Late last semester I spoke at chapel on Mark 8 about denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Christ.
This is often a concept that others apply to Arthur and me as ‘missionaries’, which is ironic because this is a call to every believer. God forbid that ‘taking up your cross and following me’ would be reduced to ‘full time ministry’ or ‘being a missionary’! But that has been the path that taking up our cross has meant for us so it’s not unusual for us to receive emails from supporters thanking us for what we have given up to follow Christ.
There are moments when I receive these emails when I feel like something of a fraud, not just because we feel very well provided for in our life here in Dodoma but also because we have gained much by being here as well.
Take food, for example. There are the obvious luxuries we miss out on – Chinese food, the variety of good fresh vegetables, any sort of takeaway, Vegemite, chocolate – but did you know the cheese we eat here in Tanzania is nicer than anything we would eat in Australia! (That’s because it’s not locally made, so what is available is imported from New Zealand!) Does one luxury make up for all the others? Of course not! But it’s not about whether one cancels out the other.
Let me give another example. When we were doing deputation, a major concern that our supporters had was whether there would be good schooling options for Elliot in Dodoma. There is an option, but it’s not the same as the choices we would have in Australia. So, will his education suffer? He lives in a place most Australian school students have no concept of, that they may visit once in their life if they are very fortunate, and even then it will remain an exotic place of ‘other’. They may know things he doesn’t; he will have experiences that they don’t. Is he missing out? Are they? These are impossible questions to answer. We take it that God has certain things he wants Elliot to learn, and they may not involve Australian schooling, but do involve life in Tanzania!
One more example. Before we left Australia, a pastor friend suggested that becoming missionaries in Tanzania was not a very good career move, that we would be sentencing ourselves to obscurity. Yet, in Australia there is still status ascribed to missionaries. It’s possible we have more influence or clout while living in Tanzania than we would if we’d stayed in Australia. But still, every day, we feel Australia becoming further away. Relationships progress without us; popular culture moves on; there are shifts in a nation’s temperature that you only participate in by actually being there. It is what it is.
Denying yourself to follow Christ isn’t about being miserable, nor is it the case that what you give up in one way will be made up to you in another way. It just is. You follow, and you take what comes, and you trust the God who became one of us and knows all the complexities.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.