After six years of serving in East Africa, a series of twists and turns suddenly landed me back in the States a little earlier than I anticipated.
It’s was a time to reconnect and re-engage with friends, family, and supporters in the U.S., and pray about the future and evaluate plans to return to East Africa.
It is strange that one way to reconnect with actual people also means disconnecting. I’ve loved being able to exchange video calls for actual coffee dates and walks and dinners. There’s really nothing like reconnecting face to face after years away.
One afternoon near the end of my travels, I learned that the little Sudanese town that I love had been besieged by the unimaginable: shooting and violence, looting and burning of homes. My South Sudanese friends (who had recently returned home after violence this summer) were once again fleeing out into the wilderness, this time with less hope of a quick end to the instability.
After getting this shattering news by e-mail on my phone, my friend Catharine and I headed out to brunch at a lovely restaurant called The Sparrow in Montreal.
As we sat over artfully presented pancakes and eggs, I found myself torn. Part of me felt so much relief to be exactly where I was, in a cozy cafe with one of my best friends, eating good food, and practicing my non-existent French with kind Canadian waitresses.
And another part of me felt desperately guilty.
Both for not being in Mundri (the fighting would mean I wouldn’t be able to return in the fall) and for being so relieved at not being there. But mostly, I just felt wearily angry that things don’t seem to get better, or if they do, they don’t stay better for long.
It wasn’t lost on me that we were in a restaurant called The Sparrow.
In my head, I thought about Jesus saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).
Somehow this often-quoted verse doesn’t feel so reassuring when I’m thinking of houses and people falling in South Sudan while Jesus says not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s care.
I wonder how to interpret God’s care for beautiful, burning South Sudan, and how in the world is it possible to not be afraid?
My friend Catharine talked with me through brunch, reminding me of things Wise and True. I’m grateful to bear sorrow in the context of community and to have friends who remind me that things won’t always be this way. That there is more grace at work in Mundri than I can imagine. And that there is space to be both grieved for my friends and grateful for safety.
The Psalm I memorized early on in my days in Bundibugyo, Uganda, has stayed with me through all my travels, and it says,
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King, and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:1-5).
I can relate to the psalmist, who sees that even sparrows have found home and family in the shelter of God, while he still longs to find his place. He knows that those who dwell in God’s house have the gift of praising God.
But then he says my favorite missional line, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”
In contrast to those who are already there, we pilgrims wait for resolution, and in the waiting find strength and are somehow blessed.
Is it possible that the only way to find our strength in Him is to first realize our own weakness as we walk through pilgrim days and into stories that are just too much to understand on our own?
Perhaps today, you find yourself and your family at home in God, praising Him easily. Or maybe you are feeling more and more the weakness and uncertainty of this wandering world.
Either way, in the burning and the flame, may you and I have eyes to see the world afire with God.
And may we pause to take off our shoes and open our hearts to the beauty and the brokenness of this world.