Let me just say that I’m struggling to know what to share with everyone about my trip to Tanzania. It’s hard to share just a few things without wanting to connect all the dots. But, here goes…
I tried to go to Tanzania with very few expectations. I wasn’t given a whole lot of information prior to the trip and I was ready to just show up and see what God wanted to do. I also know that things are hardly ever how I picture or plan them, so why go through the mental energy of trying to come up with a rough draft? It was probably a good thing that my job kept me crazy busy the week before leaving. I just wanted to have enough time to pack my bags and be ready to get on the plane. I didn’t have much time left over for worrying about what happened when I got there.
But after a couple of weeks in Tanzania, I realized I had some preconceived ideas about the life of a missionary that didn’t pan out in reality. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but the daily life of the missionaries there was not it. A few of the other short-termers and I realized we thought missionaries = super Christians. We expected that there would be multiple, daily opportunities to share the gospel, pray for people, and study the Bible together. What we found was that missionary life looks a lot like our daily routines in the US, just in a different context and culture. The missionaries spent their days making meals, going to the market, doing laundry, and visiting neighbors. They still struggled to get quiet time with God, to love their neighbors instead of being frustrated with them, and to feel like they were serving a purpose in Busi. On top of all that, they still needed to invest a lot of time in language learning and were still learning another culture and its customs. The biggest difference between life there and life in the US is they’re isolated from their family and friends and their own culture.
I knew that being a missionary was not easy. But I don’t think I appreciated how exhausting daily life in an unfamiliar place, culture, and language can be. And I don’t think I understood how long it can take to get through language and relational barriers to share Jesus in another country.
One of the main things on my heart that I want to share with the American church is this: do not forget your missionaries living overseas. They are not superhero Christians. They get discouraged, depressed, and lonely like we all do. Except they can’t always phone a friend, make a coffee date, buy a new worship album or devotional, or comfort themselves in the millions of ways that we can. Oftentimes, this is a beautiful thing because it means their dependency on God increases. However, they need encouragement just like the rest of us. So, remember to pray for them. Send them a random email even if they may not get to read it for a month. Send them a care package even if they won’t receive it for 2 months and the cost of shipping is 4 times the amount of the actual contents of the package! Most of us know at least one missionary living in a foreign country – remind them regularly that you have not forgotten them.
Before I left for Tanzania, one of the women at my church gave me package of lots of sealed notes full of encouragement, scripture, and challenging quotes. I opened one every few days and especially on days when I was feeling discouraged or alone. Sometimes this felt like the only connection I had to home. These notes always reminded me of the big picture and felt like getting a hug from a friend. They were such a blessing!
Approaching the midpoint of my time in Busi, I definitely starting having some symptoms of culture shock. I was surprised by some things I thought I had figured out, since this was my fourth trip to Africa and all. (Insert shaking of my head followed by a face-palm.) Yea, hello humbling moments. I was surprised by feelings of anger that I couldn’t quite figure out. I was frustrated with never feeling clean, even right after a shower. I was torn between wanting to hide away for some time alone and knowing I needed to get out of the house.
When I get really frustrated with life, I usually call my mom. I know I can be super honest with her and we’ll just laugh together and she’ll remind me of what is fact and the practical things I can do in the midst of whatever I am feeling. My first attempt to call her was quite humorous and frustrating. With my headlamp on, I walked out in the dark (because of the time difference) to the middle of a field where there was supposed to be good cell reception. I tried to call or text home many times without success. All the while, bugs were swarming and hitting my face, loving the light from my headlamp. Then two men starting approaching my area from different directions. Inside, I started freaking out and trying to figure out what my next move to leave the area was going to be. Then I realized, duh, they are coming out to the middle of a field for the same reason you are – cell reception!
My next attempt to call my mom during a day trip to a bigger city was actually successful. But then I realized that minutes were not cheap. In Nigeria, I was able to call the US and talk for 15 or 20 minutes on not much credit. The same amount of credit got me about 90 seconds of time on the phone with my mom in Tanzania. I bought more credit so I could say goodbye and give a few bullet points of what was happening. I was glad to at least hear her voice and blurt out some honest thoughts, but it was still disappointing to not talk to her for longer.
Another attempt at contacting home brought me and a couple others to the “ditch” – a place along the main road of Busi that had good enough reception for an internet connection using a hot spot with a cell phone. Both the other Americans did their internet business. When it was my turn, my gmail account wouldn’t even load. Awesome.
