In the Wilderness
Every so often a unique opportunity to see a new and beautiful part of the world arises. Arianna’s father was planning a backpacking trip in Wyoming just after our home assignment and asked if I would like to join for a week in the wild.
Home assignment can be a whirlwind and this was a wonderful opportunity to step away and reflect on the past months and prepare for the days to come.
It took a good three days on the trail to begin to clear my mind, to rest and just be. Dwindling phone batteries prevented the temptation to “do” anything but take photos.
As I began to relax, I settled into an intense feeling of gratitude – for my phenomenal family, for you who make our work and ministry in Africa possible, for our friends fighting the good fight day in and out in Kijabe, for wonderful friends and mentors. I am grateful to live in perpetual adventure, to step daily into the unknown, to constantly learn and stretch and grow – to have wise friends and mentors to help me along the journey.
I also mourned. For my mom as she continues to decline. For separation from close friends in Kenya who will remain in the states as I return to Kenya. For those who have stood with me on mountaintops before and would have truly loved this experience.
I thought about the unity and purpose in creation – the juxtaposition between the individual and the many. The one fir tree against the forest. The one boulder as part of the massive mountain range. The one drop that rushes down the glacial streams, becoming a river and eventually an ocean. There is beauty both in individuality and in the whole.
I think of Arianna and I in a similar light in terms of mission. We are but a tiny, tiny part of a huge beautiful work that God is doing in the world. And we are so very grateful to play that tiny part.
As we descended from the high mountains, I experienced a sense of euphoria that happens on the trail. Paul, our guide, says the additional oxygen plays a role, maybe so. My senses heightened and I began to smell deeply, to touch each passing tree, to feel the rocks under my feet. I put aside my trekking poles and at times I simply ran down the beautiful single-track, dreaming I was on a bike.
I splashed my face in streams, marveled at the mountains, and reveled in goodness. At the same time, I steeled myself for the fight that is ahead. The fight for good, for justice, for life to triumph over death. For resurrection and redemption. The fight to see and share beautiful stories. To connect, to feel, to love. To live with intentionality and purpose.
When I did have phone charge, I listened to a brilliant message by Greg Thompson to our Serge team on retreat far away – ironically about life in the wilderness.
The question of “Who am I, and What am I doing here?” have been running through my head repeatedly in the past couple of years, and I think Greg explains in a way that speaks to my heart in a way that I had never been able to fully articulate.
For a long time I thought the moral life looked like this: I am justified by grace through faith, I see that, I am now grateful for that, then I go do things for other people in response.
That’s totally biblical.
But that’s not the fullness of it.
God is working in the world always, this holy Trinity, beautiful and good. We were made to participate with God in this work. We’ve been estranged, but now we are brought back in so our actual work in the world participation in the world is participation of the Trinity’s work in the world. We become his hands and feet, and that not a mission conference hymn, it is for real, for real. There is a sense in which we are doing these things and He is doing these things in and through us.
It’s a participatory vision. That you can say, as I am caring for this person, Jesus is caring for this person. It’s not, “I’m caring for this person because I know Jesus cared for me and I’m now doing it out of gratitude”. It is a participation, a union with God and his work in the world.
The idea here is that all this is happening while we are sojourners in the world. It’s Love – not only with us, bearing us up in our pilgrimage – but working through us.
To put a fine point on it, this means that when you are fixing the lawn mower, or when you are doing the ultrasound, or when you are teaching how to play football. . .these are God’s works.
You see that God is leading the people out of Egypt, but how does he do that? Through Moses. God is exercising his leadership through Moses. God is keeping his promise to Joseph. He is doing that through the people of Israel. They are going up equipped. I want you to see these are the people who go into the wilderness and their children are going to go to the promised land and they’re going to build the temple and they are going to seek to bring order to the world. They are going forward to bring blessing to the world. . .and they did. And you are sitting here because of the steps of those people who left Egypt.
I want you to see that We are here because of these feeble wilderness steps these people made.
And we are here because God not only promised to be with them, but to work through them.