A couple years ago I sat in a sea of folding chairs at a school talent show, and as one small gal began to sing, the power blinked out. There was a pulse or two of inky, sudden dark, but she didn’t miss a beat—she sang on, a capella, completely undaunted. In a matter of seconds, cell phones lit up across the room like a tide of bioluminescent creatures, and her face took shape again out of the gloam.
I think of that now, when I consider this past year. I think of folks holding up their handful of light so others can be seen, and of people brave enough to sing into the dark.
Zemio has thinned to a ghost town these days, with nearly all the life blinked out. I’m not there, but I imagine the stillness is deafening. I don’t think anyone’s sleeping under their own thatched roof; I’m not even sure how many roofs remain. Folks have fled to the UN compound, or crossed the river into DRC, or walked hundreds of kilometers to take refuge in slightly less perilous towns.
At night, fathers smooth the brows of sleeping children under a ceiling pieced from tarps and palm branches and stars, with everyone dreaming of home.
I suspect that if I’d mapped the course of our last twelve months with a GPS, the whole thing would’ve just said, “Recalculating.” It’s funny, kind of, sometimes.
We’ve recently accepted an assignment to serve for a year in Uganda, and I surely didn’t mean to be here. But God pulls miracles out of sheer nothing, out of oceans of displacement and inadequacy. And even in the in-betweens He’s up to something beautiful.
In the in-betweens we’ve broken bread with young men from Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, DRC. We’ve heard bits of their stories and the backstories to their stories. We’ve read the anguish between the lines, and it’s funny how that only happens because we just walked out of CAR and they trust us to understand pain.
In the in-betweens Todd loaded memory cards with audio files of the Bible translated into Fulfulde, then flew them into Zemio in June.
In the in-betweens we’ve said goodbye.
In the in-betweens we’ve met with dozens of leaders and mentors, and as we sifted through ministry options we gained a clearer vision for all the hope God’s unleashing in this continent. Unreached peoples, mobilizing the African church, MK education, community development, agriculture, medical ministries: the list is long and breathtaking.
In the in-betweens we’ve paced and we’ve prayed. We’ve kept vigil with our children and grieved and healed even as surely as we know there are some things we’ll never get over. God’s mercy is new and enough for this day, and we trust that joy is coming.
It turns out that I am someone who pays off over the long-haul. I’m a slow start; quiet, observant, pushing roots deep into the heart of a place. At the beginning everyone who burns bright and fast wants me to get a move on already. And mostly I’m okay with this, because I know: I am someone who pays off over the long-haul.
But what about when the haul’s cut short?
I most certainly did not pay off in CAR, except for maybe this: it was home. Somewhere in the cycle of heat and sweet potatoes, of football and thunderstorms fracturing the jungle, I started belonging to people, and they belonged to me.
And so here I am with my handful of light to offer up so they can be seen. Our neighbors are refugees in the baldest, most desperate sense of the word, and at a time when the world is so tired of figuring out what to do with refugees. I know. But also: I belong to them, and they belong to me.
They’re singing into the dark, and theirs is a song worth hearing.
-In a nutshell: CAR is neck-deep in renewed civil war, including religious and ethnic cleansing, and violence against peacekeeping troops and aid workers. You can read more here: CAR spiraling into new crisis.
-MAF and AIM AIR caravans flew into DRC and CAR, respectively, to deliver relief supplies to the refugees from Zemio last week. Many of you gave to make that happen, and I’m so grateful. Thank you.
-We’re working on continued ways to be a neighbor to our old neighbors. Stay tuned.
-As ever, prayer moves mountains and the hearts of rebels and kings–please keep engaging on behalf of the Zande, the Mbororo, and the Chadian Arabs.
Pray for you every morning. Great admiration for your sacrifice and service. Love you deeply.
Uncle Jim, we love you and Aunt Bev SO much. Thank you for caring deeply for the people we love here in Africa. I have no doubt the redemption and hope we see at work here is directly because of your prayers.
I think I love to read these because I relate so well to your personality within myself. Not that we are the same, but I definitely relate to slowly coming out of a shell and wanting the long haul. Funny, how I too feel like it’s always cut short. Just remember, any amount of time spent with you; all that you are in Christ and all that He brings to the table through you is a pay off! Love you all.
Katie, my girl, you are ever a balm to my soul. Thanks for getting me on so many levels, and for being the sweetest, most enjoyable and hilarious company on this here journey. (And PS: I am not done journeying with you yet! So anytime you want to mosey on back to Africa, we are ready.) 🙂