Sunday, November 24, 2013

What does Love Look Like?

What does love look like? This question has been quietly simmering in the back of my mind lately. It popped up as I lost my shoe to the grasping mud for the second time. I felt around for it with my foot, hoping to find it and nothing else in the muddy water. I was half supporting, half carrying our oldest worker to her home to recover from combined pneumonia and malaria. Although she is nearly 10 years younger than I am, she looks nearly 20 years older; my generations of good nutrition contrasting with her heritage of deprivation. 

“What does love look like?”, I wondered, stopping myself from running out to protect the precious 2 inches of rainwater left in our last rain barrel. I was watching the community children as they laughed and chatted while letting the water run unused. After all, they didn’t want to rush taking turns to wash their feet! This is sharing life with the poor. It is sharing in the lack of running water and understanding the lack of foresight to conserve it when the means of conserving water are so often unavailable, and even unimaginable.

What does love look like?I am struck by the sheer power of goodness shining through the midst of difficult circumstances. God is unfailingly good. And the challenge to look for, to see and to express His goodness in every aspect of life - surely this is what love looks like.

Horn of Africa Area Assembly:
The audience hushed as ‘Jesus’ walked in, resplendent in wig and re-purposed Mothers’ Union uniform. It was the 3rd bible study drama of the Area Assembly. This one, presented by the Opo, was bound to be good! In quiet solemnity, the crowd followed Jesus, holding wounded heads bound in cloth, walking with shortened and twisted limbs, and otherwise looking generally woe-begone. With quiet majesty, Jesus healed all.  As all sat down, one of the disciples approached the Lord, clearly explaining in Opo that the crowd needed to eat. A regal gesture from Jesus sent him back to the crowd, where 5 small loaves and 2 real fish were produced in hushed reverence. As Jesus lifted the basket high in mute thanksgiving, the plastic bag under the loaves and fish was ripped away, revealing the hidden bounty of bread rolls underneath. Electrifyingly, the crowd leapt to their feet, their cries of joy erupting from the absolute silence like a foretaste of resurrection! As one man, they dove in a free for all scrum, loaves of bread flying everywhere, mouths full of laughter and food - real joy... and really funny!

Area Assembly: 200 gathered for 2 days of business, worship and teaching. See attached “Bishop’s Charge”

Clergy and Lay vote at Area Assembly

Definitely NOT boring!  Just a couple of years ago, life was fairly predictable. Most days I could be found in my office, in front of my computer screen doing professorial preparation or in the classroom teaching. But now, a kaleidoscope of travel has kept life, well, let’s say ‘interesting’! 

South Sudan: Speaking at the retreat for students graduating from Bishop Gwynne College and then at the graduation itself combined joy (finally a chance to go to the college where Wendy and I were to have gone almost 30 years ago but were prevented by war), and frustration (preaching at Emmanuel Jieng Church, the wonderful worship interrupted by an hour long campaign speech by the country’s Vice President as he ‘greeted’ the people).

Addis: learning Amharic; jumping through residency permit hoops; filling in at our English congregation while the rector was away; leading and preaching at the Remembrance Day service organized by the British Embassy with 40 ambassadors and their ‘Military Attaches’; introducing a famous Baptist preacher at theSunday evening service at St Matthew’s. 
During one of our trips to Addis, a couple of terrorists blew themselves up while trying to assemble a bomb that they had intended to detonate at a large football match between Ethiopia and Nigeria. The devastation would have been horrific. The country is now on heightened alert. Nothing boring about life here.

Gambella: Life has been no less varied. Reports, repairs, preparation, Area Assembly (like a church ‘Convention’ or ‘Synod’ for the Episcopal Area of the Horn of Africa), and of course, interruptions - the stuff of ministry here. Wonderful visitors from the Mothers’ Union (one from London, one from Juba, one from Addis) to train local literacy facilitators in how to teach the women in our Gambella churches how to read their own language; great visit from St Matthew’s Church representatives to the Area Assembly. Much less helpful visit from a (now) former priest (deposed for neglect of duty, deception, violence and threatening behaviour among other things). Not much that is ‘routine’ here either.

I have often told people that nothing is mediocre in Africa - it is either spectacularly wonderful or truly awful.  I recently read the Old Testament story of the spies going to check out Canaan. Most of them (10 out of 12) came back with the report, “The people were like giants; we seemed like grasshoppers next to them.” A couple of days after reading the passage, I realized that I had caught a case of that exotic disease, ‘grasshopper syndrome’. I was having a tough time trusting that God would give the resources (material and spiritual) that are needed for this work. The ‘cares and occupations’ were taking a toll. I began to long for that 9-5 routine at the desk and in the classroom. A bit of boredom sounded kind of nice. A series of people and events have helped. Bishop Mouneer in Egypt has provided great wisdom; countless encouraging emails seem to arrive just when I need them; and (of course!) Wendy is always there to pray and support. God is good - I may be a grasshopper, but our God sure isn’t.