We have seen many things here, and people have seen us do many things. Some have been beautiful. We have seen gorgeous sunsets, wide landscapes, smiling faces. We have heard joyful music and hearty laughter.
Some things have been sad: we have seen coffins for children, sickness and disease, utterly base conditions, poverty. Some have been disorienting and confusing: a traveling sun which doesn't always shine from the South, different languages, corporal punishment, different cultural situations.
Recently, the word "witness" has been banging around inside my head. As Christians, we are called to be a witness to the Gospel. We have experienced the risen Lord, and we are called to share that joy with others. As missionaries, we are called to be witnesses here in Africa, two-way witnesses, so to speak: we bear witness to the faith we have received to all we encounter, yet we also witness the life, culture, and faith present here, and bear that witness to the Church "back home."
I am very grateful for all that we have been able to accomplish, even though it does not seem like much in the face of the Sisyphusian task given to us. I am grateful that we are able to bear witness to the joys and blessings of family life, by our very presence as a large-ish family from the West. (One man I met on the bus refused to believe that I had five children, stating his understanding that whites were only able to have two children, at most.) I am grateful that we are able to bear witness to our faith and our decision to follow Christ and his Church, not just to the local population, but also to the various expats who are here.
I haven't been reflecting on these things because I'm such a great and contemplative missionary and Christian husband and father, but rather because I've been witnessing more and more my own faults and failings as a missionary and Christian husband and father. It seems I manage to summon all the patience in the world for the (seemingly, to me) ridiculous waiting games here, yet I don't have the patience to discipline my own children calmly. I am called to live an exemplary life, yet I find myself sucked into habits of gossip, sloth, etc. Don't worry, I haven't totally gone off the deep end. I'm just noticing more and more the little ways I myself handicap my own ability to live out my mission here in Cameroon.
Of course, this is not just a phenomenon limited to foreign mission work. In the States, I would handicap myself all the time, allowing my sins to take command rather than letting Grace have the reins. Temptations of every sort are lurking everywhere, and it is as much a struggle here as it was at home.
If there's one thing I can bear witness to, it is that living an intentional life according to Christian principles and morals is very very hard, but very very necessary. Of course, the more I rely on Grace, the easier it all gets, but that requires giving up some control. Heck, it requires giving up all control. And most of all, it requires letting go of my pride.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith." Hebrews 12:1-2