Learning to Loosen My Grip

So I finally decided that it was time to sit down in front of my computer and let you all in.  Honestly, it’s not all about you.  Sorry to burst your bubble.  It’s more about me.  About my need to get my feelings down on this paper screen.  Perhaps this will allow me to truly turn the proverbial page and prepare to start a new chapter of life and ministry.  Perhaps this catharsis will expire tomorrow.  Nevertheless, it’s time.  

This blog will not be an informative post, full of facts and accomplished goals.  Instead, it will read more like a timeline diary of feelings that I trust will serve as stone altars.  One day I want to look back on this Ebenezer like Samuel and say, “Thus far the Lord has helped us!”.  (1 Sam. 7:12)  With this in mind, I will be including songs and lyrics that have encouraged me over these past few months.  Most of them will come from a group called I Am They off their latest album entitled “Trial and Triumph”.  If you don’t have it already…get it!  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/trial-triumph/1341233127

 

On our first family visit out to our village, the elders gave our little Joanna a name, Bayè.  This name is given to the first female in a B family.  Everyone wanted to hold her.  Thankfully, JoJo was mostly compliant 😉  This visit was spent explaining why it took so long for us to come back and how excited we were to begin learning their language.  We also inspected the condition of the house and tried to gauge how many trips out it would take to get it back into shape.  Excitement was palpable and expectations were high.  The common response from the B people was, “We’ve been waiting.  You took a long time to return, but we’re still here.”  (Remember, we stayed 6 extras months in the US last year while things were getting ironed out for our return.) 

Over the next 2 months Daniel went out several times to clean mold off of furniture, off the ceilings, to air out the mattresses, etc.  It’s a 3-hour drive one way, so on a few occasions he had to spend the night.  We complied with all the security protocols put in place.  The panic room was up to code.  Daniel had been talking to folks in the village to get a feel for our impending reception.  Folks were excited and awaiting our return.  One B guy said, “Even though it’s taken you so long to return, it’s ok because you’re gonna give us God’s Word in OUR language.  No one has ever done that before.” 

We were all packed up.  The village house was all cleaned and ready.  Daniel’s last words to folks in the village were, “This weekend, we’re moving back in!  You’ll see our whole family next time.  Once we’re settled back in, we’ll start learning your language.”   That weekend Daniel had to make the hardest phone call he’s ever made.  He had to tell our friends that they would have to wait some more.  How long?  We didn’t know.  All we knew is that the recent security report that came out wasn’t good.  Our US mission leadership felt that it was no longer safe for us to live in our village home.  

We were not in agreement with the decision to pull out.  We still do not feel like it was time.  Yes, the security situation was deteriorating in the country.  It hadn’t, however, reached our region of the country….yet.  We felt like we still had time.  Time to make friends that would one day become brothers and sisters.  Time to enjoy our home and share our God-given blessings with our neighbors.  Time to begin learning their language and start evangelization.  Time.  We thought we had time.  

Thankfully our leadership team from Senegal came out and helped us explain the implications of this change to the B people.  We willingly threw our humble leaders under the bus and blamed them for not allowing us to go back (when all the while this decision came from over their heads).  If there is one thing African society can understand, it’s authority.  There is always someone in charge, someone with more authority than someone else.  So, in their eyes, we were just following orders.  And honestly, that about sums it up.  

Meeting with elders to say bye

Explaining why we can’t move back in right now to the chief and elders

We never saw this coming.  You may think…”But, duh!  You knew the risks when you went.  You knew how bad things were getting.  It was only a matter of time.”  You’re right.  Partially.  Yes, we counted the cost and we felt as a family that we could return at this point.  Our home church was supportive.  Our West African leadership was supportive.  Our US leadership was behind us.  Everything was a GO…until the new security report came out and vetoed all previous protocols.  

All the work we’d done up until now was void.  It wasn’t enough.  All of the safety measures we’d put in place weren’t enough.  All of the time and effort and skype calls and deliberating and counting the cost…not enough.  We’d decided the sacrifice was worth the risk, but that was not enough.  Translation:  We were not enough.  My faith was tired.  

“God, I’m tired and I’m lonely
I can’t do this on my own
I surrender every burden
By Your mercy, You come close” 

When the report came out we were speechless.  When our leadership came out to walk through this with us, to let us vent, and to just listen…we were angry.  We felt like we’d been fired.  The decision to go in, amidst the risk, was taken out of our hands.  A decision we’d prayed over, cried over, lost sleep over…was reversed with one email.  How is that possible?  Was this God speaking through men or was this men fearing what they thought was inevitable danger?  Do we push back?  Insist to stay? Or do we respectfully yield to authority and trust that God has them in their roles for a reason?

So.many.questions.  God, why would you bring us this far only to close the door now?  Why would you open doors these last few months when you knew You were gonna close them once we got face to face with the B people again?  If this was in the works all along, why did we come back for 5 months only to leave again? Why do we have to tell them face to face we can’t stay?  This hurts too much.  They don’t understand.  They live in this context.  They can’t turn tail and run.  I feel like a coward.  I feel like I’m abandoning them, turning my back on them.  We said we’d give them Your Word!  How many will go off into eternity without ever hearing You sent Your Son while I’m safe and sound, waiting until the coast is clear to return??  What kind of missionary does that?  Didn’t we agree that we would make this sacrifice?  Didn’t you give us peace to return?  Why?  Have we not been listening all along?  Did we not hear YOUR voice?  Have we not been following YOUR path?  What if our selfish ambitions led us here?  What if our own desires brought us back?  Were we even called to the B people in the first place?  What if the addiction of choosing the “hard” path led us to this place?  How do we know?  Can we ever know?  What if…

