Barbara and I began our journey of living and working in another country and culture in 1998 when we moved first to Burkina Faso for language study.
It wasn’t the first time for either of us to live outside the United States, but this time it was as a family, first as a couple and then with children.
We lived in the Central African Republic from 1998 to 2002, then in Kenya from 2003 to 2006, and in Madagascar from 2006 until 2011. We are currently living in Arusha, Tanzania.
I would say that the first and most important thing in all this is what my mother told me years ago: “Wherever you go, it is the people that are important and it’s important to love them.” Along with this is the ability to be flexible and open to learning from every person and situation.
My work has taken me, and continues to take me, on paths of which I cannot see the ending. Each week is as different as the last, and even each day, for there is no such thing as 9-5 p.m. days in what we do.
Last week I was in Rwanda:
- meeting with our mission personnel, Robin Strickler;
- meeting a pastor and representative from the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, Todd Wallace;
- accompanying our sisters and brothers in the Lutheran Church of Rwanda in reviewing a proposal that they are going to submit to the ELCA churchwide organization;
- attending a worship service in Mumya, a rural area of Rwanda;
- hearing a young Rwandan woman give a great sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:24-29, followed by an impromptu presentation, at the request of the congregation, by the general secretary of the church regarding organizing; and
- hearing the faith story of a man who had not been a Christian, who survived the genocide but came to faith through reading the Bible and the witness of his wife attending the Lutheran church.
On my way back to Arusha, I stopped in Nairobi to meet with some of the leadership of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church. There I met with Mary Mshana, the director of Pangani Lutheran Children’s Center, to discuss a program that supports young girls at risk.
The ELCA supported this program through a direct grant some years ago. Most recently it has been supported through gifts from ELCA members via the churchwide organization.
Then I hopped on the bus to go from Nairobi to Arusha in time to be home when our boys came back from school, since Barbara was in meetings.
Living like this means one has to be flexible, but probably no more so than anyone in the United States with all the various events, school- and work-related issues that come up.
The only difference may be that here the languages are diverse, the cultures different and the work taking us across borders rather than across the state.
As I write this Barbara is with James Gonia, her area program director, for meetings and visits. I am working out of our home where my office is; soon I’ll be off to pick up our boys at school.
On Saturday I will once more be “on the road again,” as Willie Nelson sings, going to Nairobi to meet with our mission personnel there, Sam and Cindy Wolff, follow up on evaluations of programs that the ELCA has funded, and attend a meeting with an ecumenical partner.
While in Arusha — besides the usual paperwork and day-to-day keeping up with groceries, cooking and the like — there’s even time for the occasional sermon at the Arusha Community Church as I prepare to preach on Easter Sunday.