Tuesday, February 15, 2011

These Strange Ashes

Since I’ve been home the number one question that people have asked me is, “What are you going to do now?” Big question. I have no idea. I have been stateside for three weeks now and have been up and down emotionally as I am working through the highs and lows of transitioning out of an intense season of life and returning “home” to the familiar. How does one end one season of life and start up a new one without spending time reflecting over the experiences, the emotions and the spiritual lessons? This is where I am now, stuck in between the ending of one season and the beginning of another. Where does one even begin to start processing through all that I’ve experienced in the last two years away from home?
Several months ago my parents mailed me a book they thought would be helpful for me to read as I entered this period of transition, and I’ll admit that it has been a helpful resource over these past three weeks. The book is entitled “These Strange Ashes” and is the account of Elisabeth Elliot’s first year of missionary life in the jungle of Ecuador. I have found comfort reading her honest words about the struggles and the guilt and the expectations laid out for the missionary life. It is intriguing to me that while I was in a different part of the same continent, in a different time and doing a different work, that we experienced some of the same challenges in the day-today life, some of the same spiritual lessons, and the same division of the heart. Elliot writes,
“It is hard for a young person with high ideals to learn that people cannot be hustled. They cannot be hustled into the kingdom of God, and it is well to remember Christ’s own descriptions of that kingdom: leaven and seed, things that work slowly and out of sight. We long for visible evidence of our effectiveness, and when it is not forthcoming, we are tempted to conclude that our efforts had nothing to do with the kingdom.” (p.135, “These Strange Ashes”)
I spent the majority of the two years I spent away from home, working in areas where I am not gifted. Starting a ministry from scratch is a difficult feat in and of itself, and we were a small team. For someone who feels the passion of the Lord rising up within her as she teaches and disciples young women to know and understand the word of God better, it was a long and emotionless season of ministry sowing the seeds of evangelism and not be able to “hustle” the people along to the stage of discipleship. So having left the ministry without discipling a single person, (at least discipling as we understand it to be) it is easy to then conclude that my efforts to serve the Lord were somehow in vain. My biggest fear is that God had no other purpose for me in these two years other than “obedience for the sake of obedience”. That all he wanted from me was to do this because He said to do it. As I sit here and process and I ask God the meaning of it all, I fear that I will receive no other answer, no other explanation that will give purpose to all of the trials and hardships that I endured while being a missionary. As I read through Elliot’s own experiences and trials I connected with her in her honesty of not loving the work that she was doing. She explains that it was not hard at the end of her term to leave the region she worked in during her first year of ministry;
“It was not hard to accept, and to leave the big, gloomy thatched house in San Miguel with its admixture of memories – the births, deaths, struggles, failures, losses and all the days and weeks of common, ordinary missionary life when I accomplished nothing visible or tangible, when I often wasted time and wished I were elsewhere and allowed my thoughts to go off in all directions except where they belonged.” (p.143, “These Strange Ashes)
I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a good deal of my time in Peru wishing I were home, wanting to be doing other things that would seem to give more real sense of accomplishment. I worked out of obedience, but not out of love, and not out of desire to “save the world for Jesus”. Does that make me less of a missionary? I’m not so sure. When I think back to Jesus’ teachings and all the times he said, “If you love me, then obey my commands”. I’ve come to understand that I can love the Lord with my obedience just as well as I can love him with my words and my actions.
So now, three weeks into being home I continue to spend time thinking through all I’ve experienced, praying that God will speak to me during this time of transition and give me purpose now that I am home.
As for me and this blog? Well, now seems like a good time to wrap it all up. I’ve appreciated this outlet to help me share what I couldn’t take the time or space to share in my newsletters. So thank you to all of you who took the time to read it, and cared enough to share in this experience with me.
Most sincerely,