Reflections on a year in missions

I remember it as if it were yesterday. My family and a few close friends were there. They had gathered to share the last good byes before my two beautiful daughters and amazing wife moved from the United States. Elizabeth had long dispensed with the trying to keep it together as she allowed the tears to billow down her cheeks, matching our families faces. I was resolute, determined to keep the stoic demeanor like the strong men I had for examples, those who did their duty. I knew I would have 30 hours travel time to reflect on our stepping out on faith in missions. I was keeping with my wishes until I stood before my oldest daughter and told her it was time to give a final hug to her family and tell her cousin, her best friend goodbye for what could be years.  As I started the sentence the words became caught in my throat and struggled to release as a bird struggles on it’s first flight. My eyes swelled and blurred with tears, this was actually happening.  After more than two years of prayer, discernment, and preparation, we were leaving to be missionaries in Africa. I remember looking at my mother and saying “you will be alright, you will be alright,” knowing she would be fine but really, deeply telling myself through her “I will be alright,” an uncertainty then. And that was it, we boarded the plane and started this crazy journey as missionaries for the United Methodist Church.

Today marks one year since we left. As many missionaries will tell you, the first year is rarely easy, but more an uphill battle with mixed emotions. A complete paradigm shift in most everything you know leaves you falling down a tunnel faster than any time deficient white rabbit.  Fear is real, tears are real, love is real, it all gets very real very quick, and we were no different. We had times of calling out to God knowing there was a mistake in placement and knowing he had chosen the wrong people for the job. We had times of pure joy and bliss knowing we were exactly where God needed us. We have even more times in-between filled with uncertainty. But, in this, we know we are not the same as we were when we first stepped onto the plane in Shreveport, LA. We have changed, and we pray it is for the better. We pray God is glorified through our service.

But to celebrate us crossing the year, our first anniversary as expats, we have compiled a little list of what we have learned over the past 365 days.  There are twelve “lessons” one for each month living in Mozambique. Here goes:

1.     We appreciate our church family now more than ever.  We have a greater appreciation for children's Sunday School classes and the people who invest.  We miss the opportunity to be provoked or inspired by sermons on Sunday.  But now we can appreciate the simplicity of showing up and listening for God's still voice amidst the people's languages we don't understand.

2.     We transformed into engineers, plumbers, accountants, teachers, and experts of many things the moment we stepped off the plane in Mozambique.  "Necessity is the mother of invention."  We find that to be true as finding the real professionals can be challenging.

3.     We have a higher tolerance for discomfort and inconvenience. The power goes off almost daily from 5 minutes to 12 hours, it usually varies and is always a surprise. Come December when it is hotter than hell, there is no air conditioning, electricity, or running water....Elizabeth will be an irritable mess (as professed by her).  Maybe don't come visit then. 

4.     The entire very pale McCormick family has a tan.  It is strange!

5.     Our thoughts on poverty have changed.  We had the thought being in a "top 10 poorest country" would give us an idea of what it is like to be poor.  We now know how people live off of $1 or $2 a day. We can feed the family nutritious meals for around that.  We can buy decent second hand clothes for around 30 cents.  But we have come to recognize, we will never have any clue what it is really like.  When Eva got sick, we had the extra $10 to buy her medication from a private pharmacy.  When legs are tired from walking so far and the vehicle is broken down (again), we can pay $1 to hire a ride the rest of the way home.  And ultimately, if things get really rough, we can call family or friends to wire us some money.  These are luxuries the family living in the storage building in our back yard do not have.  The vast majority of people do not have those luxuries.   We will never know what this kind of poverty is like.

6.     Our view of living in community has changed.  We had talked for years of sharing our living space with another family or friends. In these dreams we all looked the same, thought the same, and spoke the same language. However, we are able to live in community in a way more divined by God.  We live with Gildo, Tina, and Baby Kayla.  They are the three family members sharing a two room metal building in our back yard.  We share food, chores, and fun. They play with our girls, we with theirs. They can not afford phones, but they have ours.  Gildo was able to talk to his mom for the first time in four months because of our living together and the use of our phone.  God’s idea of community represents more of a Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

7.     Being among Mozambicans and other nationalities has changed the way we see the world.  This isn't something we can explain, but we know we are different for it.  I think Eva and Annie will see the world differently as well.

8.     We have a greater sympathy and comradery with immigrants and resident aliens. We get the stares, the derogatory name calling, the difficulty in understanding how to do even the basic of things, like paying a water bill or getting electricity for the house or even how to use the ATM. We understanding their desire to separate themselves and the inability to speak the local language even after years in the country.

9.     The definition of "clean" has evolved to adapt to our surroundings.  It is a means of survival!

10.  We are learning to appreciate a simple life.  We just thought our life was simple in Louisiana.  But it was full of meetings, committees, yoga classes and small groups...all important things.  Making time for ourselves, each other, family and friends was often a challenge, especially with everyone else's busy schedule.   We did not know what to do with ourselves when we first arrived.  But now, we have settled into simplicity in many ways. Sabbath has a new meaning for us as there is nothing else to do on Sunday!

11.  We can now recognize and embrace the positives in the vulnerability and insecurity of being dropped off in an unfamiliar place, at dark, in an empty home, to be left to wait. We gained the confidence in finding our way in a city where we knew no one and did not speak the language, where we had no idea how to function or to get around.  

12.  When everything familiar is stripped away, when earthy comforts are greatly decreased, and when few people speak your language...that is when we hear God.  That is when we experience God's comfort.  That is when faith is tested and God refines us.  It hurts...but it is totally worth it.

Our ideas of why were are here and what we want to accomplish have changed many times in the past year.  Above all we seek to give honor to God and to love in the example of Jesus Christ. In this year since, we have found the joy of God when we least expecting to find it.  We stand ready for another year with help of the Holy Spirit and the love from our friends and family.