The other day I had this brief moment of thinking to myself, “What am I doing here in Africa? What exactly is my role in ministry?”
So many times as missionaries we feel the pressure of this unspoken expectation that since many people are supporting us and making personal sacrifices that enable us to engage in overseas missions then every moment of our day should be taking advantage of the opportunities to make a difference and have an impact for the Kingdom of God.
With this notion always at the back of our minds it can be a mind battle at times when I find myself spending much of my day attending to the superficial needs of the family – cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, watching our children and striving to raise them up in the way of the Lord.
There are certainly activities that I do which are directly related to ministry work – writing quarterly reports for our sending agency, keeping in touch with donors and supporting church, sending in expense reports, developing ministry materials, etc. But these more specific ministry activities are more of the “occasional focus” for me, while the majority of my time is literally spent doing exactly the same thing I would be doing if we were living in the US – fulfilling my role as wife, mother, and homemaker.
Of course, being a homemaker in Africa can look a lot different than being a homemaker in the US, especially without running water, without a refrigerator or oven, and without so many of the modern conveniences of machines that can wash your dishes, wash your clothes, dry the laundry, or mow your lawn.
At first glance it would seem like everyday life where we are in Africa is so much harder and the daily chores so much more time-consuming and energy-taxing. But then I think about the fact that instead of recruiting machines to help me with day-to-day activities I often call upon friends and neighbors to pitch in and help, and that right there really makes any activity less of a chore and more of a joy as we share in fellowship, companionship, and helping to carry each other’s loads.
Another difference in homemaking in Africa instead of the US is the added challenge of there not being much availability or variety in the groceries we can buy or the household supplies that we can get here. I usually have to plan 3 months in advance and keep track of inventories of household supplies we have on hand just in case we need to have anything brought from the big cities (6-18 hours from where we live) or even sent over from the US.
There are also health factors that we deal with on a daily basis here that wouldn’t even be a concern in the US. The constant precautions needed to prevent malaria, the extra steps in food preparation to prevent typhoid, cholera, amoebas, and so many other likely health threats. And there’s the frequent trips my husband has to make, to travel at least 6 hours or more just to reach an ATM where he will spend 3 days trying to withdraw all the funds we will need to manage personal and ministry expenses for the next month before he has to make the trip again.
Yes, there are a lot of things that would just be so much easier in the US.
Take meal planning, for example. I cannot just plan our meals based on what we would like to eat, more often than not our meal plans revolve around what groceries are available and what we were able to find in market that day. And when it comes to meal preparations not only is everything made completely from scratch, but cooking also requires a degree of flexibility and creativity – especially when recipes require some improvising to make up for ingredients we just don’t have.
It may be hard to believe, but we don’t even have any restaurant in town where we would be able to eat without having to worry about getting sick from the food. The nearest “safe” restaurant would be a 6 hour drive from where we live, so we don’t even have an option for getting take out or deciding not to cook one day.
In fact, there are very few “quick and easy” food options at all — even with regards to snack foods. And this is part of where my “mind battle” surfaced the other day as I came to the realization that being pregnant would be SO much easier in the US, if for no other reason than the fact that I could easily make a quick run to town and purchase whatever foods I happen to be craving at the time, or even just to have a stash of snack foods on hand and available for whenever I’m needing a quick bite to eat.
The missionary, Ella Spees, once listed one of her secrets for contentment to be in never allowing yourself to “wish this or that had been otherwise”. Another of her contentment secrets included: “never picture yourself in any other circumstance or some place else”. So, even amidst crazy pregnancy cravings I have been striving to only think about food options from the selection of foods we have on hand, or the limited selection of groceries I know we can find in market. But there are days (like yesterday) when this can be really hard.
Yesterday I just stood in the kitchen for the longest time taking stock of all the groceries we had on hand and going through a mental list of all the food options that I could make to eat. Any pregnant woman can relate to the feeling of being very hungry but not having any food options sound appealing in the moment, but actually, in that moment I could think of lots of different food options that sounded appealing, but not one of them was something we could even get here in our part of Africa.
I went and cried in my room for a while and then made myself a cup of tea to cheer myself up. It was while sipping the cup of tea that I began thinking along the lines of, “So why am I here again? If the majority of what I do is stuff that I would be doing in the US anyway, and so many things would just be that much easier in the US, then what’s the purpose of my being here in Africa right now?!”
Well, the answer wasn’t long in coming. All I had to do was look over and see my husband and I immediately knew the answer to my question.
You see, the majority of what I do here in Africa would be the same and even easier if I were in the US, but so much of what my husband does here in another matter all together! And the nationals we have trained and continue to encourage in their own ministry work is a part of the fruit that we bear together, even amidst the mundane of everyday chores.
During the last spiritual retreat that we held for the “Harvesters” we trained, we told the women in the group not to underestimate the vital role they have in ministry, even if it seems like merely a “support role”. Not only are they making it possible for their husbands to engage in ministry, but their interactions with the other people in their communities can be used by God in great ways, and their willingness to endure a harsher lifestyle is also a witness to the people around them, and who knows whether or not they are raising up the future missionaries and leaders of the next generation right there in their home.
So I had to give myself the same little “pep-talk” yesterday and bring things back into perspective again. The truth is, there is no such thing as being “JUST” a wife, or “JUST” a mom, or “JUST” a homemaker. If you live your life in obedience to God it really doesn’t matter what role He calls you to fill, He blesses it and uses it in amazing and incredible ways that we wouldn’t even be able to imagine!