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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Caught in the turbulence

Scott brought back from his meetings a thought provoking book called The Meeting of The Waters, 7 Global Currents that will Propel the Future Church, by Fritz King. In the introductory chapter he describes two classic missionaries meeting at a guest house, two contrasting models of missions. The first is an older lady who has spent her entire life with a remote people group, rarely traveled back to America, had given up everything. We honored two couples and two single women who were just like that this past week at the AIM conference. They were retiring after 30 to 43 years of service in Africa. They had pioneered remote stations, translated books into local languages, established schools, weathered wars. They bore up under whatever life brought their way with very little outside help. They were grey-haired sturdy survivors with practical shoes, quiet and unassuming, faithful servants for the duration. One had come here as a little girl in 1946, a trip which took two months on a boat in those days. After a few years in Tanzania her parents left due to health reasons, but she returned as a young woman in 1968, was married in the RVA chapel, and the rest is history. These are the heroes that drew my heart towards Africa as a girl. They are the generation that laid down their lives and did the right thing, year after year, without fanfare. I didn't even know any of these people, but the standing ovations at their retirement brought tears to my eyes.

The second missionary in King's introductory chapter is a 30-something guy who is multitasking on his cell phone and computer, has left his family in America while he checks out a project run by local leaders that his church supports. He has a career, but is arranging to take two years to spend overseas lending his skills. This is the new generation of missionaries. The break with their formal life is less abrupt, more fluid. They set boundaries and have high expectations of personal development, exercise, protected family time, organizational support and responsibility. Travel and communication lend connectivity, educational levels are high, they are task-oriented generally, outcome-focused, and missions is an important part of their life, but not their whole life. We meet amazing people like this here too. Skilled doctors donating a month, or six, or more to boost services and education. Teachers, engineers, artists, contractors. People with the funds and vision to start and orphanage or foster micro-enterprise, who will leave it within a few years in local hands.

As I finished the introduction and started into the book (I'm only a third of the way through) I had sort of an "aha" moment. When the two rivers flow together to create the Amazon, there is a stretch where their waters flow in parallel, then a period of mixing and turbulence. And we are squarely in that turbulence. With 18 years in Africa behind us, we are a bit past the half-way mark towards the classic old-time missionary life. This is who we expected to be. And this is why over a year out from Bundibugyo, I have to keep remembering the very specific ways God led us, and convincing myself it is right to be here at Kijabe. On the other hand, we carry iphones and text our son in America, we travel, we access grant funding for projects, we connect with the national health system. We're now working at a hospital that was founded upon the classic missionary model, but is largely staffed by more modern types. When I look at the December call schedule, we are 2 of about 5 missionary doctors with more than a decade behind us, the rest of the 30-some names on there are either short-termers or young Kenyans.

So we're in an in-between generation, uncomfortable not living up to the heroes of the past generation, but not really fully able to buy into the ethos of the new generation either. I guess that's OK, to be Hebrews 11 pilgrims and strangers. Being securely settled in one group is not our goal. I hope we can be part of the melding, the settling out of the streams to honor what is best in both. Combining longevity with innovation, relationship with technology, perseverance with enabling nationals. Maybe because we're spending our first Christmas in this new place, it's a good time to reflect.