December 22, 2007

Taking Stock

I’ve been in Mthatha just about four months. The clinic is closing for a two-week break and I’ll be spending the time with fellow missionaries. If I was in school, a term would be over and I’d be off on a break. It seems as good a time as any to take a step back and assess my progress in building a small bit of the kingdom in Itipini and fulfilling God’s mission of reconciliation.

On one level, I am shocked and quite pleased at how thoroughly I’ve been able to integrate myself into the Itipini community. People seem to respond to me positively; all of them know me by name; I can’t go anywhere without the children making air guitars or yelling for me to pick them up; my knowledge of Xhosa is improving, to the point where people talk to me as if I’ll understand their fluent Xhosa when I only manage to catch a word or two; I can joke and laugh with the other members of the staff and frequent patients; and people sometimes come to me first with their problems, rather than Jenny or someone more experienced.

The other day, I took a stroll out of our community center area and walked around the shacks where people live. Usually when I do this, I have a specific purpose in mind but this time I just wanted to get a glimpse of daily life. That I felt safe enough and familiar enough with the territory to do so was one accomplishment; that people greeted me and started talking to me as if it was no big deal I should be there was another. I am part of the “furniture” of Itipini.

As well, I can actually “do” something every day. I drive patients to the hospital (and I know which part of the hospital to take which patients to); I manage our patients with tuberculosis; I track down people in their homes; I’m working on a little library; I can do the logistical things needed to keep the clinic running when necessary; and I ask fewer questions about how to do certain tasks because I know how to do them.

So I have quite a lot to be satisfied with and grateful for as my first “term” in Itipini winds down. Of course, it’s not enough. I still can’t snap my fingers and cure someone of HIV or make a neglected child’s parents care about him or her or make sure the education the children receive is top-notch or make the men respect the women or make sure people don’t go to bed hungry or make someone with a chronic injury better. All I can do is fiddle around the margins of problems and hope a smile makes the day a bit brighter.

It is sobering at times to realize I have another eight months in Itipini, another eight months to sit around and think that what I am doing is not sufficient for the needs of the people here and to be confronted with the reality of that every single day. One challenge for the new year is to see if I can more fully internalize the message that who I am is more important than what I do. It is one thing to say that but it is quite another to actually believe and have it guide your work. Another challenge is to be satisfied that what I do manage to do is enough and to be satisfied with what I’ve managed to accomplish.

I liked this reflection from Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero when I read it first at mission training but it's another thing to actually believe it.

It helps, now and then, to step back, and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that should be said,
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something and to do it very well
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
A step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the results.
But that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is now our own.
I won’t be posting for the next three weeks or so, given my upcoming travels. (A good chance to re-read past posts is the way I see it! “Mthatha Mission Flashback”) I hope you’ve enjoyed the web log so far and I look forward to returning renewed and prepared for the remainder of my time here.


Anonymous said...

Have a wonderful rest and adventure with friends. I will look forward to hearing stories when you return. And Merry Christmas! -- Jane & Don

Sharon said...

Jesse - a very Merry and Holy Christmas to you. The work you are offering - or rather the SELF you are offering is of great value, and the challenge to manage it all in the larger scheme will continue the rest of your life - back in the states as well. Happy New Year! Sharon (Kate's mom)

Harry Gunkel said...

Jesse. I appreciate your quoting Romero. I've been thinking alot about time, in addition to similar reflections on "doing" and on the Kingdom. Here in Jerusalem, one is much more aware of kairos than kronos, so in the mix you're sorting out I want to add how different time is in what we're doing and the places we're in. I haven't figured out how it works yet, but I know that time is very very different now and may always be wherever I go from here. Safe travels. Harry

Leigh Preston and Andy Thompson said...

Jesse - thanks for the Romero quote. As usual, we're having a lot of the same frustrations (though in a very different place and with very different work). I really like the worker-master builder image. I'll remember that.