Whenever Jeremiah and I start talking about our future, as in when he is finally–officially done with all of his training, he always adds the caveatunless we’re in Africa.” An example: “Abby I hope we will have a farm one day…unless, of course, we’re in Africa.” What this means is, unless we get called to foreign missions. After several years of this, it has turned into something of a brand in my side. The hot shock I always get poked with if I ever start dreaming a little too much. I feel like it’s how he reigns me back to reality, “Don’t count on any of these big dreams you have, because we may be living in a tent and sleeping on the dirt. You may be home-schooling our children and fighting off deadly pestilence with your bare hands. You may be boiling buffalo heart for our dinner and learning how to garden so that we can have vegetables. You may be leaving our families and learning to speak Swahili.” Ok, so maybe he doesn’t say all of that, but that is what I picture every time he says, “unless we’re in Africa.” Don’t mis-understand me here. I have always wanted to do foreign, medical missions with Jeremiah. As long as he’s talked about pursuing medicine it has been one of our dreams. I just don’t feel like God is calling me to long-term permanent missions. A month, two, even three sounds good to me…but our whole life???

This past Sunday I was confessing this struggle to our friend Cohen [for those of you who read regularly he is the one who raked our yard when all that stuff was happening with Mom]. He and his wife Amie are long-term missionaries to Belize, and they are here in the States for a couple of months so that Amie could deliver and recover from having their fourth child. I told him about Jeremiah’s little caveat and he responded with a big, “Praise God!” “Oh no, no Cohen, don’t start praising God over there. I don’t want to live in Africa. I just feel like your calling, to permanent foreign missions, is so specific. Don’t you think I would know by now if that is what God was calling us to? Don’t you think I would have some desire–I am telling you I have none.”

He started laughing pretty hard at me, and told me some things that were not reassuring in the least. Like, some missionary wives go kicking and screaming. Or, he was scared to death when God called him…and then he recommended I read this book. So I leave our Sunday school class in a mild state of panic, wondering if what I am running away from the hardest is still being orchestrated all around me against my will. Get the tent ready, I’m heading to Africa.

So I sit down in big church (does anybody else still call it that?), with my mind in no state to pay attention to a sermon. I made a conscious decision to look my fear in the face, because you see, it was becoming apparent to me that what I was really fearful of was not Africa and all those jungle fears I listed above…what I was scared of was facing the reality of what it meant to “give it all.” The Sunday school answer, for all of us sweet little Christians, when asked “What are you willing to give up for Christ?” is “MY ALL.” And what I was realizing was that the reason it made me mad every time Jeremiah threatened to take me to Africa was that I knew in my heart there were some things I didn’t want to have to let go of…I was SCARED to look in the face of just how disgusting my “thing addiction” is. Please follow these next paragraphs (which are my stream of consciousness from church this week) to the end, because it is going to start out pretty petty.

Ok Abby Clark Maddox you’ve been running from this Africa thing for years now, it’s time to ask yourself why. Are you really afraid that God won’t protect your family?…No. Are you really afraid that you will not be able to leave your extended family behind?…That would be extremely difficult, but I know, as long as I had Jeremiah and my girls tucked up against me, we could make it together. Are you afraid of living in a hovel?…I’m not afraid of getting dirty. That’s not what I asked, are you afraid of living in a hovel–as in not the house you’ve been dreaming about and designing in your mind and with Jeremiah (you know the one made of stone and wood, that sits on a farm with land rolling out in front of it, with a big library with a ladder that slides….) Oh please God NO, I can’t bear to be one of those people. Those people who love their things. They disgust me! Is that who I am deep down where I’m afraid to look? Can I really not stand the thought of being a missionary because I want to create my dream house???

Lord, I am devastated and humiliated. Why is that house so important to me? That’s a good question to ask yourself, Abby. Why is it? Why do you so long to create that house?…Because I want to make something beautiful. Why? Because I want to create a space where my family longs to be. I want it to feel like a sanctuary…like a home where we cultivate our minds and love each other and use the things you’ve blessed us with to pour out beauty on others as well. Is that all?…I think so. Don’t you think we can create the kind of beauty you long for even in Africa? Do you think you have to have stone and wood and rolling ladders to create a sanctuary? I am bigger than that. I can show you my beauty through a dark black face with a huge white grin. Through a tiny, dirty child who flourishes under the love you have to offer. Through a giraffe grazing just outside your village. It’s not wrong that you long to create something beautiful for yourself and your family. It is wrong that you don’t trust Me to provide it in the way that’s best for you.

