August 04, 2017
by Judy Palpant
To hear Thee: only the terrified heart may truly listen...-Rachel Korn, holocaust survivor in her poem, "Keep Hidden from Me"
"Don't go to Africa," they said to us. "You'll never see your husband. He'll be consumed by constant medical needs." "Your children will be at risk of getting malaria." "Why go to Africa when problems are all around us here in the U.S.A.?"
"One or two years in Africa will look good on your resume," others told my husband Sam, "but if you stay longer, you'll be committing professional suicide."
"Ah," some Africans said when we arrived in Kenya, "You were placed in this remote hospital because you couldn't make it at home. Now you are taking one of our African jobs. Why not just send us all the money it costs for you to come and live here? We could do so much with it. You didn't have to come."
As if to confirm their prophecies, on the first Father's Day our kids never laid eyes on their dad. He arrived home after their bedtime-weary-worn and heart-sick from trying to save the children of other fathers. Our own 2-year-old daughter developed malaria within the first month in Lugulu. The rumor mill churned as neighbors and hospital staff speculated about how long we would stay. As for professional suicide? The mission hospital lab boasted one primitive monocular microscope and a hand cranked centrifuge. It mocked Sam's infectious disease and tropical medicine training.
With these tribulations, our own misgivings grew louder, more persistent: "Why did we come half-way around the world? Are we doomed? We arrived in a time of famine. No other white family lives for 30 minutes in any direction. How will we survive?"
One night, taking advantage of the three hours of electricity afforded us by the hospital generator, I ironed while Sam read aloud from Scripture.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:2-5, NIV 1984).
"Wait a minute!" I said, snapping to attention and setting the iron down. "Does it really say that?"
I'd memorized this familiar passage as a youth and heard numerous sermons on the topic. But on this night in rural East Africa, I recognized my Shepherd's calming, convicting voice. My heart bowed in gratitude. The following day I baked a cake. We sang "O Thank You Lord" before eating and celebrating God's faithfulness.
Now decades later, in my changed circumstances caring for my mother, others' conflicting voices resound in my ears. They loop round and round in my mind: "I could never do what you are doing." "You're lucky to have your mom." "You've got to draw boundaries." "Treasure every minute you have with her."
My antennae pick up every word, every nuance. The positives challenge me. The negatives nag my heart and dog my feet.
"When transitioning to different circumstances or cultures, it's hard to find Jesus," says author and professor Jerry Sittser. "Who is he in this setting? Rediscover him by choosing one gospel. Read it over and over again for the first six months. Let your daily experiences inform your reading."
The gospel of Mark is my choice in this new era of my life. Through Jesus' parables and stories, His Spirit unstops my ears and calls me to live and grow in faith. The message I heard today in chapter 4: "In charting unfamiliar waters, whether stormy or serene, rest with me. My presence in your boat is enough."