Friday, February 16, 2007


This Sunday is World Mission Sunday in the Episcopal Church, which has gotten me thinking about what mission means to me now.

I just turned in my final grades for the semester. Today I had to tell a student that she failed my class, despite the extra effort she has made to bring up her grade. With an F on her report card, her sponsor will most likely stop sponsoring her college education. She sat on my porch and cried. Another student came by to collect a book which I promised as a prize to the high grade in the class. He was so excited he was dancing around. He took the book and said he was going to be a veterinarian. That hadn’t been his dream before taking my Animal Husbandry lab. I am so proud of the effort some of my students have made, and for the ones who tried and failed, my heart hurts for them. I never set out to be a teacher, but I made it through the semester. The students learned something, and I learned a lot.

I thought, when choosing this path, that being an agricultural missionary would somehow feel different than “normal life”. That I would be constantly aware of God’s presence in the world around me, that I would feel inspired and fulfilled. But one thing I have learned is that life is just life. There are good jobs and bad jobs, fulfillment, and searching, regardless of the continent you happen to be on.

I am learning many lessons, not the lessons I expected, but I guess we rarely learn what we expect. I’m getting better at saying no. I’m getting more confident. I’m learning how to not be busy in the face of too many things to do. And most of all, I’m learning that God is Love. When I fail all day long, and feel discouraged and empty, I am refilled by the love of and for my friends. My friends have been the love of God to me, the real presence of that love, and I have felt Love growing in my own heart.

Liberia is a difficult place. There are no ATMs or credit cards, no telephone lines, no public utilities. There is no Mexican food, or salad bar. Everywhere you look there is poverty and need. There are children who are dirty and naked and hungry. There is so much hardship, corruption, abuse, disease, and death. One in every five children, born alive, die before reaching the age of five. Infant and mother mortality remains one of the highest in the world. Everyone suffers from the trauma the war inflicted on them. And yet there are bright colors, music, and laughter. Children play with hoops and balls, and build toys out of garbage. People just keep living. My students wear trendy jeans and drink beer, and study or avoid studying, just like college students anywhere. Life goes on.

I embarked on this mission thinking that I was going to encounter and serve “the other”. It was hard for me to imagine Liberia feeling like home. But Liberia does feel like home. And far from encountering “the other”, I have found that there is no other. We come from different cultures, we express ourselves in different ways, we have different complexions, but we are one people, we share the human experience of life, of struggle of pain of joy of love.

Mission is dangerous work, and I don’t mean physically. I feel like part of myself had been sleeping my whole life, but now it is awake, and there is no going back. When you step out of your comfort zone, when you allow yourself to look into the face of that which you call “other”. You may just see a mirror instead. Never again will I hear the phrase “starving children in Africa” and write it off as a cliché. Never again will I see the children in a “save the children” commercial as anything less than my neighbor’s child, or my friend’s child, or any child anywhere whether they are naked or clothed, abandoned or well loved. Never again will I value the life of an American above all others. The danger then is that my heart has been opened to love and ache for that which I cannot change. Even while I am here in Liberia, there is so little I can do to alleviate suffering. But my heart tells me that being open to love, even when it seems that love will only be grief, loving is what is important. Every day it seems I fail at this, every day I loose focus, or get discouraged, but there is no absence of love in my life, and that makes all the difference.

We are not all called to far away lands, but we are all called to Love. To take the dangerous path, to look at that which we fear, and choose to love instead.
May the peace and fire of Love be with you,