Tryst and Obey
How can we global worker women maintain intimacy with God on the mission field?
When I first contemplated this question, pictures of women praying and reading the Word—in quietness—sprang to mind. The truth is, many places where we serve afford little privacy, peace, or quiet. Think more of a battlefield or a war zone, where survival often tops the to-do list.
In such spiritually challenging environments, we women do our best to cope with family needs, others’ demands, busy schedules, and just daily existence. How can we find quiet and time to draw close to God in such a setting? Despite our sincere hearts’ desires to meet with Him, as well as His grace drawing us, honoring this rendezvous on a regular basis sometimes takes simple hard-nosed obedience and discipline. Doing the right thing is not always convenient, but it is the only way we can gain closeness and warmth from the One Whose existence makes sense of our lifestyles.
I spent many years in Africa in isolated small villages and later in towns. I learned early on that if I wanted to not only survive but thrive, I needed to read Scripture and let God feed and encourage me every day without fail. The first night I spent on that continent, after a desperately exhausting flight and three-hour truck ride, I lay on a low cot in a mud house, enshrouded in a foreign-to-me mosquito net. Looking up at the thatched roof, I spied a mouse racing along the perimeter. In my massive fatigue, I could only conclude that I had definitely made the biggest mistake of my life. Many other culturally shocking events followed.
Upon arriving in my village assignment, bacillary dysentery threatened me. Later one moonlit night, peering out the tiny window of my mud dwelling, I stared fearfully at a strange group of locals dressed in white and resembling ghosts, passing at snail’s pace along the road, chanting their cultic hymns. My new life never ceased to amaze and excite me, but I knew that without God’s strength, my own abilities and gifts would never be enough to sustain me.
I eventually established a routine. Once the morning flurry settled down, I would steal away to my bedroom for my tryst with the Creator, reading His words. Even though in my Bible translation work I often read and studied those same words all day, no matter. These secluded times were not cerebral exercises but rather life-giving infusions, without which I would soon faint away. I confessed as much to God in prayer. I could not be ‘successful’ in my work or effective in my relationships without His grace. I needed Him to teach me daily about how to love people, to persevere, to not fear, and to trust and obey Him.
There were days when the words of Scripture came especially alive for me as they gave specific advice or direction for a particular challenge I was facing. Some days’ verses impressed me less. Nevertheless, I always believed that even my reading and my stillness was accepted by my loving Father as an acknowledgment of my daily dependence on Him.
I also found strength and joy from His words found in hymns and songs. Day and night, every chance I got, I listened to Christian music—while cooking, cleaning, sewing. The melodies lifted my heart amidst the work and continually refreshed me. They reminded me of my Friend Who loved me with an everlasting love. Without that popping in of my cassettes and listening many times each day, I am almost sure I would have given up and gone home. Whenever spiritual opposition thickened, its blackness almost visible, I would go into my bedroom and lock the door. I would blast on Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, raise my hands in praise, and march around the room in triumph, round and round until the threat lifted and God filled the room—and my heart.
Keeping close to God meant not ever forgetting that I worked in a place where Satan worked too. There was no doubt about that! When weird, unexplainable sicknesses and events occurred, I was not surprised. I tried to keep my particular worldview real and balanced. What did I expect? That life on the edge spiritually would be anything but risky? The Enemy hit my family through several acute and chronic illnesses and with many minor yet irritating circumstances. He churned up emotions against my husband on many occasions. One major blow came when we buried our first child, a stillborn daughter, in a hospital cemetery…and yet, we experienced God’s perfect peace.
Part of staying close to God called for organization and self-discipline. To ward off anger and avoid frustration when planned language work sessions fell through, I made sure I already had several other projects waiting to be picked up. I could easily turn to those and trust God, keeping my heart at peace.
I was significantly involved in the translation and literacy work, but I also needed to homeschool our two young sons periodically, depending on the availability of itinerant teachers. My husband split teaching duties with me and also graciously took care of the children from 7 AM to 9 AM so I could have time to do language work. Many afternoons I was free to do more work, if I felt like it. Without that intellectual and spiritual input in the project, I would have found life much less than satisfying.
To stay content with what the Father chose to give me, I let go of longing for good ol’ USA cuisine, preparing and enjoying local foods as much as possible. I rarely looked at magazines with beautiful clothes and homes. They only made me jealous, covetous, and malcontent with my home and belongings.
I found through experience how closely spiritual health is tied to physical, mental, and emotional health. Living in places that could be boring—apart from the work—I purposely created activities that offered me challenges as well as pleasure. This was not to escape my life, which I loved, but to enlarge it! Every January, I would choose a project to accomplish or a skill to learn during that year. I set my goal on mastering the (woodwind) recorder, perfecting my pie making, creating crunchy pickles, or learning to embroider. I collected local leaves from bushes and trees, drew their outlines with ink-pen in a notebook, and added the local language names as well as medicinal or nutritional uses. One year I asked the local pastor’s wife, who lived near me, if she would call me over every time she made one of her delicious, spicy sauces so that I could learn how to make it. A true African ‘TV chef,’ she laid out all the ingredients before I arrived, hastening the lesson time. She always sent me home with a generous sample, even though I protested. At the end of the year, I had created my own little cookbook, full of great recipes, including ones for bean-flour doughnuts and home-made soap.
Maintaining intimacy with God on the mission field may start on our knees in the morning, but it also requires moment-by-moment attention as we walk through the day—in our routines, our careful choices, our leisure activities, and our watching also through the night. We first honor our tryst with the Lover of our Souls, but then we joyfully explore ways to obey His Word, whatever the cost.