In the first issue of ‘Serving Together’ for 2018, Andrew talked about one of his favourite T-shirts illustrating many different emotions — happiness, sadness, loneliness, peace, frustration and the list goes on. I could wear that t-shirt, and hoped when reading Andrew’s editorial that I wouldn’t be asked to contribute an article this year! Perhaps missionaries in particular feel vulnerable and hesitant to share their emotional challenges, as the expectation is that they will cope with the varied circumstances they face. Missionaries, however, like all Christians, are far from perfect because they are human and often feel grief within, but also feel unable to share as this might be seen as not coping!
I am listed in our AMT Prayer Guide as an itinerant worker. The dictionary definition for itinerant is ‘someone who travels from place to place’, and I’ve certainly done a lot of travelling in my missionary life. This comes of course with its own unique set of challenges. I don’t particularly like flying — and especially so when I’m the only passenger in a small Cessna and the pilot is struggling to read the map and find the landing strip! It is not easy saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ frequently and struggling to keep emotions under control, notably when it involves farewelling fellow workers living in countries that are constantly in turmoil and facing daily ethnic and rebel violence. On my last visit to Africa the farewell was very emotional with African friends breaking down and sobbing — it was too hard for everyone!
Being single and itinerant also has its own challenges. Because of constant travel I’ve found it very difficult to fit easily into life in my home town in Australia. Friends have moved away and mostly married with their own family commitments, interests and concerns. This is only natural — nothing stays the same, but sometimes I feel I don’t belong anywhere! There have been changes of course in the church I attend — the elders who first sent me out as a home worker in 1978, and then overseas in 1984, have moved on (some to heaven). I miss them and their counsel and encouragement. Most of the new members in this church would not know about the mission work in which I’m involved, and there is a new leadership that naturally doesn’t have the same concern or interest as those who commended me to this work. It’s not easy either for a single person to join a Bible study group, especially as I’m often away. However, I do thank God for well informed and caring prayer supporters who are a huge encouragement.
Accommodation for itinerant workers is always a challenge, with sleeping arrangements not so ideal. Years ago, my mother made me a wonderful small feather pillow which I still carry around and it helps! A good night’s rest is important, but not always possible. There are many late nights when I lend a listening ear and a compassionate heart as workers offload their problems, unique stories, family dynamics, church issues and financial hassles. This doesn’t help of course in having the needed sleep, as issues shared at a deep level are often very disturbing. It is a privilege, however, to pray with national workers and fellow missionaries and commit them to the One who has the answers.
Naturally, tiredness also results in lack of concentration, especially when needing to remain alert and patient in discussions and recording. Showing frustration and impatience is not ideal when feeling overwhelmed by the challenges, and tired and discouraged by the circumstances. “I can’t but He can” was handwritten on the cover of my reel-to-reel Nagra tape recorder. I continue to pray and cling to the promise “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness”. Time is usually an issue, as there’s always a flight schedule to maintain and sometimes delays from gastroenteritis are very inconvenient.
Noela Elvery, my work colleague, and I moved into the digital age with our latest recordings being made on computers — a steep learning curve and very frustrating and despairing at times! However, although I’m not a great fan of computers, I recognize that modern technology has many benefits. Cassette masters are being digitized for loading on our website wordnworks.org. These can then be downloaded in main centres in countries where we have worked, duplicated and distributed to non-readers for whom they were prepared. Amazing!
It is often not possible to see firsthand the results of the recording and production work, but I feel very privileged and blessed to have a small part in
sharing the Good News of Jesus with non-readers in small language groups. I’m reminded of what Paul tells us in Corinthians that while Paul and Apollos were just doing the work that the Lord gave them to do, it was God who ‘‘made the seed grow”. However, there are indeed emotional highs and thanksgiving to God as stories of changed lives are sometimes shared with those responding to the messages heard in their own language. It is encouraging also to occasionally receive news from workers’ children whom we’ve had the privilege of helping with their education. So it is okay to feel excited, happy and thankful while praising God for His work by His Spirit through a ‘cracked pot’ in His hands.
A Canadian missionary friend working in Kenya once said to me “I wish God would send me down a letter so I would know what to do.” I remember replying “He has — it’s called the Bible!” However, I knew exactly what she meant. There are many decisions to make and knowing who to help is not always easy. There are constant requests for financial help from very needy people in countries where we’ve worked: education of national workers’ children; computers; medicine for an orphan boy who won our hearts years ago; aid for a Congolese refugee in Kenya who is a very qualified pilot but has no work; a pygmy girl dying for lack of medical attention and finance; a former national friend whose husband died of AIDS caused by a hospital injection, and now she has no income. What should I do? So many known to us in desperate need, but we cannot play God in their lives and we need to know what God wants us to do.
My favourite place to work was in Nyankunde in NE DR Congo. I’ve had an interest in DR Congo (then Zaire) since my teenage years. Readers will remember that in 2002 in this area thousands were killed and the audio office and contents destroyed. It was then that Noela and I became involved in a humanitarian program to help the survivors and especially the children. I had hoped perhaps that one day Nyankunde would be safe enough to return, but as we are no longer Kenyan residents, and because of the insecurity, it is not possible to receive a visa for the North East. However, we did fly over Nyankunde and the pilot flew low for us to have a good look at the general devastation. In 2016 we paid for visas to be processed for the program coordinator and his wife to visit Australia, but it was disappointing that their visas were denied. It is sad that we cannot visit again with the sponsored children — it was such joy to do so on a previous trip. It is not possible to arrange a mission trip to this area or offer sponsors an opportunity to meet the child they care for. It has never been possible to send mail directly to North East DR Congo; it has to go via a mission in Uganda, but mostly sits in the Post Office for months at a time. How frustrating!
As I write this article the insecurity in the North East in particular continues and people are living in fear. Since November, hundreds have fled across Lake Albert into Uganda — but then what? Food is scarce as many continue to leave their villages and base themselves in a major town where they feel more secure. I feel very sad at the ongoing instability and the senseless and cruel deaths, particularly of women and children occurring in the past few months. It is heart-wrenching to read letters from sponsored children and from our friends. UNICEF stated in February that “the number who need assistance has reached 4.5 million, the highest number in Africa, and there is an epidemic of sexual violence, most of it unreported and unaddressed and much of it against children.”
Many have lost loved ones recently and hundreds of children don’t know where their parents are or even if they are still alive. This morning I received a text message from a friend saying the displaced in his area are now suffering diarrhoea and several have died. Of course all this is constantly on my mind and I continue to feel extremely sad at the ongoing situation in this part of the world and the lack of international care or humanitarian aid. Even with a nice bed and pillow, I don’t sleep so well!
However, maybe like the biblical Esther, our involvement has been “for such a time as this” and it is a huge privilege to be involved. I continually remind myself that God is Sovereign — that means God is in control. All things are under God’s rule, nothing happens without His direction or permission. This of course doesn’t mean that God tolerates the sin and wickedness, but it does mean we can have a deep peace when we can’t put it all together or see any sense in the turmoil and wickedness in our world today.
It is indeed a great privilege to be a ‘cracked pot’ in the hands of the Master Potter.