As our day of departure draws closer (less than 3 weeks to go!) this question – ‘What are you most looking forward to?’ – is becoming more frequent. It’s perhaps the most difficult question I get asked. Quiz me about risk and we can have a discussion; query what an average day will look like and I have some idea; wonder what brought us to this point and I’ve got plenty to say; but ask me what I’m most looking forward to and I’m stumped.
Many people I speak to tell me how much they love Africa, having spent some time on safari or working in an orphanage there. They tell me about the amazing animals or the friendly people.
Perhaps we’ll have something of a honeymoon period when we get there as well. But it’s not a holiday. We won’t (God-willing) be coming home after 6 weeks or 6 months. We’ll be settling in for the long haul, impossible to separate the exciting from the difficult.
- I enjoy learning languages, but I hate the awkwardness of not recognising a word I should or the embarrassment of saying the wrong thing.
- I love meeting new people, but I don’t like that feeling a year in where you know lots of people but still feel really lonely.
- I’m interested by new foods, but I gather that eating a staple is something one learns to appreciate rather than something one eagerly anticipates!
- I’m convinced that student ministry in Tanzania is worthwhile, but it’ll be some time before we’re able to do it and even then I have significant questions about sustainability and possible impact.
- I’m stimulated by indigenous theologies, but I’m told that those processes are often short-circuited by poverty or corruption or (sometimes) missionaries themselves – and I expect I’ll find that pretty frustrating.
And there are plenty of things that I expect to be hard. There’s nothing fun about being vigilant about what you eat and drink or mosquitos. I reckon that will wear me down pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong – I want to go to Tanzania. At this point, I can’t imagine anything else. (I have no plan for what I would do in February in Australia!) And I don’t see myself as some sort of heroine, throwing myself into the hardships of life there. (We’re so well taken care of by CMS!) I anticipate discovering things that I will enjoy. But I’m just saying, I find it hard to answer the question of what I’m looking forward to.
And I’ve felt a bit inadequate because of that. (Am I just being pessimistic? Surely there must be something to look forward to!)
So I was intrigued today to read a long term worker in Djibouti saying, “I am not in love with Africa.” Her reflection is about the Jesus she is encountering in Africa. I guess I hope that we will find similar richness in our experience.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.