I was prepared for some uncertainties when we left for Cameroon 20 months ago. I knew that missions in Africa is not like life in Canada. I knew Cameroon was in a political crisis- which is now described in some circles as a civil war. I knew my mom’s cancer was back and probably terminal. I knew that the seminary work was only part of what we would be doing and there were a lot of unclear things about what the Fulbe ministry portion of our work would look like. We thought we had some idea of how it would shake out. Boy, were we way off.
I did not imagine that I would be living with maybe a couple of suitcases and boxes worth of our belongings, in a completely different part of Cameroon. Or that we’d find ourselves unable return to our house in Ndu for the better part of a year, with no particular end of the uncertainty in sight. I did not envision the repeated pull of the desire/need to be in Canada due to my mom’s illness. I did not envision 3 trips to Nigeria in 7 months, but, being unable to get a multiple entry visa, that we would also make multiple trips to Yaounde. I have packed up, for travel somewhere or other, approximately every 3-6 weeks since May of 2018.
I don’t really have a clear idea what I will be doing 6 weeks from now, never mind 6 months from now. The unexpected time to work on our Fulfulde language learning has been a blessing, but life has lacked any kind of rhythm or routine that lasts more than 4 weeks because of the frequent travel. I’ve declined taking on any larger projects here in Banyo in order to maintain our language learning focus, as well as because of the uncertainty of our time here. Jeff thought he was going to do some extension teaching this summer for the seminary, but that is ‘hanging’. I thought I finally had a plan in the next few months to work with Elsie on some things we’ve been wanting to get to, but that too has recently gone into the ‘ probably not’ pile.
We have done a ton of really amazing ministry things since we left Ndu in September, and I am grateful for that, as many our colleagues have been in a greater state of suspended service that we have. But as a bit of an obsessive planner/organizer person, this feeling of being a bit adrift has seriously upset my sense of equilibrium and direction, and I am struggling with it all.
A few months back, someone in my mission community posted or shared a link that included a reflection on the thoughts contained in this poem, which helped me then and still encourages me daily. And I have been reading and reflecting on Romans 8 as well, which together have made for an interesting meditation this week (which was maybe a bit multi-faceted, so pardon if there is not just one clear message here).
“DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.” (Do the Next Thing)
From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message for me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration: “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command,
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor.
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm.
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing!
Then, as He beckons thee, “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
Eleanor Amerman Sutphen
This admonition to just ‘do the next thing’ is not a nod to my ADHD tendency to ricochet from project to project. (Don’t ask me how ADHD and obsessive planner go together- it’s a mystery to me too) It is, among other things, an admonition to stop worrying about whether this or that is God’s will, but to simply see what is in front of you, and IN FAITH, do whatever your hand finds to do.
This seriously flies in the face of what we often hear from the pulpit and in popular Christian books about searching out and knowing the will of God for your life. We feel a need to ‘pray about’ all kind of decisions and wait to ‘hear from God’ whether He wants us to do this or that. The Biblical pattern is much more mundane than that. Other than the great commission and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and maybe Paul’s dramatic conversion, most of the early church accounts of the apostles’ decision making process- of what to do or where to go- are simple and practical (and occasionally even a tiny bit selfish). At best, you will see, as the poem suggests, “Time, opportunity, guidance are given” but only very occasionally will you read about any specific directives from God. I will ‘do it reliantly, do it with prayer’….but I will DO IT!
God’s overall will for my life has not changed in the 47 years since I became a Christian- it is for me to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son’ and for the fruits of the Spirit to be more abundant in my life. It is for me to serve him with the gifts I have in the place in which I am. According to I Thess 5, it is God’s will that I be joyful, thankful, and prayerful. (All other italicized sections are quotes from Romans 8 NIV)
So I am not currently struggling to find God’s will- I am struggling with aspects of my human nature that are resisting the nature of circumstances I am in. When I ‘put to death the deeds of the flesh’ – in my case, at the moment, these would be complaining, ungratefulness, being controlling, anger – it becomes possible for God to work for the good in my life all of the yucky things I am experiencing. Otherwise, I can quite possibly just be a very grumpy self-centered woman with the spiritual-sounding job description of ‘missionary’ who is NOT exhibiting the fruits of the spirit, and is NOT becoming any more like Jesus at all, and is possibly quite limited in her usefulness for God’s purposes.
So, I am thankfully not struggling under the burden of figuring out “What is God’s will for me to do while here in Banyo?” It is still for me to become more like Christ. I know that I can be more than (a) conqueror in spite of the hardships, and that nothing will be able to separate (me) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Realizing that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesss… I pray that I can grasp that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
And while I still need WISDOM to decide where to spend my time, energy and resources, and I can seek out COUNSEL from the Word of God and from those above and around me, with wisdom graciously given as promised by God, and in faith, I will simply DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.