Another attempt at communication with those back at home happened on another day trip to a Christian school set up by another missionary team. The school had a wifi connection and all of the girls on the short-term team ended up going to use the internet while the TIMO team leader did some business at the school. Once we got there, we realized that the electricity/generator was off since school was on break. We decided to pay to have the generator turned on. Then the generator had no gas. So we paid for someone to go get some gas. Then we figured out that only a few people could use the internet at a time, otherwise the connection got super slow. So we took turns. I waited until the end because I needed to borrow someone’s computer as I hadn’t brought one to Tanzania. Then my connection was super slow. It finally started to work for me and I got busy sending an email update to people supporting and praying for me. I wanted to share a bit about what I was struggling with and some prayer requests. I was so close to sending a final version, everyone else was packing up and getting ready for the car ride back home, and then the humming of the generator shut off and the internet was gone.
That was a breaking point for me on the trip. Logically, it wasn’t a huge deal. Internet is a luxury, not a necessity. But it made me feel incredibly frustrated and lonely. And angry.
I got home and pretty much went straight to Miranda (my host mom) and said, “Well, I think I need to talk to you because I’m kind of in a crisis and I cried today.” This was said with a little bit of humor because at this point I was able to laugh at myself. What was my problem? I had told Miranda previously that I cry maybe a few times a year, so I knew she would understand something was up. In our first meeting/mentor time, Miranda had jokingly asked me if I had any moments of crisis since arriving in Busi. I had responded with a smirk and stated that I hadn’t had any kind of crisis since arriving. Me, crisis? Please, I’m above that. I roll with the punches. But now I was gulping down my pride and being humbled, for sure.
Miranda and I found a spot under a massive tree to talk and pray. She helped me sort through things and it was a huge relief just to be real with her. It was a relief to talk to God about all the things I still hadn’t figured out, including why anger kept hounding me. After we prayed, Miranda shared that her team leader had mentioned before that missionaries in Muslim contexts often experience anger, likely because of spiritual warfare. Suddenly it made more sense why I couldn’t make sense of my anger. From that point on, I stopped trying to figure it out and just talked to God about it and that helped tremendously.
I also decided to make it a priority to have “bafu time” in the mornings. Bafu time is a phrase coined by Miranda. The bafu is the shower stall right next to the choo (toilet) stall. It’s really just a small concrete stall with a window at the top and a drain hole at the back. To shower, you take a bucket of water and a cup in the stall and rinse off whatever way works for you. This was literally the only place you could spend time with four walls around you in relative silence without the possibility of someone interrupting you. Miranda and Matt would have “bafu time” when they needed a quiet time with God or an office-like space to take care of business.
I realize that maybe this sounds very desperate or silly… until you understand how the rest of daily life looked in Busi. The house where I stayed had rafters and a tin roof above all of the rooms. So that means no ceilings over each individual room. So basically, we all heard what everyone else was doing all the time. Add to that the fact that neighbors knocked on the door all day, every day to use solar power to charge their phones, sell eggs or fruit, or just come in and sit down, talk a bit or just see what the mzungus were doing.
I usually woke up before the rest of the house so it was easy to sneak out the back each morning and have bafu time. Except for the metal latch on the metal back door that I had to open each morning. (Sorry!) Luckily, the Adams are pretty sound sleepers. The five o’clock call to prayer from one of the local mosques probably had something to do with waking up early. Or maybe it was the donkeys that sounded like they were going insane outside, or the dogs fighting, or the tv blasting from a house across the village. I slept with earplugs pretty much every night. Like I said, the Adams have learned to be pretty sound sleepers!
I relished the chance to get alone with God. It was refreshing and encouraging. And since that time, since being at home, I am so much more interested in spending time with God. While sometimes it is still a task to be finished, I know that it is a blessing and answers more of my worries and questions than anything else.
One of the authors in the Live Dead Journal challenges readers to “tithe” their time to God. He suggests trying to spend about 2 1/2 hours (10% of your day) with God through prayer, Bible reading, and worship. You might expect that this challenge sounds burdening, but it actually had the opposite effect on me. I’ve always wondered what was wrong with me – why couldn’t I get a revelation from Bible reading, connect with God, submit all my worries to Him in prayer, and memorize Scripture in the 30 or 45 minutes I set aside for that? Ah, maybe because all of that is not going to fit in that amount of time. Can you imagine if we tried to do this with a friend? “Ok, let’s meet for breakfast. I have 30 minutes for you to share stories and advice with me, listen to my cares and concerns and help me to stop worrying over them, and then I will tell you all the things I love about you.” Yeah, that’s not enough time for all of that. You will have made time for this friend, but maybe not learned or connected as much as you had hoped. While I can’t say I have personally reached the 2 1/2 hour mark many days, I do feel more freedom to make more time to meet with God, as opposed to trying to be more effective with a smaller amount of time.
How do you react to the idea of spending 2 1/2 hours a day of quality time with God? Do you go to God to feel alive, comforted, or when you’re feeling veklempt? What can you change to spend more time with God? Maybe it starts as small as 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. We are all longing for more of God, whether we realize it or not, and spending any time with Him usually leaves us wanting more.