The enemy sure knows how to flood our hearts and minds with doubts, questions, fears, and what ifs.  He knows how spread on the guilt so thick that you can’t breathe.  There have been nights where we wake up with our hearts racing and wonder if we’d even really fallen asleep to begin with.  There are days where we have mini panic attacks, sick about the whole situation.  Some days we find ourselves just crying without even knowing why.  But we know why.  LOSS.  That’s it in a nutshell.  We’re grieving.  We’re grieving as if having gone through a miscarriage.  (I’ve experienced two miscarriages so I don’t use this analogy lightly.)  A miscarriage of a ministry dream.  We’ve been in Africa for 10 years.  Every detour and bend in the road has led us to this point.  We were in the final trimester where the work gets intense and personal.  The time where seeds are planted with hope of His church being born.  We’d been looking forward to this phase for years.  We had dreams of building relationships, jumpstarting projects, and watching our children grow up in the village.  I had imagined our daily lives in our house, interacting with our neighbors, and sharing the Bread of Life. 

 We’ve prayed for years for the B people.  

But God.  I can honestly say we’ve never experienced full on depression.  Over the last few months, we may have tasted it.  There were days where I just couldn’t bring myself to teach the boys.  I’d start reading a book and have to put it down because I was choking on the words and fighting back tears.  GRIEVING.  How do you carry on with your day when you feel like your purpose has been taken away? While my identity is in Christ, my calling is to be a missionary.  God, you gave me that.  You gave me that calling.  Are you now taking it away?  Why? If so, what am I to do?  Why would you take away something YOU gave me?  Sure, you ask us to take up our cross, to crucify the flesh, to surrender ALL.  This lifestyle of habitual surrender has led us to the B people.  Now you’re asking us to give them up?  That makes no sense.  We were willing and ready to go.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?  I know you don’t “need” us to reach the B people, but you did entrust us with this task.  Why are you asking us to step out now?

I can’t help but think of poor Job.  I’m not, by any means, comparing my faith to his.  He suffered WAY more loss than we’ve known.  But he recognized that all of his blessings came from God.  He was walking with the Lord and BAM!  The opportunity to minister to the B people is a huge blessing…one that God placed in our laps. A gift from the Creator above who longs for his creation to know Him.  Just like Job we asked God to point out unknown sin in our lives and to forgive us if we’ve erred unknowingly.  Is all this a result of some sin we’re not aware of?  And just like Job, we felt God saying, “No.”  So, back to square one.  Will we ever know this side of eternity WHY the door closed to move back into our village right now?  Maybe not.  In words of Job in Job 3:24, “Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water.”  We’ve all but lost our appetite for anything else.  Our hearts are divided, forced to live in two different worlds.  

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ll never be able to adequately express all our questions and thought process along the way.  So, on with the timeline.  After our leadership explained to our village that we were not allowed back in due to security concerns, they presented us with interim ministry options.  The one we felt God directing us towards was the one we never saw coming.  We never in a million years imagined they would suggest that we base out of Brazil and represent West Africa to our Latin American training centers.  It’s kind of ironic.  We’re going to be trying to mobilize missionaries in training to head to West Africa…the place we just left and aren’t able to return to for the next year and a half.  Granted, there’s more places to serve than Burkina Faso…but still, the irony is not lost on me.  We’ve always said it would be nice to some day take a year or two and spend time in Brazil so the kids could really learn Portuguese, get more time with the grandparents, and maybe get my citizenship.  Voilà!  We just didn’t expect it to be now at such a crucial time in ministry.  Not when folks are open to hear and ready to receive us.  Not when we have a house to return to.  Not when we’ve counted the cost and said, “Here am I, send me.” 

I know, I know, I know.  Brazil isn’t a punishment.  On the contrary, I think it will be great for our family.  Who knows who God wants us to connect with while we’re there.  I know my God has great things in store for His children.  But how do we do an about-face and dive into another ministry when our heart just isn’t in it?  How can we be present in Brazil when our feet feel like they’re still in Burkina Faso?  The goodbyes, the tears, the unanswered questions are still too fresh. 

“But aren’t you glad you’re home safe?”  Well…we never wanted to leave.  

I don’t expect everyone to understand.  It’s hard to understand a calling that we ourselves can’t always explain.  Sometimes, we don’t want to try and explain.  We just want folks to listen…that is, when we feel like talking.  We need you to “weep with us. ”  We need you to try and understand our calling and not think we’re crazy.  We need you to help us rest, whatever that might look like.  And most importantly, we need you to let us know you’re praying for us.  When we’re overseas it’s easy to feel alone and isolated.  Many times you may be praying for us but we won’t know it unless you send us a message or an email telling us so.  

 

I feel like we’re coming out of a dark tunnel of doubt and disappointment.  Have our questions been answered?  Nope.  But we’re turning the page and jumping into the unknown, knowing that He is still here.  He hasn’t left our side.  Our faith is weak but He is strong.  Even though any excitement of what’s to come still feels like a betrayal to what we’ve left behind, we’ll still choose JOY.  We’re trusting God to do great and amazing things in the waiting.  We’re asking Him to help us be present in this pause.  We’re learning to be still and just know that He is a Sovereign God, completely in control, and not put off by our questions and doubts. We’re believing He will “turn my lament into a love song”.  I know in my bones He’s writing us a new song, we just don’t know the melody yet.  We’re confident He will give us the strength to sing when the time comes…for His glory.  Until then, we’ll lift our hands and our hearts and let the tears fall.

Boys at Banfora Falls

A year and a half from now I’ll look back on this post and say, “God You made a way”!

“Oh Lord my faith is tired and tears fill up my eyes, but I will trust You.  I will trust You.  Whatever comes my way, You have taught me to say.  Amen, let Your kingdom come.  Amen, let Your will be done.”

 
 
 
 
Boys walking with JoJo