Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Voice

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? You wake up in the morning and no one else is home (probably because you've slept later than the rest of the world considers acceptable). You jump in the shower and somewhere between shampoo and conditioner, you get lost in a conversation you had last nite...or one that you are going to have today that you aren't looking forward to. Now, you've used enough water to fill a small pool, but then again there isn't anyone home to point this out to you. Next, feeding time. Coffee, cereal, fruit (after all, you do care about your body). Perhaps it is your day off of work, so you are going to read the paper or get lost in novel on the front porch. Lunch comes early when you sleep as late as you did, so you have a light lunch and decide to face the world. You head out to run some errands, going here and there. Bank. Gas. Finally, you head to the grocery store. You meander around getting more good things for your body, paying close attention to MSG and local farmers. You proceed to the checkout when out of nowhere the clerk says, "How are you doing today" which you reply..."Au righ nd yo"--but it comes out like you are saying it into a glass of water. In the absence of human interaction and conversation...even if for a brief momentarily lost your voice. Thankfully, you are able to clear your throat and get a hold of your speech skills and repeat what you meant to say, "All right and you?"

We've all seen what can happen if you don't exercise your voice for several hours, but I wonder if it is possible to lose your voice if you quit using it for a long period of time. So far, the internet hasn't been much of a help on this for me, so I'll just be left guessing until someone comes forward with a story about a person who had been hidden in a closet and when they came out, they were unable to talk like they once had. However, that turns out, is seems feasible to me that if you don't exercise your voice, you could lose it...or at least have it significantly altered, weakened, and/or garbled.

That is, to some degree, my fear after having returning from Burundi. After spending two weeks seeing what I saw, talking about the needs of the people, getting to know people, etc., I have so much within me that must come out somehow. Or be lost...forever. I want my church community to know about the things we did in Burundi. I want them to know the stories of the people we met. I want them to experience what I've least in part. And mostly, I want them to know that there is so much more we can do.

Our church, Mars Hill Bible Church, has committed itself to the Great Lakes region of Africa. Most specifically, it has teamed up with World Relief and Turame in the country of Burundi. I want to speak into this partnership. I want to share my experiences and stories and let them infuse life into the projects we are going to work on. I want to bring fresh ideas and new opportunities that our community of faith can get involved in. I want to be in the conversation. I want to share where I've been and what I've seen. I want, simply, to have a voice.

But I'm afraid. I am afraid that I won't be invited into the conversation...and all that is within me will begin to wither, shrink, and atrophy. Right now, I feel very engaged with the people and country of Burundi and I don't want that to change. I want to continue reading about the problems faced by this country...and to think and dream creatively about potential solutions. I want to brainstorm and strategize ways that our church and partner churches can be and send resourcing to Burundi. I would love to lead teams of people a couple times per year--teams of counselors who can train counselors in Burundi; teams of theologically estute brothers and sisters who can begin building up the church leaders in Burundi. And on. And on. And on.

It's an overstatement to say that I'm "only afraid." I'm hopeful too. At times, hope is leading the way...and at times fear is running amock. But my prayer ought to be obvious to anyone who reads. May God continue to call my voice out of the depths of my experience and passions. And those who have ears, let them hear.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Grafted In To The Good Tree

The image here of the tree was somewhat randomly inspired and dreamed up by a graphic artist we know who was willing to help us design T Shirst for our Burundi Team. The image is becoming less random…and this friend is becoming more unknowingly prophetic. Let me explain…

There is an illuminating quote in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which gripped me when I first heard it. Now, it is helping me understand how I feel now that I have gone and returned from Burundi, Africa. The quote comes from a character that is a lifetime missionary…a man whose wisdom and spirituality is forged in the trials and beauty of kingdom work in the Congo. He shares this insight with some frustrated missionaries that he has stopped to visit…in an attempt to say, “Press on. Be faithful to the Lord and faithful to these people you are here to serve.” Here is what Brother Fowler says to them:
We are branches grafted on this good tree…the great root of Africa sustains us…

Since leaving Burundi just about one week ago, I have been trying to make sense out of how I have been feeling. I have asked questions of myself, written in my journal, dialogued with my wife and friends who were on the team. This feeling has been elusive and has a knack for remaining undiscovered and unnamed. Pesky little thing! It taunts me and talks trash. Lord, have mercy.

Reflecting back on this quote, however, has shed a sliver of light on the whole situation. Like a light shining through a keyhole into a pitch black room, it doesn’t unlock the door, but it can provide just enough light (and hope) to reveal the way out. So, I wouldn’t say that I’ve stumbled upon Clarity, but I do think I’m making some headway. While I have made the 2 day journey home from Africa, unpacked, taken a hot shower, and spent 2 days at work…I still have not returned home from Burundi. Not fully. Not all of me. Part of who I am was grafted onto that good tree. Part of me has been intertwined with the roots who are the people that bring life the country of Burundi.

When I think about this good tree, I think about other branches that have been grafted in: Sara, Seth and Trina, Dan and Tambry. I also think of some of the roots I’ve been intertwined with: Sophonie, Irene, Emmanuel, Pastor Pierre. To be completely severed from these branches and roots would require a significant loss…even a death. I may have returned back to Grand Rapids, MI USA…but I remain in Burundi. To change that, you will have to hack away, burn, destroy what has been grafted together. Go ahead and try. Lord, have mercy. On you…

The ongoing question, then, is… “How do I stay connected to the part of me that remained in Africa? How do I sustain the seed and life that was sown on this 2 week trip to Burundi?” I think there are a multitude of answers to that question. Simple answers. Hard answers. Answers I will continue to listen to, ponder, and (hopefully) live out. But, in the mean time, these questions unearth a fear that I have. That fear will be the focus of another entry soon to come.
Stay tuned.