|The ol' 'Elisha, there's death in the pot' experience.|
The missionary life we full-time Christian workers portray in our prayer letters and post cards from the field is often filled with glowing reports of accomplishments or exploits meant to inspire thoughts of how good God is, and by extension how good the missionary is as well. In the meantime, most of the reality is edited out, reality being the tedium of trying to survive in a different culture, the uncertainty of whether I am understanding or being understood, the loneliness of not having things to do on a Friday night or making yet another cup of instant soup for supper.
Well this missionary certainly missed the victory train yesterday. I am hosting a good friend who is also the new priest in charge of our new Kisumu parish of St. Moses the Black. Everything went wrong. I was teaching myself how to make prosphora, the Orthodox communion bread. So after spending a couple of hours carefully going through all the steps, I put it in the oven. At the appointed time I took it out and let it cool. But it was pretty obvious that the inside was still mostly uncooked. So it wasn't even any good to snack on. Total fail. At least I had given myself another day to try again.
And then there was supper. I had bought dried beans and presoaked them. My thought was to make chili beans and rice for my Kenyan guest. So I followed the recipe from a trustworthy cookbook. But evidently the chili powder that the authors of the recipe had in mind was rather different than the chili powder that I bought at my local store. It was burn-my-mouth, cry-my-eyes-out hot, and for my poor Kenyan guest who comes from a culture that thinks Mchuzi spice is living dangerously, it was inedible. I just had to dump the whole pot in the compost place. Total fail II.
And then there was the night. I live next door to a compound that has two dogs. And evidently the two dogs spend their life cooped up in a tiny 'dog house' just on the other side of the compound wall, probably about two meters from my open window (open because Kisumu being Kisumu is like summer time in SC without the benefit of air conditioning.) There are nights where the dogs in question do not bark at anything. And then there are nights, like last night, where they barked at everything, ALL NIGHT LONG! And I hear everything when I 'sleep', so I didn't sleep much. But most of all I was anxious about my guest, who had traveled from Nairobi the night before and then had been fed an inedible meal while watching another example of my culinary incompetence unfold before his eyes. I found myself awake again at 5 AM and pried myself out of bed to go for my morning run. And even letting myself out the gate, it squeaked and set the dogs to barking again. And they continued barking as I headed down the road. So in terms of providing my guest with a comfortable, restful place to prepare for his ministry in a new parish - Complete fail III. Even now, midmorning, they are still barking.
Living is hard. Doing so in a cross cultural situation adds degrees of complexity to the hardness. And trying to live with all the shortcomings, weaknesses, personal idiosyncrasies and outright sins that I add to the recipe makes this living seem impossible.
The real story about being a missionary is not that I am able to do so much. It's that God is able to do anything at all, given what He has to work with. I think it's called 'mercy' and 'grace'.