Friday, September 20, 2013

The Unknown

"Confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is."

Happily, there are books available in libraries in town. I have not been to all of them, in fact I haven't even seen the inside of the library here at SAC, but it is comforting to know they are here.

The Pastoral Center for the Kumbo Diocese is adjacent to the SAC campus. It is literally in our back yard, directly behind our house. The Pastoral Center serves as a retreat house and event center, and it includes a fairly decent library of books gleaned from various convents and monasteries around the country. The collection is geared to appeal to church workers, which I was in the states and continue to be here, in a way. There are Church documents, Scriptural commentaries, books on homiletics, and even a tiny selection of novels (ranging from an early edition of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis to a recent novel by Khaled Hosseini).

There are at least two libraries in Tobin, the main administrative part of town. As an aside, While Tobin serves as the governmental center of Kumbo, Mbve is the economic center with the main market, banks, supermarket, etc., and Kumbo/Squares is the Cultural and Religious center with The Cathedral, the Palace of the Fon, and the Bishop's Hill.

But back to books: one of the Tobin libraries is next to the Catholic Church there, run by the sisters next door. It is open for children twice a week, and the collection is comprised of donations from the states. One of the main benefactors is a used book shop in Santa Fe! the owner of the book shop is a relative of one of the sisters. I'm not sure the name of the used book shop, but I think it is the one off the Plaza down the street from the Yarn shop, Tutto's. I seem to remember the name of the store was some kind of pun. In any case, there are also novels, etc. for adult readerse. The selection isn't huge, but there are some great books there! I was happy to discover, and then subsequently check out, a copy of Italo Calvino's "If On a Winter's Night a Traveller," This is a book I began to read in New Mexico, but it got lost in the upheaval and chaos of the last year.

I remember enjoying Calvino's unique first chapter, a kind of meta-chapter written in the second person describing, in startlingly accurate detail, the process in which I buy and read a new book. Sometimes, the book turns out to be different than you expect, and Calvino writes, "in fact, on sober relection, you prefer it this way, confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is."

That line leapt from the page for me this time around, though I doubt I paid it much heed back in New Mexico. Here on mission, it resonated deep within my heart and mind. We knew we were called to Mission-that much was clear from our prayer and discernment. We had been involved in various domestic mission and evangelization efforts in the States, but overseas mission was a big cloud of unknowables to us. Yes, we knew there would be cultural differences, but WHAT would those differences be? There would be hardships, but what kind? What would we miss most? Would we make friends with only expats, or could we connect with the locals? What would be the biggest joys?

We know what we were getting into, but in some ways, we have no idea what we are getting into. In a way, it feels a little bit like getting married: In the days leading up to the wedding, and even in the days and weeks and months and years after the wedding, you don't know quite what to expect; you have butterflies in your stomach; you know, theoretically, a little bit of what marriage is like, but there is no teacher like experience to teach you what marriage actually is. 

For me, mission so far has been like that. As school starts, I am confronting more and more of the cultural differences that have thus far remained hidden under the surface of our experience. More and more our experience of our struggles, hardships, joys, and successes is being revealed to us. Relying on God's grace to get us through, we soldier on through the spills and the breaks and the miscommunications and the jokes and the smiles and the dinner parties and just plain old life in general.

I still do not know exactly what I am getting into, but on sober reflection, I prefer it this way: confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is.

Starting mission work is like opening a wrapped gift.

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