SEASONS. A poetic word to capture the unique & often unexpected chapters that God writes into our lives. After 2 terms (5 years) in Burkina Faso, West Africa, Marcus & I are now entering a new season : Instead of returning to Burkina, we will be moving in early 2014 to South Africa (either Cape Town or Johannesburg), but still as SIM missionaries. As for which city, we will determine this in December when we go to S. Africa as a family, in combination with Marcus attending the all-Africa AIDS conference (ICASA), which just happens to be in Cape Town this time! We don’t know exactly how long this home assignment will be, since we want enough time for the Lord’s healing work in us as we process the hardships of the last 2.5 years. We hope that the roughly 8-10 months will allow for adequate rest, recreation, and re-connecting w/family & friends.
For most of you this news may come as a complete surprise; we weren’t trying to keep you in the dark. We’ve actually been considering this option since last year, but didn’t want to rush the decision-making process. We anticipated that our SIM debrief meeting (August 13) would be key in helping us discern God’s leading – and indeed it did. Since leaving Burkina in mid-May, we’ve gotten input from diverse circles of friends, all affirming that it is wise to transition from Burkina to S. Africa.
You may be asking, What about your passion for Francophone Africa? After all, you 2 met in that Urbana workshop “The Challenge of French-speaking Africa”! Be assured that this passion lives on! During one of Marcus’ HOPE for AIDS trips to S. Africa last year, he ended up “randomly” meeting a member of Parliament, who said that their biggest challenge in governance is the influx of Francophone Africans in search of a better life. Not knowing English, resented by the local population for taking jobs & resources, lacking access to good health care, these refugees / immigrants suffer. Though we don’t yet know exactly how God will use us, we’re excited to offer our French fluency and understanding of the particularities of the French colonial legacy on Africa.
While we know that Burkina is not a good fit for us in the long-term, we don’t regret having spent the last 2 terms there, and know without a doubt that it was God who led us there. Not only was there tangible fruit in ministry, but more importantly, God used the extremely trying nature of life there to mold & mature our character. We will greatly miss our national friends, as well as our SIM Burkina team, who became like family, caring for us profoundly & practically. Serving alongside & fellowshipping with missionaries from all over the world has certainly whetted our appetite for more cross-cultural living!
What do we mean by “not a good fit”? To be honest, I struggled much more than Marcus did with the reality of having to be on-call 24-7. Our mission station (compound) in Fada N’Gourma is located on the only east-west route from Mali to Niger, and has a guesthouse, conference center, & cash office (distributing money for salaries, projects, medical needs, etc. of locals working with SIM). It has always been the rest-stop for folks driving to & from SIM’s 2 largest stations, as well as for missionaries from neighboring countries on the way to Niger, where their kids attend boarding school. In addition to our own houseworker & washing lady, there are several faithful employees who keep the station running. So as you can imagine, we did not have much privacy; our home was a revolving door, not a place we could truly “retreat” to. While Marcus’ 100% extroverted self didn’t mind the constant interruptions, I found them draining.
Even if we were to live off station, though there’d be less traffic, privacy would still be an issue. Living in Burkina means that we as “whites” can never be unnoticed… and I now know how essential this is to my well-being. How many times I craved being able to go jogging without being stared at (What’s that crazy white-y in such a rush for?!) & followed by kids, or having to explain WHY I as a woman am “doing sport”! In S. Africa, on the other hand, given the large white & Asian communities, I could actually be anonymous.
As the only missionaries on the station this term (what a contrast to the full compound when we first arrived in 2007!), we felt acutely the “hole” from lack of regular fellowship & support that we had our first term; brief overlaps in Fada, Mahadaga, or Ouaga with our beloved fellow missionaries always seemed too short! And while we had deep friendships with several local believers, I especially longed to live in community with Western believers who “get” where we come from. Marcus & I have come to appreciate anew the Western church’s value for the small group structure, from which we benefited greatly during our time in the U.S. We’re eager to once again have this as a regular component of our spiritual life in S. Africa.
S. Africa also makes more sense practically for Marcus’ role as HOPE for AIDS (HfA) International Coordinator, which he took on in December 2011. A big part of his job is to visit the projects, most of which are located in eastern/southern Africa, and also Thailand & India. These trips invigorated him, and gave him the on-the-ground insight needed to effectively fundraise & provide support. However, traveling from Burkina was expensive & inconvenient, as flight options to & from Ouagadougou are limited! Johannesburg, on the other hand, is a major hub. Plus, we will be near his colleague, the HfA Projects Mentor, who lives in Cape Town. How much more productive being able to regularly meet face to face, as opposed to choppy Skype calls due to Burkina’s inconsistent internet! And good access is essential for Marcus’ work.
What about the HfA Burkina project? As Marcus likes to say, “He’s worked himself out of a job.” It is a good time for him to transition out, as his Burkinabé colleague, Moïse (also in Fada), has already been running it beautifully. Some of you had the privilege of meeting him when he & his family came to the U.S. for a 6-month English course in 2010. A man of integrity, wisdom, intelligence, and spiritual maturity, he is deeply respected by both Christian & secular circles alike in Fada & beyond.
The other big advantage of S. Africa is that there are many good schooling options for Silas, unlike in Burkina where we’d have to home-school, or move from Fada to Ouaga for the one decent French school. Those of you who’ve met Silas agree that he is extremely social, and thrives in group settings. For that reason, homeschooling would not be a good fit.
Many of you have been praying for our respective health issues, exacerbated by Burkina’s extreme climate & poverty. You’ll be relieved to know that S. Africa has “1st world”-quality health care. For Marcus, he looks forward to better gastro-intestinal health, and peace of mind knowing that there are plenty of specialists if his lung re-collapses, as it did last year. Jen anticipates her autoimmune disease – Sjogren’s Syndrome – symptoms (very dry eyes & mouth, fatigue) lessening due to the more temperate climate & less stressful living situation.
We hope that this update has given you a good sense of our decision-making process. If you have questions or insights you think might be helpful for this new season, please do contact us. THANK YOU for your faithful friendship & support in this crazy journey!
Lovingly in Him,
Jen, Marcus, & Silas