Since it's fairly clear how He has been teaching me points one and two, I'd like to camp out on point three for a moment. From my first day on the ship, I jumped right into my responsibilities as 4th and 5th grade teacher. For the first two weeks, I spent so much time trying to catch up on lesson plans that I barely ventured outside of my classroom except to eat and sleep. A friend of mine asked me, "Do you feel like you're where you are supposed to be?" He was a little surprised when I hesitated (especially considering the question was posed just two days after I had posted the "Dayenu" entry). "Feel" was the wrong word to use in that question. At that moment, I didn't "feel" much anything...at least not much anything other than busy.
My days here are very much like my days in Birmingham. I wake up, teach, work on lessons or grading after school, eat, spend some time with friends, sleep, etc. I know that just a few flights of stairs below me, people are having debilitating tumors removed, children are having cleft palates corrected and are able to eat normally for the first time, and women who have been incontinent for years from a traumatic childbirth are receiving their lives back. But I am not there to see this. I am teaching multiplication facts and the parts of a sentence. I am grading papers. I am planning for the next day.
The first time I really felt like I was even in another country was our community meeting last Thursday. (Thursday nights are my favorite night on the ship because everyone gathers for worship and a message, and then we have an ice cream fellowship afterwards.) At the end of last Thursday's meeting, the band played Chris Tomlin's "God of This City." We were encouraged to open the curtains and look out over the ocean and the city lights, praying for the people and for God to use us in our last three months in Cotonou. As we prayed, I thought of a little boy that I had seen struggling to walk down the dock because of the deformity of his legs. I know that he has the hope of a normal life because of what God is doing through Mercy Ships. I know that my teaching here is a small part of that. At the same time though, I was also reminded of home.
On the day when I thought for certain I was staying in Birmingham, I distinctly remember "God of This City" playing from my iPod as I was driving around the curve of the exit from I-459 to 280. At the time, it was a comfort that God had placed me there for a purpose. And here in Benin, it was exactly the same message.
One of the things I've questioned myself on since my arrival is the way in which I spend my weekends. Being completely new to the area, it's exciting to see everything about the city--the beaches, the markets, the camping spots. etc. There is always someone arranging a group to do something. It's nice to get off the ship for a while, and everything here is very inexpensive, so there's no reason not to go. Except that I've felt guilty that relaxing by a pool on Saturday afternoon isn't a very "missionary" thing to do. Shouldn't I be visiting the residents in the psychiatric center instead of reading a book under a palm tree? Shouldn't I be showing the Jesus film with the group in the community instead of watching a comedy with friends on Friday night? Yes and no.
I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a break and spending time with friends. I shouldn't feel guilty for sitting by a pool in Benin any more than I would feel guilty sitting by a pool in Birmingham. However, the problem begins when I spend all of my time on my own entertainment and think nothing of ministering to others. My conviction is not that I am doing this here; my conviction is that I did this in Birmingham.
Why do I live like Cotonou is a mission field and Birmingham is not? Wherever I am, He has me there for a purpose. My every day teaching responsibilities here are a ministry, even when I don't feel like it. They were a ministry in Birmingham too. While I'm here, I want to learn the joy of serving others in my free time so that when I go home, serving will sound better than sitting by the pool.
"God of This City" by Chris Tomlin
You're the God of this City
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You're the Light in this darkness
You're the Hope to the hopeless
You're the Peace to the restless
There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here