She looked at me with her sweet blue eyes and asked this question, “but do you still want to go?” The question surprised me in the moment, and yet I understand why she asked the question. My little sister was seeing me off at the airport and I had tears shamelessly flowing down my cheeks. Seeing me cry, I guess she began to wonder if I had somehow at the last minute changed my mind. All the months of work and planning to return to Uganda long-term were now a thing of the past, and the new phase of returning to live in Uganda was now my new present. If I wanted to return and I was so happy to return, she was trying to understand: why was I crying? God had clearly called, gifted and prepared me for life and ministry here. I loved the people and many aspects of life here. But, she had also heard about the many hardships of life & ministry and the things I don’t like very much. We had numerous discussions in the preceding days about cultural differences, and the process and daily challenge of living and sharing life with the African people.
I wanted to return, I know the sweet joy and peace that comes from being right where God wants you-and I didn’t doubt for one minute that I was about to head to the place where God wanted me. A place that I knew from previous experience would hold BOTH joy and pain, peace and tension, adventure and drudgery, excitement and frustration, deep friendships and isolation.
The first time you head off to the mission field you are giddy with excitement—you see only the adventure ahead. But once you have experience on the field the excitement is mixed with the clear reality that a life overseas is a mixed bag of joy and pain, success and disappointment. The same things that bring excitement and adventure can also be the exact same things that bring drudgery and frustration. Leaving a busy career from working in federal politics where efficiency, long hours, and formality is a way of life; arriving in an African culture is a sweet surprise as the pace of life is much simpler; the pace dramatically slowed down one finds refreshing. (Yes, I forgot once again just how sweet a simpler life can be until I arrived back on the ground a few days ago!) However, in minutes one’s perspective on the exact same thing can change… For example, I may be delighting in the peaceful slow pace of this country-sitting on the porch sipping coffee, listening to the birds, and watching the monkeys play… but a few moments later this slowed pace is aggravating when the internet does not cooperate and you only hope and pray that you can get that ONE email to leave your outbox! Or, when you had a whole list of things to do, but at the end of the day you call it success that you merely got a little banking done and loaded minutes unto your phone. (Things that you might have accomplished in minutes in North America.)
People try to understand why we seek out this type of a life… “are you crazy?” “Why would you choose to enter a life that holds so much hardship?” And yet, just a few minutes later we might bubble over telling of the joys of life here—the lives being changed by the gospel, or the simple pleasure of the cooling effect of a boda ride (motorbike) on a hot day. Minutes later we might be suddenly speaking of waging war, yet again, on rodents, snakes and ants.
So, for my little sister, and the rest of you reading this I try to explain the concept of paradox of life overseas. In our cross cultural training courses they teach us this concept of paradox, and they begin to indoctrinate us with the concept that we must embrace the idea that things come in pairs, and the more we embrace a mixed bag and can express both sides of the coin, the more at peace we will be with the present. The “Expat” community knows the reality of this concept on a deep level. The desire to experience the new, to embrace change—all-the-while missing the old secure predictable life. The joys of returning to your African family, all-the-while missing your old family and wishing that somehow that these two worlds could be meshed together, that the distance could be made shorter.
The dictionary defines Paradox as: “something that is made up of two opposite things that seem impossible but is actually true or possible…a statement or proposition that, despite sound reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory… a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that when investigated or explained may prove to be well-founded or true.” (And, if I seem to be having difficulty explaining this concept… I take comfort in the fact that even the dictionary definition of the word seems to contradict itself! Haha)
A few days ago I wrote in my journal of some of my feelings and reflections on re-entering this place: “I don’t know what the coming days and months will hold but I am convinced and completely at peace He has me here, He has brought me here, He will be with me here and there are far better things ahead than what I left behind. Thank you Jesus for the precious memories of this place, My dear sweet friends-missionaries and Ugandan’s alike. Lord, I also thank you for the sad hard memories of this place. If it wasn’t for pain, we wouldn’t recognize joy would we? God is good and all that He does is good….”
So my dear friends and family, while I miss you and wish that you all could be here with me; while I enjoy the ginger drink here called a “Stoney” all-the-while wishing there was a Starbucks around the corner… know that you are loved and missed. Know that I am incredibly happy to be here-I’m overwhelmed with the joy that God has chosen to send me back to this place. I’m excited to see what God will do in the coming years, embracing the adventure, and yet I’m also needing His strength so very much for the unknown. I need His joy for those moments of frustration; I need His Spirit to empower me in those moments when I feel hopeless or overwhelmed… and yet know also that I experience His joy in those moments when things are full of joy and adventure. And, I also look forward with you to the coming days in Heaven when all things paradox will be perfectly resolved. In the meantime know that our joy is made fuller through tears, and know that we will grow in perspective once again as we embrace all things paradox. Our hearts are made larger, our hope deeper, as our hands grow bigger holding this big paradox called life overseas.
“Awake put on strength, oh arm of the Lord. Was it not you who but Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? … Was it not you who dried up the sea?... And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and Come to Zion with Singing, and Everlasting Joy shall be Upon their heads; They shall obtain gladness and Joy, and Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Excerpts from Isaiah 51