This is my first time writing in detail of one of the most difficult seasons in missions we experienced. My hope is that in sharing this, our road less traveled, someone facing a situation where they feel as if they have failed will be encouraged. Things aren’t always as they seem. Read on…
Years ago, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime when Jamie (husband) and I moved to Africa. The love we both had (and have) for overseas missions work was (and is) the glue that pulled us together like two opposite ends on magnets.
Madness and mayhem became “our normal” for us as we took a road “less traveled by.” Most young couples dream of building careers, buying property and weekend barbecues. Us? We were busy trying to book cheap flights, set up international vaccination appointments and get our passports.
“Our normal” brought us first to Zaire (now DRC) in 1987 where our drive to live the dream in Africa kept us focused. Without that drive, that passion for missions, I doubt we could have made it through those first years. People interested in missions have asked me from time to time what, besides the obvious of being called, is the “secret sauce,” the #1 ingredient needed to making it on the foreign field?
What Is The “Secret Sauce?”
That is such a loaded question. There are so many moving parts when serving overseas, choosing one is difficult. Others may have differing opinions on this, but for me what has kept me going all these years has been passion. Passion for what I have been called to do.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t ever wanted to give up. Oh, I have tried to give up many times. Let me count the ways I have tried to give up! Yet, no matter how hard I try to shake the call from me, I can’t. The yearning, the passion, for this continent always rises to the surface. I can’t escape it. I am a missionary, heart and soul.
Whenever I have pulled away from our road less traveled, and tried to make something else become “our normal,” I was miserable. There have been hard times, very hard times, that have brought me to my knees. During those times I have been sorely tempted to turn and run. I’ve even tried. But “our normal” simply won’t allow for me to sit in a corner. There are churches left to plant, outreaches left to run and nations we have yet to enter.
Another Loaded Question
I’ve also been asked how we began to plant churches. That’s another loaded question! When we first were drawn to Africa, we had no idea that planting churches would soon become front and center of our world. Church planting was to become a partner to “our normal.”
Initially, we were content to work as teachers in a Bible school. We were content, we were satisfied. Running errands, teaching classes and learning language kept us busy. Every day during the first few years was like a honeymoon: we had passion for Africa.
Until one day, we felt stirred. A stirring we couldn’t explain. A stirring which, at first, we resisted. My husband is a pastor’s son and always said he would “never” be a pastor, for he knew what hard work was involved in pastoring a church. I should have remembered that you should never say never.
The stirring didn’t go away and “our normal” became muddied. After months of resisting, swimming in muddy waters, we knew. There was something else that was being added, a “P.S.” to our passion, “our normal.” That addition was church planting. Once we surrendered to the “P.S.,” our passion, “our normal” returned. Our hearts were on fire for church planting in Africa.
We started in Bujumbura in 1991. The church was registered and planted in 1992. During those interim months before we were approved, we faced some of the greatest challenges of our young lives. It was our passion for Africa and planting churches kept us going. Without passion, without drive, work becomes stale, cold and easy to abandon.
The church, despite civil war, flourished and grew to 1,600. For nearly 10 years we worked with every ounce of energy we could muster. When we first planted the church in Bujumbura, we believed our center would remain there. Then came a new stirring. The stirring to see it all happen again, for another church in another city. Because Bujumbura was so remote compared to other parts of Africa, we assumed this meant that the next assignment God had for us would put us somewhere that was more strategically located. A place that we could call our home base.
More Than I Thought
After years of pouring our heart and soul into the work, we handed our church over to local leadership and made our way to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Coming from our first plant, a wildly successful one, to Dar knocked the wind out of our sails. It was a hard assignment, we felt like failures as the work we struggled so hard to see born, failed to thrive.
It was during this time in Dar I was tempted to question our call to Africa. I had listened to all the right sermons, read all of the right books, done everything I could think of to see a repeat of our experience in Bujumbura. How I regretted our decision to leave Burundi, how I regretted leaving our church. Our road less traveled became quite bumpy, I wanted off.
Never Assume Anything
Lesson #1,000,000,000 in missions: never assume anything.
Dar was definitely more centrally located than Bujumbura ever was or will be. A few months into our time in Dar, Jamie went Stateside for a couple of weeks to attend a conference at our home church. The kids and I missed him and couldn’t wait to have him home. His plane landed late one morning and while the kids were at school and I joyfully went to pick him up. Our house was 45 minutes away from the airport so I had time driving home to hear all about his travels.
“1,000” he said as soon as he sat in the car.
Next, he said, “God spoke to me, we’re called to plant 1,000 churches in Africa.”
“Alrighty then, that’s what we will do.” However, my first thought was, “How about NO!”
This wasn’t part of the original deal, this wasn’t in the fine print of the contract!
The roadblocks we encountered in Dar reminded us to cling to our passion, to “our normal” like never before. It sustained us when nothing seemed to break for us. I couldn’t imagine much more than two, let alone 1,000 churches. My heart didn’t sing, rather, my heart sank.
God is always working. He is always moving. We like to see things in boxes so we can somehow be in control. We say the right things, “God is in control” and “Jesus take the wheel” but practically speaking, we’re still plotting our own courses. It’s in this conflict that “our normal” becomes uncomfortable, even abnormal.
I felt uncomfortable, out of place, and wondered if this would be the way that Africa would end for us? A dream for the continent ending before it had barely begun?
Joining The Party
A few days passed. Jamie was still buzzing with excitement. Vision gives purpose and energy. I wanted my purpose and energy back and decided to join the party. Who thought we would ever get this far in missions? We were the most unlikely candidates for the job, yet there we were looking ahead, dreaming for more.
As it turned out, we didn’t stay long in Tanzania. That bumpy road brought us to Zambia where our church’s registration was approved in less than a month. Not much later, a new church was born. Later, we saw this happen again in Zaire (DRC), then Malawi and now, 20 years later, we find ourselves back at home base in Burundi. It feels like a dream because the longing for this place never fully left us.
The Road Back Home
The road back home to Burundi was a long one. During those interim years, we watched our family grow. Our children then began to leave the nest, marry and start families of their own. Watching them exit from our road onto their own makes the roadmap before us a blur as we keep our eyes on the road, albeit through tears.
Who knew all those years ago when we first set out that our road would wind as it has? Who know when we dreamt those God-dreams and walked on the road less traveled, that we would be led to what we now know has always been home?
I wouldn’t change a thing.