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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pilgrims and Strangers

For 16 1/2 years, we've lived the paradox of being pilgrims from our families and country of origin and strangers in Uganda's Semliki valley . . . and yet not pilgrims, because we've stayed put in the same house and job and community all that time, and not strangers as we've delved into language and culture and connection and life.  About ten years in we noticed a definite shift, the community beginning to accept us as part of the normal background of life.  We did not have a plan B.  

But part of the missionary rhythm of life is supposed to include the "home ministry assignment" (a.k.a., furlough), the periodic return to one's supporting churches to report and encourage and ignite vision, the refreshment of reconnecting with family and the familiar.  In WHM that is approximately 1 year in 5.  This has basis in the Biblical principle of sabbatical, 1 year in 7, an acknowledgement of the creation pattern of work and rest, a challenge to the life of faith, a counter-cultural turn from relentless forward progress.  We took ours in 2000, a memorable year in Baltimore when we completed MPH degrees at Hopkins and had live-in rotating grandparent help and bonding.  And since then we've had a hard time seeing beyond the wisdom and goodness of remaining rooted, with shorter trips as family crises or the needs for meetings arose, always pushing the sabbatical/HMA time a bit further back.  Now with Travis and Amy Johnson on the team, as we've thought about how to manage HMA again in 2010, we've seen God leading us in good but painful paths.  Back to pilgrimage.

First, Scott has been asked to take the job of Africa Field Director with WHM.  This is an honor for him, and us, as we are fully committed to WHM and Africa, and love the various teams, the people and the work.  It allows us to step aside for new leadership to arise on the team level, and yet to remain intimately connected with the tiny part of the Kingdom that we've been privileged to witness.  It is, however, a job that requires him to travel and communicate in ways that are not compatible with living in Bundibugyo full time.  And secondly, our mission leadership and family have been supportive of the idea of a short America-based HMA (mid-July to Dec) and a longer near-Nairobi-based time.  We have a commitment from Kijabe Hospital for both of us to work half-time there, so Scott can be a Field Director and I can be a mom, having 3 of our 4 kids at home (it's right next to RVA) . . while still practicing medicine in Africa which is our passion.  And in a place where we can learn and grow, for the good of Bundi and places like it some day, as well as our own good.

All that came together last week when Scott was interviewed for the Field Director job, and accepted.  In my heart it came together when we were in the process of thinking about our year and my mom called ME and suggested pretty much this very plan, before we could have told her anything, even though it involved sacrifice and loss for her.  It was a goose-bump, Holy-Spirit-leading, moment.

And I have to remind myself of all that, because right now, the whole plan feels very, very sad.  WHM asked us to wait until Thursday to begin talking about the job and changes.  So we booked out our days on Thursday and Friday to spend going from person to person, group to group, to explain face to face how our job is changing.  Scott walked our friends through the news of the new job, and its implications.  I mostly sat next to him and cried.  Though WHM is a very small organization, it is a good thing for our friends here to find out that they now have an advocate in a "higher" place, that we remain with the big picture ongoing work.  However, it is NOT a good thing to introduce a thousand kilometers of separation, to break our daily community life, particularly for the kids who have become part of our extended family.  I grieve that for myself, and for them.  I grieve the pain we are causing the brave souls who have taken us into their hearts, who have risked friendship, who hoped we would not be one more in a long string of departing people, who could easily feel dehumanized  as expendable objects of ministry.  They are not.  This change ahead in July is already an excruciating weight on my heart.

My dad died four years ago today.  He left well, thankful for what was behind, not afraid of what lay ahead, and trusting the process into God's hands, well aware that he could not delay it, let alone stop it.  As a pilgrim he did not cling to home.  I find it hard to strike the right balance of fully entering into this world as if it was home . . . and remembering that it isn't.  Entering relationships as if they will last forever . . . and bravely enduring the "for a little while you will see me no longer."  Being a pilgrim and a stranger, but journeying towards home.

6 comments:

Amy Pasqualini said...

I'll be praying for these next few days and weeks and you really absorb and communicate the change with so many. May God bless you with peace and strength as you ease into "plan B."

Tricia said...

Plan B is never easy when you have set your heart doing what God wills and never realized He had other plans. I will pray for you and all those whose lives you touch.

KevinandJD said...

It is good for people you love to see you cry and it is good for you to mourn and grieve leaving BGO. Although it feels like being ripped apart, God's plan is good, not easy, but good, full of sacrifice and suffering, but good. We love you.

MrsD said...

I can't imagine how you must feel and I will pray every day that God will cement his peace into your heart regarding it all.

He does love us so!

montbretia said...

Dear Jen, the pilgrimage to the city that will be our forever home is deep rich painful and joyful..you have put it into words so well. Praying for you. ~karen in dublin

harryk said...

Dear Scott and Jennifer,
When your mom told me that you would be leaving Bundi, the only thing that I could think or say was "Wow!" For so many years, you have been a stalwart couple of the Lord's people in Uganda and to think of you moving on was such a big change to contemplate – like the ground shifting underneath you. But I know you all seek God’s directions and that He is in control. That conversation you had with Judy does seem like it was meant to be an encouragement and confirmation – she is a godly and unselfish woman. I agree with the comment that weeping when you all told others the news was a good thing. Unfortunately, in our fallen world, that is sometimes the best way to show how much you love At least you are in the Best of company (John 11:35-36 – Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!).