So, the other day as my children were all busy doing school work, I took a few minutes break to scroll through Facebook. A friend of mine, who also lives in Africa, had posted an article that caught my eye. You can read the article here http://michelephoenix.com/2015/06/35-questions-to-ask-your-missionaries/. From the moment I read the title and just glanced at a few of the questions in random order, I felt the need to write down my thoughts. Something hit me like a ton of bricks, again.
You see, I am a “missionary”. I’ve left my home, extended family and friends. There are many things that go on back home that I don’t know about. Things go in and out of style, fashions change (you all know how much I’m into fashion, right), so much life happens and manny times I don’t even have a clue what all I’m missing. If it weren’t for Facebook I’d probably be completely in the dark.
But the thing that hit me when I read the question about being concerned about my child’s faith or concerns about their health is these things are SO real to me. There are many question in the list of 35 questions that are hard to answer. They are hard to answer anywhere you live, but they have been really hard to think about and answer for me, the one who chose to move my family to Africa.
Let’s be honest. Things are much different here from where I come from. I love it and I am beyond grateful for the life we live here, but it is not easy. When we go back to the States to visit it often hits me hard. Most people don’t know what to ask us or what say to us. They know we live somewhere far away, but what exactly do you say to someone like me walking down the hall at church or passing by in a crowded place? I don’t blame anyone. I wouldn’t do any better. Sometimes we can spend time with family and friends and not really get past if we have lions where we live or other surface questions like that.
No, I don’t want to get into every detail of my life with everyone I talk to. I often don’t even know how to just strike up a conversation with someone to tell them what our life is like. Where do you even start? If you have been to Swaziland for a visit you have a better understand of what life is like, a starting point. If not, I find it hard to just describe it. It’s like a “you have to be there” kind of thing.
For me, these questions and the answers that follow are so real. I do struggle with trying to figure out what is best for my children. It is a challenge to raise children in a culture where they are not valued. It’s a struggle to find a church where I feel like they are accepted as part of the body of Christ. It is scary when one of my children get hurt or sick and I don’t feel like I have any good option for medical care. It’s awkward to stick out like a sore thumb everywhere you go, to have to answer and explain to the locals that we homeschool, to be noticed, and stared at all the time.
Then there are the questions about having our needs met, spiritual, relational, etc. That is a whole other set of hard questions and answers. I’ve thought many times about what our needs are. People want to help, really they do. But what can I tell them? There are things we want or need, but (for example) how exactly do we say that the thing we really want or need the most is for someone to babysit our kids…for an extended period of time? We want a break. We want to catch our breath so we can keep doing what we feel we are called to do. We love what we do, but we get tired. It is hard to visit the States and travel around with our family and find a babysitter in a country where we don’t live and maybe even in a city where we have never lived. It’s the things we aren’t asked and it’s the things we don’t say.
These questions seem like they would be asked my someone who really wants to know. Someone who cares, not just about the lions or the grocery stores we have, but about us. Honestly, it would be hard to answer them. They are loaded with so many answers that come from difficult choices we have made, and honestly sometimes we question what is the best thing for us, our family, our children. We certainly don’t have it all figured out. What are our “missionary kids” going to turn out like? We don’t know. We hope and pray that we are doing the right things, but who really knows? Hard answers. Uncertainty. Challenges. Doubt. Fears.
Maybe all these thoughts are trying to say that even though we live on a different continent and many people have not been here nor may they ever, we still have a need to be known and sometimes you just want a safe place to let it all out. Not to everyone. Not all the time. We are blessed to be doing the work we are doing. We want to share all about it. We want you to know. But we also want you to ask. I don’t want to be that person who goes around always talking about living in Africa and people just roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders and think to themselves “here she goes again with another story about Africa”.
This article about 35 questions really struck a cord with me. There is so much to tell. Things are so different living here than anything we have ever known. It is our life and we are figuring it out as we go. So, if you see us again, and you are interested in knowing more about us, then maybe these questions will be helpful. Maybe they are a starting point for some deeper conversations. Maybe they will help us realize that others, no mater where they live, have struggles and things they are dealing with that maybe no one ever asks about. And maybe they want to share those things, but maybe they want to be asked.
May we all be people who care deeply for one another, who seek relationships with others, to know and to be known.