During these past few weeks of life change due to the epidemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about the unpredictability of life and how we respond to it. The state of emergency here in Costa Rica has allowed the government to end nearly all travel in and out of the country. Our two adult children are in the United States and we have no idea how soon we will be able to see them again in person. As we watch reports of rising unemployment, we wonder about the impact on our friends and families, and the global economy, and how long this will all last. We also wonder how this might impact our lives as missionaries, who have relied on the financial well-being and generosity of others for more than 15 years.
In many ways, I believe our calling and lifestyle have hardened us toward, or prepared us for, these ambiguous days we all find ourselves in. Loving people on the margins of society in a cross-cultural context involves certain relational risks—misunderstandings due to language barriers, breaking of cultural norms we didn’t know existed, and misplaced loyalties that often lead to betrayals large and small. In a word, the life Andrea and I were called to live, and the manner in which we live it, often leads us to feel as if we’re swimming in deep waters of uncertainty.
At times the lack of certainty is amusing and the waters aren’t so deep, such as when I use a Spanish word out of context and receive a bemused look in response. One classic example is when I told the neighborhood guard I’d been “hunting” him so I could pay him his monthly fee. The look on his face told me I’d committed an error. Later, I understood the phrase I used had an unintended sexual connotation in his ears. Oops. Maybe that was the reason for the smirk on his face when he saw me during the next weeks.
Usually, the waters are deeper and the waves of uncertainty seem more relentless, such as when we’re trying to mediate a conflict in La Carpio, or we find ourselves in a situation where we were betrayed. How direct should we be in a culture where often people don’t say what they mean, or say the opposite, to save face? Riding these waves and trying to keep our head above water can be disorienting and confusing.
Then there are the meta-narrative questions we ask God when the seas have been rough for an extended period of time. When I speak of God’s grace in a works-based culture and people’s eyes glaze over, does it mean they get it and think I’m a simpleton, or do they think I’m from another planet and simply don’t understand the elaborate scoring system they’ve engineered to earn God’s favor? When I work in a context where it’s more blessed to wound first than to be wounded, what do people think and believe when I love in a way that makes me vulnerable, when I love in a way that maybe even invites or allows the wound? Do they think I’m weak, or naïve?
I hope I’ve grown more comfortable with the swim strokes needed to stay afloat in these waters. I’ve learned, from repeated, hard lessons, that when my expectations aren’t met, or my “plan” for someone’s life doesn’t materialize, that’s okay. God has a different plan in mind—likely one I didn’t even imagine—and it’s one that’s much better than mine.
However, I swim with the certainty that the water is deep and know quite well that the shoreline can and will go in and out of view quickly. Further, the uncertainties we’ve faced in our lives working with the marginalized really don’t compare to the daily uncertainty many families there face. This past Monday, we supplied food to 45 families who’ve been directly impacted by the loss of jobs due to Covid-19. Many more families need help, but we contacted the 80 families in our student sponsorship program and found 45 were already in crisis. The hard truth is, we couldn’t give much to them and we don’t know when we will be able to help again.
Easter week is a great time for us to meditate on uncertainty and confusion. The people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as the triumphant king that would free them from the oppression of the hated Romans. A few days later they shouted for him to be crucified with common criminals—their plan for His life didn’t come to fruition. If he wasn’t the expected liberator, kill him.
Reading the scriptures that detail this week that culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus, I’m encouraged by the fact that Jesus demonstrated a complete grasp of what was to happen, including specific details he shared with others. Jesus directed his followers where to find a colt that had never been ridden, and told them what to say to its owners. Later, He told his disciples where they were to meet to celebrate the Passover dinner, indicating they’d find a man carrying a water jug and they were to follow him to the house he’d enter. The upper room of said house would already be prepared. Finally, Jesus knew all the details of his excruciating execution, but embraced it because he knew the One who gives life to the dead and he trusted in Him for new life.
Amidst a lot of death and the truth that we simply don’t know when it will end, it gives us hope to celebrate Easter and the certain future that awaits those who are in Him. In addition, we draw comfort from the knowledge that nothing we are experiencing is a surprise to our Lord. This virus, the hunger of those we love, our economic situation, none of this is beyond His knowing. In addition, witnessing uncertainty on a global scale, wrestling with circumstances that are beyond our control, we celebrate this week not only a risen Savior, but joy in the full expression of His love for us.
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
-- Jeremiah 31:3
Quote of the month
""At the margins is the only place the Church will have credibility."