And finally, I have been wrestling with the way forward for my own life. In a season where the future has felt murky and intimidating, having some concrete ‘next steps’ has been incredibly refreshing. I left Juba with a strong desire to be a bridge-builder with those involved in Global Mission. Whether I end up overseas or not, it is imperative that congregations and individuals on this side of the ocean know about and invest in those who are called overseas. For me, that means being an honorary member of the school board for JCA, which will keep me on their mailing list. From this side of the ocean I can help with technology and resources that are much easier to access from the States: information about early childhood education best practices and resources, a mailing address for curriculum and school supplies to be mailed to when ordered online, people who know how to design web sites, set up email addresses and access online storage and file-sharing programs, fund drives to help with basic school supplies and needs–like a renovated playground. While the folks in Juba do what God has called them to do, I can support that work by being here and advocating/partnering with them.
Additionally, I re-committed myself to what I still feel God has called me to be part of here in Melbourne, which is the neighborhood I moved into last year and the after-school program at the DOCK. I realized that part of the frustration I was living in before I left had to do with losing sight of that commitment and allowing myself to step away from those relationships.
When I came back to the States after being in Juba, I was surprised to find that I was ready to come back. Last year when I came back from my trip to Taize, France I sat on the beach and cried because I wanted to want to be back, but really wasn’t ready. This time, I went to the beach the morning after I got back and found myself feeling more at peace about all the pieces of where I am than I have felt in a really long time. In sharing about my trip with someone, I mentioned how rested I felt. This person’s response was, “You know, usually people go to a place called “Barbados,” or somewhere with “Palm” in the name to rest…not war-torn countries in Africa.” And that may be true.
But I found this trip to South Sudan restful and beneficial in so many ways. I re-connected with parts of who I am that easily get drowned out by the pressures and realities of my current call: the part of me that existed before becoming a Deaconess, the part of me that wanted to become a Deaconess so that I could impact the way children are perceived in the church, the part of me that is really proud to have been born and raised in Africa, the part of me that loves to speak Swahili and drink chai, the part of me that has friends that are not in any way connected to work, the part of me that enjoys reading books, the part of me that feels so strongly about living in community and advocating for those who are victims of oppression, violence, or neglect. I heard clearly that discernment is about more than just making a decision that will make life ‘work better.’ Discernment is about stepping deeper into my relationship with Christ. As Henri Nouwen put it: “The question of where to live and what to do is really insignificant compared to the question of how to keep the eyes of my heart focused on the Lord.”
When Sr. Ginger passed away last fall, I was struck with grief as I reflected on what she saw in me and tried to call out through mentoring and discipleship. She constantly affirmed my passion for young children and the work the church is doing on their behalf. And at her memorial service I was torn up by the sense that my current context and call feel really far off from what she saw in me and what drew me to the Deaconess Community in the first place. I was having a hard time connecting my ‘call’ with my ‘context.’ But this trip to Juba helped me to see how I have not gone astray. I am in a position, through my call to Advent, to impact the way the church in the U.S. views and responds to children in Africa. I am in a position, through my call to Advent, to build relationship and support networks for missionaries and others in Africa who are directly working with children. I am in a position, through my call to Advent, to continue living into my diakonal identity. Again, a quote from Henri Nouwen says it well:
“Discerning my vocation has taken me around the world and required much prayer and conversation with many others. Yet every step was part of reaffirming who I am in God and that I have a purpose to fulfill which is uniquely mine.”
In a nutshell, that’s what this trip to Sudan was about for me.