(blog post by James)
Over the last couple of months, most of my time has been spent in doing immigration paperwork, negotiating the contract on the rental house, securing a vehicle and registering and insuring it, etc. I’ve also been doing a lot of appliance and furniture buying. Typically, you have to go to several stores before you find what you’re looking for, and especially before you find it for a decent price. Of course, most of the time I don’t know what the decent price is without asking around from brothers and sisters in the church or more experienced missionaries here. Once I know a range, then I can get going on looking for something. Often, there are no prices on the items you’re looking to buy, and you don’t know what a white face means to the person to whom you ask, “How much is this?” Most of the time, it means “add to the standard price.” Sometimes, it means “double the price and see what happens.”
But, there are some shops or roadside salesmen who will quote you something reasonable up front. It is a relief when this happens, because it means you don’t have to start into a complicated negotiation where you’re trying to change kwachas to dollars and back again in your head, all the while the person is asking if you accept their offer. As they say, “I give you good price!”
Well, all of that to say that several of the things we have purchased were tools for the workers to do their jobs. For example, it was about a week before I found a whistle for the guard to use in case of emergency. I ended up paying 5,000 kwacha to someone offering to help me find what I needed when I was shopping downtown. It ended up that the whistle itself was 5,000 also. So, he made as much as the item’s value just to take me to a place that sells them. Lest you worry about me being “taken,” 5,000 kwacha is about $1.20, so I was glad to get the task done for that.
I also shopped around for a wheelbarrow, (which took about 7 different stores before I found one and found it for a good price) a bow saw for tree trimming, and other garden implements including a “reef lake.” I call it that because though our gardener Enock speaks English well, the folks at the hardware stores where I hunted for a leaf rake tended to switch the “r” and the “l” in the term rather consistently. It sounded like I was shopping in China! Well, the rake was probably made in China anyway!
So, back to the hoe I mentioned in the last post. I had to go probably four or five places to find a hoe, and get one at a decent price. The gardener uses the hoe almost every day—it’s his most basic tool for the work. So, I found myself in this sort of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” kind of situation. If you move to Zambia to do missions, you need to rent a house. If you rent a house, you are responsible to take care of the yard (or “garden” as they call it). If you need to take care of the garden, then you are expected to hire a gardener. If you hire a gardener, he will need a hoe. If you need to buy a hoe, you will need to drive around town for a day or two to find the hoe at a decent price. And, if you drive around town for a day or two getting a hoe, you will contribute to settling your family and home. If you settle your family and home, you will be better prepared and more fit to do the work for which you came!
You can see, though, that this could be a frustrating way to spend the last couple of months. The series could have ended, “And if you drive around town all day, you will never get around to the missions work you came to do!” It certainly has felt that way at times. But then, at other times it has been peaceful and even enjoyable. We have tried to think about all the things we’re buying as part of the work of the mission we are on. We pray that they will all contribute to our capacity to do the work the Lord has us here to do, and that they will all be laid at His feet for His purposes. And at the times when, by God’s grace, we’re able to have that perspective, the pursuit of a hoe or the best price on a rug or a couch or whatever, is filled with meaning.
When the kids ask why we are driving around Kalingalinga again, stopping at little spots on the road where there is a dresser or a set of bunkbeds until we find someone with a good price, we have a very good answer. We’re outfitting our home for a work. We’re getting things ready so that we can effectively serve the people of Zambia and the church in particular.
A couple of years ago I read some about Lewis and Clark and their historic journey through what was then unknown territory all the way to the Pacific Ocean. I remembered that they spent the first couple of months just getting their boat built properly and buying supplies and hiring crew members for the journey. It was not an interesting part of the story to read, but it was an essential part of their expedition. If they hadn’t prepared well and stocked up properly, down the road they would have certainly met with disaster!
More than Lewis and Clark, I was reminded of the fact that for most of us, a large segment of our daily activity is tied up in the mundane of buying and selling or taking care of secretarial or administrative details, or being engaged in some sort of less-than-stimulating labor. Are we to simply wait for this time to pass before we can serve God or enjoy Him? If so, then we will lose and waste a lot of our lives. It is not without purpose that the Lord exhorts us: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” and “Do your work heartily to the Lord, not unto men.”
The Lord is fully aware of how the fall and the simple responsibilities of life have a downward gravitational pull that can make us unmindful of Him and even generate a sense of purposelessness. But nothing is purposeless when it is done in the Lord’s name. We must simply follow the “ifs” through to remind ourselves why we are doing whatever it is that is going on in our lives at the moment. For some of our activities, we will find that they simply need to be cut out altogether. They just don’t fit into the ultimate objective of serving God and His kingdom. They waste time and take us away from our true calling as Christians. They may even be spiritually harmful in themselves, poisoning our minds and deafening our ears to God’s Word.
But we must not think that if we become truly godly, we will never have to go to the hardware store. If we are truly spiritual, we won’t need to try to figure out the best places to get the best prices for groceries. No—our lives on this earth will of necessity be “earthy”—they will have a lot of the mundane punctuated by some ecstatic, glorious experiences. But the test of the health of our lives and whether they are truly fulfilling in a Biblical sense is in how we execute the mundane tasks.
Is one eye cocked toward eternity and the glory of the Lord, while we compare with the other two refrigerators to decide which one to buy? Are we inclined to pray throughout the day for God’s wisdom and help for each little thing, and have as our companion on our errands none other than the Lord of hosts? This is life lived in the presence of God—the fullest, richest life available to anyone on this earth.