Here a little bit of the sermon broke through to me. Brother Jimmy was referencing the Westminster Catechism: What is man’s chief and highest aim? To love God and enjoy him forever. He designed us to enjoy Him and His creation. That’s why He surrounded us with beauty, to watch as we delight in His workmanship. I realized that it wasn’t ugly to yearn for rolling fields and deep woods and a beautiful home built from stone and wood. It was ugly to cling to that more than I clung to His infinitely more beautiful plan…whatever it may be.

Brother Jimmy ended his sermon with the story of the little boy who had his hand stuck in his mother’s expensive vase. They had tried everything to get his hand out: pulling, yanking, goop, even calling the paramedics. They had just decided the vase must be broken when the Dad got home from work. He took one look at the situation and said, “Son, what are you holding in your hand?” “A penny.” “If you’ll drop that penny, I’ll give you a dollar.” Clink, the penny dropped and his hand immediately slipped from the vase. I dropped my penny too at the close of that sermon. I was able to willingly stretch out my hand and say, “I’ll go. If that’s what you want, I’ll delight in going. I trust we’ll create beauty together wherever you lead us…and I’ll love and enjoy you forever.”

I still don’t feel “called” to permanent missions, but I can honestly say that I am not fearful of it anymore. In some ways, it would feel pretty great to just GO and live a life not burdened by the question, “Am I really willing to give it all?” Unless we ARE called, I suppose I’ll just have to keep posing that question to my heart and facing the answer…I am sure I’ll have to give that home up more than once :), but the freedom that comes from giving it back to Him is a deep rush of cool air in my lungs.

10 Responses to “Unless We’re in Africa”

  1. WhitneyG says:

    Abby,it's very neat to hear your honest thoughts and fears about going into missions. Sam and I have tossed that question around as well, are we being "called" to go? I was actually talking to my dad about that very thing this weekend, and how my passion for design and acquiring nice things fits into that picture. I'm convinced that God is touched even by our struggle with this…thanks for you thoughts!

  2. Tara says:

    I use the term "Big church" still and laugh in my head when I do. Andrew always asks me if I'm still 5 years old when I say it. It makes me feel warm inside for some reason though 🙂

  3. Alexis says:

    HI Abby – This is Alexis Dollar and I live in Bham. I was just wondering what church you go to here.

  4. Rhett, Megan, Claire and Ford says:

    Wow Abby this really hit home for me! I AM moving to Africa in a matter of months (even got Rosetta Stone – Swahili for Christmas last year) and I can tell you I have had that exact conversation and felt those exact emotions over the past several years- in fact it is a daily struggle. It is tough really letting go of things and just when you think you have got it under control you realize you are clinging to yet another comfort in this world instead of the Creator. Sigh. I am so encouraged by the Word and the realization that we are not "called" to missions we are all, as followers of Christ, commanded to making his name known among the nations – not really an optional box to check when you sign up. I could spend 20 minutes explaining that statement but I'll leave it at that. That is not to say that we will be neighbors in Africa but you are more than welcome to at least come visit!

  5. Susannah says:

    Hey Abby! Love to hear your true thoughts! I need your home address to send the pillowcases to you to stitch. Email me susivey@yahoo.com

  6. Jenny says:

    Have you read "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver? I know that it is fiction, but it is a fascinating book about a family (with four girls!) who do missionary time in Africa. I really enjoyed it.

  7. Abby Euten says:

    I still call it "big church."

  8. Danielle says:

    Am I living your same life just a few years behind? John David and I are the same. He definitely plans to do short-term missions (hoping to set up a practice with other believers wanting to do the same) in Africa. The long-term missions aspect is where we are as well. Not sure if the Lord is calling us to that but I have the same fears. I fear giving up a comfortable life in the states. I definitely know where you are coming from and pray that the Lord would give John David and I the same desire. (And pray that for you as well) I don't want to go kicking and screaming but joyful in the Lord's calling!

  9. andi says:

    Yes ma'am I understand….
    Loose fingers are so hard to have. A struggle I have often.

  10. Darby says:

    Abby…. Justin will occassionally drop the "if we're in Africa with Jeremiah and Abby bomb" on me… so you're not the only one Jeremiah is working on. Although I've yet to receive "the big church" call that you did… maybe one day! I think Justin would go tomorrow.

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