I can hardly believe it’s already been four months, or one whole third of my mission trip. Though I’m feeling very much settled in Gonzanamá, a number of things have been running through my mind particularly in this last month.
1. Europe. For some reason – possibly random items coming up on my Facebook feed or Christmas approaching, and also comparing this experience with my exchange in Spain – I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. As content as I am here, I cannot shake the thought of Europe, and especially Madrid. I know that I have gotten to the point where nothing is more important to me than doing the will of God for my life (this means that I am old, I think!), whatever it may be, and even if it means I never set foot on European soil again; and yet, I am beginning to realise that I will always be “in love” with Europe, it will always be a place of magic for me. This all sounds totally lame, but these last two descriptions are extremely apt clichés.
2. Extroversion. I had always been an introvert, even when I stopped being shy. Then a switch flipped when I was in Timor-Leste at the beginning of this year. I started noticing a restless energy or a moochy flatness (it is one or the other at different times) on the few days I was in the house all day or didn’t get to chat with anyone. It was less apparent after I got back home, but now that I am here solo overseas again, I see that I really do feed on having real conversations with other people.
3. Friendship. This is a problem because I am not very good at making friends. I relate easily and well with all sorts of people, but I fail at bridging the gap between positive acquaintance and true friendship. Which makes me even more grateful for the many friends I do have – these are the people who have made an effort to be friends with me, or people it’s been easier to form a friendship with because of circumstances (ie. we happen to have class together, we happen to go to church every week, we happen to work together etc). I haven’t figured out what the problem is yet, or what I’m missing … initiative perhaps? I suspect that part of the issue is also that I generally feel more comfortable hanging out with guys rather than girls, but have to be sensitive to the grey area between friendship and something more. It’s not that I dislike hanging out with girls, but I do feel that with most girls, to get to a certain level of confidence with them, I have to agree with them, be similar in as many ways as possible – and unfortunately this often means some degree of faking (I am just not all that interested in finding a boyfriend, I honestly don’t find him particularly attractive, there are only so many things I can say in response when you talk about people I don’t know, this or that food /place /person /music /clothing is definitely cool but I don’t care about the details, if they want to talk about themselves I am happy to listen sympathetically but if they ask me about myself I’m terrible at telling stories and anecdotes and I tend to answer questions with some, but not a whole lot, of elaboration or emotion). What I am saying is that holding a conversation is not an issue at all, but having to fake or exaggerate is not cool.
4. Ministry. So what does this mean for my ministry here? Isn’t friendship ministry the basis of youth ministry? I really do have a passion for teenagers and young people, I believe in their potential and am enraged by the darknesses that often come with adolescence and try to stifle that energy. It also helps that people think I’m much younger than I am (try 16 or 18).
The friendship issue leads into another question about evangelism and discipling. I do think the differentiation between the two is unhelpful and even harmful, but to an extent, I have always been more comfortable with discipling/teaching than evangelism, because it involves mentoring people who are already committed to Christ. In terms of evangelism, I still cannot justify being more direct and explicit than my life (my behaviour) as the biggest testimony, and talking about what I believe when asked, or if there is a way to bring up/segue into Jesus naturally in conversation. So I am not sure if this means I am better suited to a different type of ministry.
More broadly speaking, there is a level at which all ministry is relational, and not everyone realises this. Sometimes there is a focus on programmes and “seeing the fruit”, which is detrimental to really loving people as individuals created by God rather than simply as numbers to be won over to Christ. So I’m trying to balance on the one hand the part of me that is keen to do some more tangible projects because I feel I have the time and capacity, and on the other the part of me that knows the simple act of chatting with people and becoming friends with them is a fundamental part of my testimony and ministry, as well as being important for me personally.
5. The future. Only God knows. If He wants me to stay another year in Ecuador, I am willing to renew my visa and do another twelve months; but if you’re asking about my gut feeling, I don’t feel called to be here beyond the one year. Of course, this could all change in the next few months. I imagine if stuff really took off with the new church location and getting some programmes underway there, or if there were some significant advances with the young people we currently minister to, I might be tempted to stay in order to see things through, or at least further along. If I’m going to be honest, I also don’t feel that all my skills or gifts are currently being utilised to their full potential. A lot of what God has made me and what He has given me is coming in handy here, but not everything … One thing that has been reinforced for me here is that I love teaching. Even English, which I was initially reluctant to take on. I thought anyone could teach English, but the more I think about it, and the more I do it, the more I realise being a native speaker doesn’t immediately make you a suitable teacher – other things come into play, and I sense I do have some gifting here 🙂
As to whether full-time mission is on the cards, I’m not sure either. Something I’ve been conscious of is that my wonderful brothers and sisters are supporting me financially to be here, yet it is the kind of work that I (and others) would be expected to do back home without pay. That said, (sufficient) ministry involvement is something I feel I lacked in the years before I came here, and something I craved. One of the awesome things about serving here in Ecuador is that I feel I have much more freedom in ministry, as well as more trust and respect – like the little I know is truly valuable.