Just three months after our wedding – and before moving to Dallas for school – Amber and I got an email from our organization telling us about the Ik people of Uganda. This event and some of my thoughts on it were recorded a year later on August 6, 2006:
In October 2005 a young couple got an email that was sent to all Wycliffe member organizations worldwide. The email was a call for someone to come and meet the need for a language project among the Ik. At the time, the recently-married couple was waiting on God for direction in their missionary assignment. Feeling excitement and a sense of rightness, they volunteered for the project. When shared with friends and family, the news was received with widespread support and enthusiasm.
A year later, this couple is in training [in Dallas] and is struggling to find their identity in a changing organization and a changing world. The young lady is trained for medical work and has a compassionate heart. She would like to be involved in medical and humanitarian relief and holistic community development. For six years, the young man thought he was supposed to be a Bible translator. But after six months in seminary, he discovered that picking apart the Scriptures in exegesis fosters a disconnection between his mind and heart that deeply unsettles him.
Is this a risk he must take? Is this a responsibility that God is asking him to bear?
This couple is wondering what their future ministry will look like and how much their more pressing educational and vocational decisions will affect it. Is her identity NURSE? Is his identity TRANSLATOR or LINGUIST? Or is their identity DISCIPLE or SERVANT? They are beginning to see, starting to suspect, that the ministry God will give them among the Ik and/or elsewhere, will be much more broad that their preconceived roles, as useful as they have been in shaping them to this point.
In spite of our ambivalence about professional roles, as well as my internal spiritual turmoil, we left in January 2008 to be Christian missionaries in Uganda. We both felt like we were in a river that was sweeping us along without our control. We felt as if the control we had thought we had was forfeited for a purpose greater than the two of us. We had both spent years preparing for mission work, and the sheer momentum of the outer life we had constructed carried us forward. On January 17, 2008, I penned the following while sitting on our guesthouse balcony in the Ugandan town of Entebbe:
We are in Africa at last, thanks be to God. As I sit here in this chair, I savor the taste of genuine African milk chai and the symphonic sounds of bird-calls, barking dogs, and distant diesel engines. I want to say “I love Africa,” for I do love Africa, but I know difficult times lie ahead. It’s almost like I’m afraid to enjoy this too much. Lord, give me faith…
Jesus says he’s both the door of the fold and the good shepherd who enters through the door – a little mystifying, but I think I get his point. Our prayer is that the Ik people would hear his voice, not the voice of strangers, and that they would follow the good shepherd and enter the narrow gate of the fold.
On February 13, 2008, after a day spend acclimating to Kampala – Uganda’s hectic yet vibrant capitol city – I took a few moments to jot down the following ruminations:
So, we’re in Africa. How do I feel? I still feel like I’m living in a dream. I feel like life is happening to me, not so much that I am living. Maybe it’s a loss of individuality or subjectivity. I feel at a loss for emotions: detached, unable to wrap my mind around reality. And God is still both a poignant memory, a bittersweet aftertaste, and a present reality that is as unfamiliar as ever.
And so I press on.