When we left for Ethiopia in 2011 people asked "How long are you going for?" My personal, common response was "As long as God wants us there." Of course in my mind, that was already determined to be as long as possible. I imagined living into an old age like Australian legend Dr Catherine Hamlin who has been asked the same question and has replied "How can I leave when there is so much need?" I saw the needs and they were many, and many times we were able to help meet those needs- even if the need was for our presence.
While there are books written about missionary atrophy and the high rates of missionaries coming off the field, the detailed stories behind the statistics are yet to be told. I could be another statistic added to those who have gone before. But my story isn't all about what you see from afar. What's going on in my every day life is not what I would expect so it's probably not what you would either.
I believe the Bible holds the best practice models when it comes to mission and life. The word is a "light to my feet (giving me short term directions) and a lamp to my path (lighting the vision for the future)" Psalms 119:105. It shows me what I should do; speaking to me from an eternal place that speaks outside the realm of time and current emotion. The Bible is my text book for life - it's never led me astray (unless I have interpreted it wrong).
So when people ask me, "how long are you here for?".. Perhaps the Bible has an answer we can give..
God directed the Israelites by the cloud that covered the tabernacle. When it moved, they moved, when it lingered, they lingered. We are the temples, the tabernacles now. God has set the law in our hearts (Psalm 37:31) and we are the temples of the Holy Spirit as we enter into relationship with Jesus. (1 Cor 6:19) We are then subject to God's lead in this dance of life and He desires that we follow that lead.
Even now, He places a kind of cloud over us and it represents His presence, His power and His provision. When we feel these three elements operating at their fullest in our lives, we have to know, we're "under the cloud." It's His grace and anointing (that smearing with ability) there that sustains us through the desert.
Many times Ethiopia has felt like the desert. As I'm here I'm reminded of the struggle! The dust getting thrown in my face by the wind, the roosters crowing at 4am in the morning, the water not flowing from the taps and the public taxi squashing my body up against strangers... These are all things the grace of God gave me and my family the power to sustain over five years. But now that cloud has moved. I don't feel the grace for those things here any more. I'm wondering how I survived them at all and with five children and a myriad of other challenges that came our way. But God does... He was and is our cloud that shelters us from the harsh conditions.
Now His cloud over us has shifted. It's sheltering us from the new challenges that we are facing in Sydney. It isn't actually just sheltering us, but it's bringing a shower of blessed rain. After living in Ethiopia I have a new understanding of rain. Coming from New Zealand where it rains every month of the year, I saw rain as a curse almost. You just want to get the washing dried and your body tanned by the sun but the rain just comes out of nowhere in the "land of the long white cloud." (Aotearoa, the name the original settlers gave to New Zealand.) But in Ethiopia where rain comes only three months of the year and sometimes not even that at all, rain is a blessing.
The cloud provides the rain, the cloud provides the shelter and the cloud represents the presence of God in the place He is leading us to. It's a beautiful cloud covering. Now back in Sydney, Robert Fergusson was preaching today in Chapel at Hillsong Leadership College about how we need to change our destination. He used the example of Jacob in Genesis 28 who was also going from one city to another. "He intended to go to Haran, but God had another destination - His presence. While you set out on your natural journey, He is setting you on a supernatural one. His destination was not the PLACE but the GOD WHO MADE the place."
While on a journey back to Ethiopia, we found a new home in Sydney. Here, we are finding new levels of intimacy with the Creator of Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world. Like Jacob, we can't help but say "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it!" We were not aware that God was going to lead us to stay in Sydney but He is here and He is showing us that here is where we need to stay. For me, there is a sense of joy and peace that comes with leaving that overrides the emotional pull to stay. It's described like this in Isaiah:
While Dr Catherine Hamlin stays because there is so much need she can practically help with here, I leave because there is need in Ethiopia I need to help with from abroad. The lessons I have learnt from our time in Ethiopia have set me up to establish a new thing. God is always in the business of doing new things and He does it in us and through us.
As I watched Moana on the plane on the way back from Ethiopia, I heard a line in the song "I am Moana" that I hadn't heard before. She starts the movie convinced that her calling is "beyond the reef"- a place. Then as she goes out beyond the reef and sees the bigger picture of what the "Ocean" has called her to do, she gets a "revelation". Her Grandmother's spirit asks her...Do you know who you are?
Her response is summed up like this:
I am a girl who loves my island
I'm the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
I've delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I've learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn't out there at all, it's inside me
It's like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart you'll remind me
That come what may
I know the way