of the people around me.)
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But Christ did the same for me. He left his blissful home and the perfectly comfortable relationship with the Father that he had known for all of eternity. He came to live in a sweaty, thirsty, unsafe place. His new friends didn’t “get” him, no one appreciated what he was giving up, and the demands placed on him were overwhelming. He was willing to look awkward, to be misunderstood and even victimized in order to reach his long-term goal.
We aspire to have a small piece in that same work. Whether or not we succeed in our translation endeavors, I hope our willingness to be overgrown babies in this culture will show our neighbors that we are here because the love of Christ – both his love for us and his love for them – compels us.
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This story reminds us that we who have grown up in highly developed countries are rich beyond comparison to most of the rest of the world. But our greatest treasure is not some material object or privileged status in the world. No, our greatest treasure is the knowledge and the faith we hold that Jesus crossed the greatest cultural barrier by leaving His place in Heaven and coming to live among mankind.
This is a treasure that is available to every man, woman and child on the earth, because the love of God is no respecter of person, He loves every person on earth equally. But to get this message of hope and love to people, some of us may have to go like this young couple and cross geographical and linguistic boundaries to share this message.
It’s not easy to live and work cross-culturally. It can be downright frustrating and often times humiliating as was shown in the story above. And yet it is all worth it. When we do find the right words, in a language that the people do understand, so many times their faces light up to know that God has not forgotten them. Knowing that Jesus came to die for them and grant them God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life is life steams of living water bursting forth in the middle of a great desert. What a privilege and an honor it is to serve people in this way as an ambassador of God.