Fiji: Ep. 3: Maker's Mark
“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. … Hand over the whole natural self, … I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’ ”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The following was written for The Collegian, the student newspaper of Walla Walla University, published as “Fifty Days in Fiji” last week. It’s about the community I’ve come to appreciate in Fiji: a group of people that I can’t out-nice or out-serve. I’ve come to learn that’s not the point. At the same time I’ve learned more about my role as a student missionary. It has been lesson on service.
Rain falls steadily on the tin roof of the unfinished building I sit in. It’s a good sound and it reminds me of the elemental, adventurous aspect of life in Fiji. It means we’ll get extra rainwater in our big supply tanks and it makes the big room I’m in feel like a cozy cabin in the Northwest. Because of its shape and size, you and I might think of this building as a double-wide—a reference to that great architectural misfit, the mobile home. In America, I was never fond of mobile homes from a design standpoint—to me, they were duds. In Fiji, however, I’ve learned to be thankful for a place like this. It is one of the best houses on the island, and really quite promising. A carpenter will be visiting today to evaluate the building, then make a list of materials to order to finish it. With luck, three other student missionaries and I will be able to move into our new home by the end of the month. I’m excited to help the carpenter work on this space, see what it will become, and imagine it six months in the future, once the other volunteers and I have spent time in it and left our mark on it, and it on us.
Not long ago, I was imagining what my own future as a student missionary in Fiji would be like. I remember having trouble reconciling my primary desire for adventure, learning, and personal growth with what I thought should be proper missionary motive: serving a community. I began hoping I would be able to leave some great mark on the community I felt called to serve, not realizing that it might turn out that the community would be poised to leave a mark on me and serve me more than I could in return. I was in for a subversion of my service expectations that I couldn’t see at the time. That idea has started to germinate in various ways in the first 50 days here, primarily through the extraordinary kindness of the people of Fiji.
On day one, it was the kindness of a taxi driver named Imroz who, among many other things, let me use his phone to contact my family on that difficult, lonely day. On day four, it was an energetic group of children who offered to show me a great spot for jumping in the ocean and seeing coral, fish, and sharks. On day 14, it was some of those kids helping me scrub the house so I could paint it. On day 19, it was a super kind friend taking me to experience a hot spring on the main island; day 32, the principal’s family feeding us every day for a week when our supplies ran low; day 35, the teachers’ husbands taking care of a waterline I ruptured while digging a hole; day 44, church members having us over for Sabbath dinner, which they insist on every week; and every day, seeing the happiness of the kids, or the color of a sunrise, or a hundred other blessings God might open our eyes to.
I imagine God saying, “Don’t limit me—I have more in mind than you serving them, because this isn’t about you. Let me work. This may be difficult and awkward and humbling, and it might not follow your plan. Are you still willing?” In my time here so far, I have experienced a greater sense of blessing in the times I have responded “yes.” In that fact I have begun to reconcile my motive with God’s. Having an adventure is not my or any student missionary’s true purpose, but perhaps while my purpose was for adventure and service, God’s purpose was something more. Maybe my purpose was the means to an end that God used to get me here, but not the end itself. Or this: I knew how to send myself (by having the desire to go), but God knew why I should be sent—my willingness, and my own plans, in exchange for God’s much better plan. In my experience so far, willingness has been the key to adventure, learning, and self growth. How interesting it is that God gives us a key to our plans when we have a willingness to follow His, even if we have to ask for help.
Back in the empty house, the rain has stopped and the carpenter has arrived. He’s sitting on two cinder blocks with a makeshift plank table in front of him, where he’s writing a list of materials we need to finish the house. He looks around slowly between jots of his pen and sips from a mug of Tang. All morning I also looked around the house: laying out the kitchen in my mind here, planning a wall there, and in general preparing to give my design input for the space I felt entitled to—after all, I will be living here for six months. But the way the carpenter sits quietly and thoughtfully writing his plan out makes me pause. Although I’m still eager to help, I find myself reluctant to volunteer my input to the carpenter, who seems older and wiser than I expected. He knows what he’s doing. I remember that it’s his job to build, and my job to help. He thinks for a minute, evaluating, planning. He takes it in. Then pen goes to paper, and the carpenter makes his mark.