Reflections on the eve of travel

My husband and I leave tomorrow for nearly 4 weeks in DR Congo. We will celebrate the ordination of the first women in the Mennonite Church of Congo, listen to choirs, build church partnerships, revisit old haunts. I will write, Vic will do audio and video. I have written a number of posts about this (see the Congo menu) but this one sums it up.

I started thinking last night before I went to sleep about how much preparation I have done for this trip. I cut off those thoughts immediately because, although they were good thoughts, I knew they could keep me awake for hours. I will give them free rein now since I am all packed (though Vic isn’t) and all I have left to do is clean the house and finish up the instructions for Patti, our house/cat sitter.

I thought how the first recent trip I made to Congo, last May, had been full of revelations. The possibility of genuine friendship with Congolese. The mad joy of worship that went straight to my heart and gut. African resilience and warmth. The money bugaboos. Mistakes that could be made and redeemed. The possibility of church partnership–this, above all. It was a revelation to me that the church offered the greatest possibility for genuine international connection of the sort that I had not yet known, in all my extensive international experience. Church partnership offered the possibility of ties based on mutuality and warm personal relations as well as working through differences and misunderstandings.

The second trip, in July, to celebrate the centennial of the Mennonite Church of Congo, confirmed and deepened the revelations of the first trip. But it was also full of lessons about my own limitations. My physical fragility: I injured my knee first thing and limped through the whole three weeks. My ability to make mistakes I was cautioning others against (a wrong turn in the Brussels airport). My psychic fragility: I came to hate the swarming crowds that greeted our delegation of 30 North Americans.

Above all, that trip was a lesson in how unprepared I was to carry out a dream that had emerged between the two trips, to write a book about the church. Shyness and fatigue overcame me when it came to taking notes, talking to new people, or even making connections with people who had written or been featured in the book I’d edited–a collection of centennial stories called The Jesus Tribe.

And yet I needed to go back. I knew this but I didn’t know how or why. I only knew that there were things I needed to do before I could know if, why, and how I would continue this Congo connection. I began doing those things immediately after I returned. I have written about that here. The preparations included signing up for spiritual direction, losing weight, getting in shape, finishing and publishing a book, working on the church partnership, praying, meditating, becoming a member of the church we’d been attending for two years, working on my relationship with my husband, working on my confidence and self-esteem, writing and more writing, and deepening and broadening my ties with Congolese Mennonites. And then things fell into place and now here we are, about to actually do it.

By the way, I watch bemused as Vic suffers the crisis of confidence that I felt during my second trip–“I thought I could do this but it is harder than I thought.” He’s technologically gifted but dealing with A-V involves a whole new set of technology, which is still spread out over our dining room table.

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I have inevitably high expectations of this trip and of myself. In the past I would have tried to knock down these expectations because expectations have seldom served me well. They have led to disappointment. And there has always been an element of magical thinking in my expectations–the possibilities, the signs, mean that it was meant to be this way. I took some magical thinking with me on my second trip.

Now I can say that I have almost none of that. I have done my homework and prepared as best I know how. While I have little control over the outcome of what happens from now on, I do know that I have cleared the channels for Spirit to work through me. This is not a magical expectation but an openness to magic because that is how God works.

As miraculous as anything is the sustained certainty that I have about being on this path. I have no doubt that, for whatever reason, I should be doing exactly this. But “should” is the wrong word. There is no “should” in what I am doing. Nor is it like the voice of God in the night calling me with a definite mission, a task. I have not been moved by someone’s challenge, an altar call. It is, rather, a somewhat plodding necessity, one thing leading to another, a combination of joy, duty, problem-solving, obligation, opportunity, revelation, adventure, relationship.

Love is the single word for it. It is a bit like parenthood. You start it and then there’s no turning back. Turning back is not a possibility, nor would you want to, even if it were possible, because it changes who you are and shapes what you do in the world and you become attached to all involved, including the person you have become.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on the eve of travel

  1. Ah, Nancy, so heartening to read your rich and pithy re-cap, to be caught up in it, and to feel the solidness of the last two paragraphs. I love your way of putting this “vocation” that has your name on it and ties your heart, soul, body, mind, dream, suitcase to Beloveds in Congo. My heart is tucked into your suitcase somewhere…

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