Last night I began the daunting task of packing up to go back to Uganda. I began to think about how much of a missionaries life is spent going from one place to another. Not only moving from one country to another, but time spent on the road (both in your home country and abroad). Even over this short time in Canada I’ve stayed in 4 different places, and next week as I prepare for attending a friends wedding as well as some meetings with individuals and churches next week, I’ll be staying in another 3 or 4 homes. Then, I’ll fly back to Canada, spend a few days with my parents and then drive to Toronto and fly back to Uganda. I’ve come to realize that I spend a lot of time packing, sifting things out, keeping some things for special occasions/needs, prioritizing what’s really important… Setting out the things I can’t live without (like toothpaste & deodorant), the things that would make life easier (like a few more settings of silverware & some loaf pans), the things I need for ministry (like Sunday School materials), and the things that I’d like to take with me (like dark chocolate for an occasional treat or a homey candle). I smiled as I brought out the sandals and dresses and put my fur hat, wool scarf, down coat, and lined pants into a bag to go into storage until my next visit home to Canada. I pulled out my “in-between climates” coat which will I’ll put on at the airport and then put into storage once I arrive in Uganda. Can I just say wardrobe management gets a little tricky going between such extreme climates?!
Once I finished organizing what would be stored here I set about to attack the pile that had been accumulating over the last few weeks of things I needed to take back with me. The pile looked huge and I had my doubts of whether or not I could really fit all this in my suitcases! Then I began the “de-packaging” process… taking the toothpaste out of its box, the hair elastics come off the cardboard display case and get jammed into a sandwich bag, shoes get taken out of their cardboard boxes and put into bags, shirts get zipped up in an airtight bag. It’s amazing how much excess “stuff“ packaging produces. You know that little half-inch by two-inch USB stick comes in a plastic box that’s about 30 times it actual size? I guess manufacturers figure that we will pay them more or choose their product if it comes in a huge flashy package? I began to think about how so much of our lives are about packaging-the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the car we drive, the way our hair looks. Our table settings are as much motivated by appearance as usefulness. I love a pretty table, but I realized that (as I don’t really have a dining room table in Uganda) I should set aside the pretty napkin rings I had placed in “the pile” in the thought they’d be fun to have.
Our cars are as much chosen based on how they look and make us feel as they are chosen on the basic need… wheels to get somewhere! (In full disclosure I had a nice sports car before I moved to Uganda and I really enjoyed it.) I’ve now realized that my Mom’s minivan can serve and get me to a location-yes it doesn’t have heated leather seats, Bluetooth, or a Bose stereo system but it serves the same basic purpose. I put my patent leather shoes into the bag of clothes to go back into storage. (You guys who know me well know that from my office days I had fun with my numerous pairs of work shoes!) I wonder when the next time will be that I’ll wear my four-inch red heels…. Don’t exactly need them on those muddy jungle paths! I continue thinking about packaging as I pull some make-up out of it’s packaging. (And yes, even though we can’t always look good in the jungle-it’s nice to be able to polish up every now and again!) But, yes it’s really just packaging.
My mind goes back to packaging-there’s nothing wrong with packaging or things, but as Christians we should always be sorting, sifting out, leaving behind, planning for the next thing-heaven & eternity! We can’t tell each other what are excess-different locations and cultures require different things. In Canada I never had a water purification system… but now my Berky water pot is one of my prized possessions. At the same time, if I wore flip-flops to my previous job on the Hill that wouldn’t have been acceptable either. Some have asked me if it was hard to come back here and see all that people have-but it really hasn’t. I’ve enjoyed going to the kitchen tap and drinking water right from the spout; but I’ve also re-learned how to iron and that to look neat here your clothes should be wrinkle free!
Somehow thinking about heaven makes it a lot easier to pack up and move in a suitcase once again. And when you think of heaven it’s a lot easier to decide what to leave behind-the packaging!
Hebrews tells us to cast off the weights that hold us down and inhibit us from running the race well. Some of these things we will set aside forever because we don’t really need them to run the race well & some of these things we will set aside for a time because we don’t need them for the current path (like my down coat.) At the same time my heart rejoices because I see how God has so faithfully provided everything I need. (As I put in some sunscreen I haven’t needed to use daily in Canada like I do in Uganda and I throw in the bottle of digestive supplements someone gave me to assist us in the “after-affects” of eating local food. Never needed anything like that before-but we’ve got new priorities, Homie!)
I take a deep breath and get back to my “missionary” sorting. I realized that we as Christians should always be sorting through things in our lives and I’m not just talking about our earthly possessions! Are we wasting our time on anything? Is our old schedule not reflecting new priorities that the Lord may have for us? What old thing (even if it was good) should I let go of in my heart, my passions, my goals, or plans to clear space for something new that the Lord may be bringing my way? He’s got good things in store-He “does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.” Are we seeking God and committing our cause to Him? (Job 5:8-9)
I began to think about how often we judge one another (especially in North-American culture) based on our “packaging.” Do we reject someone because they look funny or because they are socially awkward? Do we value people who are attractive more than those who aren’t? Do we treat people who have money differently than those who don’t? Do we respect someone more if they are outstanding businessmen? Do we seek out people to encourage them or do we tend to talk to the people who are easy to talk to? Are our interactions motivated by what we can get from them or by what we can give? Are our actions based on results rather than character and love? God uses unpredictable things and those we least expect.
Are we ok with leaving behind the comfortable place in our packaging to love the people that are “weird” or that associating with may cost us? Just before I left for Christmas there was a fairly big outbreak of ringworm amongst the children in our village. My little “shadow” who loves to sit with “Auntie Laura” at church lost almost all her hair and had scabs all over her skin. Would I still let her sit on my lap, would I hold her in my arms as we sang in church, would I let her put her head on my shoulder and fall asleep when the service went on for hours? Part of me wanted to say no, but the other part of me realized that now more than ever she needed someone to love her. So, I tried to keep her sleepy head on the fabric of my dress and trusted that God could protect me while I loved her. When we stop viewing people and situations through the viewpoint of “packaging” we view them as Christ sees them-people in need of Savior and His love. Living looking past the packaging and for what is real (Jesus and heaven) brings a deep peaceful joy.
And as I put the big pile of disposed unneeded packaging in a trash bin I pray once again that the Lord would help me focus on serving Him and living for heaven. That He would keep me sensitive to Him in what he wants me to “pack” for current needs, or what is “packaging” and I should just leave behind.