My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hoping for my A-game on the journey back to Africa

Once more I struggled, determined to rise through God, above the body, the flesh, and the world, to a life of ardor and devotedness to God.” - Journal of Henry Martyn on board the Union transport bound for Africa

A week from today, I'll be on my way to Africa again. For the third year in a row myself and a small team from Refuge will be heading to Uganda in pursuit of fostering relationship with those we have connected with since our first journey there in 2012. I haven't begun to pack yet (that's what Monday night is for!) but I've already made what's become my annual trip to the Travel Clinic; the good news is that after three visits they couldn't find a shot on their list that I hadn't already received so they ordered up a prescription for malaria pills and called it good. Believe me, I'm okay with that.

For me, the worst part of the whole adventure is the going to- and coming back-part. Flying coach on international flight is not the most pleasant of experiences. Sure you have your own console to watch any number of movies on and they keep your palate satisfied and your thirst quenched. Truthfully, you have want of nothing except elbow and knee room. After a couple of hours of sitting in the equivalent of a jump seat, how I wish there were waysides along the way so you could get out and stretch your legs a bit when the need suited you. God help you if you're in the middle seat squeezed between a little boy from Mindanao with diarrhea and a large Asian man who you have to keep waking up so the little guy can get to the C.R. (comfort room) – yes, it has happened to me.

The faces reveal that this is definitely a "going-to" pic
How different the mission experience is today compared to the journeys that previous generations made. Cramped quarters for the equivalent of a day by comparison is simply a matter of inconvenience – and small inconvenience at that. Yes, your bum goes to sleep and your eyes become heavy because of the dry air on the plane but within eight hours we're on the ground in Amsterdam with a couple of hours to walk and browse the shops at Schiphol. In another eight hours we'll be landing at Entebbe road-weary but otherwise none the worse for wear. Considering that just the day before we were waking up in our own beds back home, being tuckered out at the end of a long trip while waiting in customs is really a small price to pay for your troubles.
They're in reasonably good spirits considering this is the way-home
If only it were this easy
There has been no generation quite like ours who can cross continents and oceans with such ease and 
alacrity. Jump on a plane in Minneapolis and within 12 hours you can be across the Pacific Ocean. In five hours more you can be on the ground in Manila. Consider what the likes of Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael would think of such a rapid segue to the mission field. I think their reaction would be something akin to our reaction to Kirk being beamed aboard the Enterprise – a matter of fantasy and make believe.

Lately I've been reading a biography of Henry Martyn, an English missionary who served in India and Persia. Living in the early years of the 19th century, it took him nine months to reach his first post located north of Calcutta. Nine months! He didn't travel there on a civilian sailing vessel with whatever were the modern conveniences of the time; rather, he made passage on a British troop carrier transporting soldiers to the upcoming invasion of Cape Colony (i.e., Cape Town). As his biographer notes he was something akin to a Daniel in the lion's den, a young refined scholar thrust in among an “assemblage of sea-dogs and fighting men ranging from raw village lads to blasphemous veterans”. He may not have been a member of the crew but since England was at war with France while on board he was assigned particular duties should their vessel engage in combat upon the sea. Only after Cape Colony was secure did the Union press on to Kolkata (i.e., Calcutta) finally arriving at the end of April 1806. During the voyage over from England he had endured close quarters with sailors and soldiers on a ship of war, had turned 25, had tended to the wounded in the aftermath of battle, suffered from dysentery and sea-sickness, experienced the terrors of storms on the high seas and was treated frequently with disrespect by the crew simply because he insisted on preaching the gospel during their Sunday service. The journey tried his very soul.

I don't think Henry's ship was this majestic looking

Unable to endure the fetid atmosphere below [Text note: The air below decks became too foul even for those unsqueamish days, and at intervals one or other of the lower decks was cleared of humans and fires were lighted to purify the atmosphere], Martyn spent the first days of the voyage on deck “standing in the air in a sort of patient stupidity, very sick and cold,” longing for the relief of being alone, but surrounded by a crowd, “the soldiers jeering one another and swearing, the drums and fifes constantly playing.” The common miseries of seasickness were followed by fever and faintness; but the struggle that was darkening his days was in its essence spiritual. He was torn by conflicting desires. “The world in a peculiar form...has a hold upon my soul, and the spiritual conflict is consequently dreadful...I am now in the fire fighting hard.”

Next day he wrote again:
Some of the terrors he experienced
Once more I struggled, determined to rise through God, above the body, the flesh, and the world, to a life of ardor and devotedness to God.

And the following morning:
Beginning to grow quite outrageous with myself and like a wild bull in a net, I saw plainly this was coming to nothing, and so in utter despair of working any deliverance for myself, I simply cast myself upon Jesus Christ, praying that if it were possible, something of a change might be wrought in my heart. (Henry Martyn: Confessor of the Faith by Constance Padwick)

Now the idea of this post began after reading the journal entry beginning “standing in the air in a sort of patient stupidity, very sick and cold...” My journey to Africa will be nothing like Martyn's was to India. But I do get a bit of what he meant of the “patient stupidity” that tends to settle upon me when I travel. My intention is to remain spiritually alert in case I have one of those awesome airline conversations with a fellow passenger that it seems a lot of preachers experience. Or I bring lots of reading material along in hopes of getting a lot of studying done in transit. But usually what happens is that once we're in the air and I've been served my first beverage I see what movies are available and begin to watch one. Or I read some but then begin to doze off. By the time we're over the Atlantic, a state of somnolence – or as Martyn would call it - “patient stupidity” settles upon me. And it's only the first leg of the journey.
Not a self-portrait...but it could very well be
The border crossing at Busia
Last year when we were in Africa, we flew to Nairobi and then several days later drove overland to Uganda. What could be done in probably six hours on American roads took an interminable 15 hours on Kenyan ones in a small but durable van. We crossed into Uganda at the border town of Busia. We had to walk across while our driver was going through customs and filling out paper-work. We hadn't stopped for lunch. We had been on the road since early that morning. We were tired and hot and sweaty and road-weary – and we still had several hours to go. While we waited the sun set and then I heard it – the wailing of the imam of the local mosque calling the faithful to pray. Up until that moment the only time I had ever heard it was while watching the news or a movie. To hear it up close and personal was frankly eerie. I thought of my friend Akram, a disciple of Jesus hailing from Egypt, who told me once that when you hear the imam pray he is calling down powers of darkness upon the people. I certainly felt a cloud descend on me. The next day after a good night's sleep in a bed it occurred to me that I had missed an opportunity to worship Jesus at the very moment the prayer leader was praying to Allah. Because of that “patient stupidity” that had been brought on by traveling all day in a cramped van with nothing to eat but a candy bar, I just stood there being creeped out by the wailing while the thick exhaust of trucks crossing over the border swirled enveloped us.

If I have a choice, I don't want to travel to Uganda that way ever again but I sorta wish I could be transported Star Trek-wise back to Busia at sundown one evening if only to worship the living God while the local Muslims bow reverently on their prayer rugs and recite their prayers to Allah. I wouldn't do it to “dis” them, of course. It actually would have nothing to do with them at all. I'd do it in an attempt to regain a moment I lost because I was practically sleep-walking when it happened, caught up in a moment of “patient stupidity” that so frequently descends on me in transit.
I'm not always on my A-game when I travel. I think I get a passing grade as far as general politeness and extending grace toward others. But all too often I just get caught up in just “getting there” forgetting that like in so many other things the journey is the thing.