Sunday, 29 June 2014

Who will go with me?

Over recent months I have been thinking about returning to Tanzania. In many ways this might seem the obvious thing to do now that my MA is over and my Redcliffe post was only ever intended to be short-term, but it does not feel like an easy decision. However, as I have made enquiries, the doors seem to have remained wide open to returning there. So just a few weeks ago I turned to God in prayer again with that question that is perhaps at the heart of my slowness in making this decision: “Who will go with me?” 
One of the things I find hardest about being involved in overseas mission are the many transitions and how these comings and goings affect relationships. This is one of the things that drove me to returning to the UK, in the hope that back here I might have a better chance of meeting someone to share this life-journey with. I have stalled in making plans to return overseas while this situation remained unchanged, but I’m tired of waiting and want to move on. However, this does not make the prospect of returning easy, rather than excitement I feel apprehension and while I look forward to many aspects of life in Tanzania I also know fear over how I will cope with the sense of alone-ness.

And so I found myself asking that question in prayer, “Who will go with me?” and God reminded me of a verse that has been in my mind a lot recently, since a sermon at my home church on God’s presence. Moses asks God pretty much the same question, after God tells him to lead His people. And God’s reply to Moses was:
               “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex. 33:14)

Well, there’s my answer. It felt like both an answer to my question and an affirmation that I should go. To be honest, in some ways this doesn’t make things any easier, because that was something I already knew! However, there was something in the timing of it all that spoke to me at a deeper level. If I look back, though there have been hard times, I can also testify that God has always gone with me, He has never left me truly alone. Though the transitions continue to be tough and I have also been through a very dark time spiritually, wrestling with God and doubting that He is the God I have always believed in (a topic for another blog post?), I also know deep down that God has never left me and never will, and will always provide for me relationally in one way or another.

So, I continue to make plans to go to Tanzania and daily remind myself of this promise so that I might have strength to move on.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Different but the same

A little while ago I popped in to visit good friends of mine on the way back from the shops. They lived just a two minute walk from my home in Mbeya and now they are just a ten minute walk away from my home in Gloucester. I would frequently pop into their home when we lived close by in Tanzania, and as I dropped round to their Gloucester home I suddenly realised how bizarre it was – every aspect of that walk to the shops and to their home was many miles removed from Tanzania (both metaphorically and literally) and yet underneath it was the same!

Instead of a dirt road, it’s tarmac. Instead of going to lots of little shops I could go to one or two big shops. Instead of shillings it’s pounds. Instead of Swahili it’s English. Instead of asking at the counter I walk around. Instead of very little choice I’m swamped with options. Instead of a shop-owner with a calculator it’s a touch-screen, self-serve checkout. Instead of dodging daladalas I’m walking along pavements and crossing at traffic-lights. Instead of a cool cement house it’s a centrally-heated brick house.

But I got food and I saw friends. Different but the same :-)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Back to the books

When I think about it, I’ve never really been far away from books – all my growing up years I’ve loved the written word, devouring books from the county library, reading in the car (much to the disgust of my parents who wanted me to look at the scenery) and reading late into the night when my parents thought I was fast asleep. As I grew older the number of books I consumed per week dropped considerably, as other things filled my time, but still the books were near at hand. And then I became involved in making and formatting books in other languages, so that now I can’t read a book without noticing double-spaces where they shouldn’t be or spotting inconsistent indentation that most people would never notice! Now that phase of my interaction with books is behind me for a while, but the skills learnt come in handy for crafting my essays and my consistent love of books makes the library a pleasant place to study. 

Reflecting on the centrality of the written word in my life, I am brought back to the centrality of the most important written Word, the Book of God. In a recent essay I was reflecting on Luke 24, where we read of how Jesus walked with a couple of His followers on the road to Emmaus and later appeared to all of His disciples as they met together. They were confused by Jesus’ death as they had thought that he was the one they were expecting who would liberate Israel. And what did Jesus say to them? “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25). How would they have known what the prophets had spoken? Because it was written in their Scriptures (our Old Testament). And later Jesus says to them, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (24:44) Here I see two things. Firstly, the importance of the written Word. God has chosen to reveal Himself through the written Word. Yes, He has revealed Himself ultimately in Jesus, but even Jesus chose not to immediately disclose who He was to the disciples after His resurrection, but first pointed them to the Word – everything was already written there. After opening the Scriptures to them, then he revealed his own identity. Secondly, I see how even Jesus’ closest disciples hadn’t understood what was written and Jesus needed to interpret it to them. 
What are the implications of this? Firstly, the importance of the Bible, through which God makes Himself known (indeed, it is one of many means, but clearly a primary one). Do I/we devour the Bible as I devoured books as a child, for this is how I will come to know more of my God, my Creator, my Father? What about those who don’t know how to read or don’t have any books in their language? How important it is that God’s Word is made accessible to them, through written and oral mediums. It is this concern that drives the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators as they translate the Bible into people’s mother tongues, teach people to read it and make it available in audio formats. Secondly, the importance of teaching the Bible. Just as Jesus needed to interpret God’s Word to His disciples, so people today need help understanding what is written – it doesn’t all make sense on the first read! But as our eyes are opened we see more of who Jesus is and can grow in our intimacy with Him, our friend, brother and Saviour. Who/what helps you to understand the Bible? Do you need help? Or who can you help? This is what drives Wycliffe’s work of Scripture Engagement, which I have been involved in for the past five years in Tanzania. I hope that this year of study will better prepare me for this role of helping others dig into God’s Word and find the treasure within, just as I myself need to keep digging, so that I might day by day find my identity to be more securely rooted in being the beloved of God and learn to wait on and trust in Him in all things.