14 October 2013

journeys in space and time...and baking.

My better half recently shed a little insight on why we're doing what we're doing. That is, moving to Africa. Like Ashley said, it's pretty tough to sum up in a few succinct sentences, but I'll attempt to provide some more detail about what led me to this moment in time. I promise that my explanation will be clearly stated in a convoluted web of superfluousness and irrelevant allegories.

Cue the first allegory: the cosmos. Stars, planets, space rock, Voyager I and a Winnebago RV are all hurdling through space and time, each on a known yet unknown journey. That's us. Ashley and I are on a journey to someplace specific (Tanzania) in a specific vehicle (MKLM), yet we do not really know the road ahead.

Carl Sagan has nothing to do with our decision to move to Tanzania, but he has everything to do with the cosmos.

The journey to Tanzania with MKLM began seven years ago when I first visited the African continent. It was a two-week volunteer immersion to Swaziland through Boston College. During that brief trip, I cared for the sick, organized and ran an orphan camp, constructed homes, taught English and Math in a rural school, and felt the absence of a generation lost to HIV/AIDS. But let's be honest. I accomplished very little in terms of tangible work done. Basically nothing. 

Where is Swaziland? There is Swaziland.

However, my heart was broken by the things I saw, and that was enough. This international volunteerism experience in Swaziland drew me to consider overseas mission for justice and peace, and to serve the poor and marginalized. But I didn't really know what that meant.

Michael in Swaziland as the sun set on the orphan camp. The night sky was breathtaking with the cosmos in full view.

I mentioned that I went to Swaziland through a group at Boston College. During our four-year journey at BC, Ashley and I were educated in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, which fostered a culture rooted in service to others. That mindset is by no means exclusive to Catholic and/or Jesuit teaching - I think that lots of people, institutions and belief systems can get on board with that thought - but the Catholic, Jesuit tradition was the way in for me. As students at BC, we were urged to live as "men and women for others." That was a very commonly used, yet powerful mantra across campus, and I began to connect the dots to my volunteer experience in Swaziland.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, keeping it real at Boston College.

But like Ashley said, it's really a lot more complicated than that.

Cue the second allegory: baking chocolate chip banana bread. Just to be clear, I have never actually done that. Ashley has. I have, however, consumed vast quantities of batter off a spatula and devoured plenty of slices. Also, I have watched Ashley make it. That's where this allegory comes into play.

You see, I didn't decide seven years ago to become an overseas missioner. All of that stuff - Swaziland, Boston College, etc. - was just the seedlings, the ingredients. Time needed to take those ingredients and shape them, bake them. Then it was time to eat. Or something.

Oh my goodness so delicious chocolate chip banana bread.

Ingredients. You take a bunch of seemingly disparate items and mash them together to create a congealed goo which tastes like heaven itself. At least that's how it works with chocolate chip banana bread. For me, it was those experiences - Swaziland, Boston College (and many more) - that came together in just the right proportions in the right sequence to make things perfect.

Baking. The congealed goo is forcibly removed from your presence and placed into a sealed compartment set to the temperature of lava to keep out unwanted intruders (aka husbands) until the appropriate hour has arrived. Again, that's how it works with chocolate chip banana bread. For me, years of conversation and prayerful discernment heated, cooked, and lifted the random series of events in my life to point me to something beautiful. But perhaps it wasn't so random after all. In the end, things began to take shape.

Aroma. All the while the scent of divine goodness is emanating from said compartment and awakening a savage hunger you didn't even know you had. This is the wonderfully tortuous part of baking chocolate chip banana bread, as it gives you a sign - a foretaste - of what's to come yet it keeps you at a slight distance. That's what the past several months were like. Ashley and I knew what was coming - MKLM, Tanzania, resignations, goodbyes, moving - and we were excited for what lay ahead, but it was tortuous not to be able to fully share it with everyone else until the appropriate time.

Eating. This is that appropriate time. You labored (okay, Ashley labored) to bake this delicious goodness and now it's time to experience it in its fully glory. But it's tinged with a little sadness because it won't be long before that scrumtrulescent chocolate chip banana bread is no more. Similarly, it felt so good when we were able to share the news about MKLM and Tanzania with everyone we knew. The outpouring of support was incredible, and honestly, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders to share the news. It tasted great. However, it was a little bittersweet because that meant the goodbyes were inevitably upon us. But like chocolate chip banana bread, you can just make some more so it's all good.

So in an effort to synthesize it down and make sense of what I said above, I would say that two specific experiences drew me to become an overseas missioner: international volunteerism in Africa and a Catholic, Jesuit education at Boston College. Other people and experiences were mixed in along the way, all of which helped form this next chapter in our lives. 

But wait, there's more...

Gospel Values: I am Roman Catholic. The Gospel make it clear that Jesus challenged the social norms and structures of his day, urging people to put into action values of love, justice, compassion and self-giving. Jesus made the radical choice to take the part of the poor, marginalized and oppressed in his society. 

I must strive to live with the same radical and unconditional love, opting to take the side of the poor. This means choosing work that puts me into direct contact with the poor, the excluded and the voiceless, choosing a life of service to and with them. I must commit myself to challenging unjust structures, taking certain risks, forgoing certain material comforts, and thinking carefully about the way in which I use resources. In the end, I must strive to live with the "spirit of the poor," giving up security and relying on God and those around me.

Not sure if that made any sense, but some things are tough to articulate, especially when they feel written within your heart. 

Thanks for reading.

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