Today is our four-year anniversary of arriving in Arusha, Tanzania. Every year I have written a year-end update filled with accomplishments of the last year and goals for the coming year. This year, my plan was to do the same. However, every time I sat down to write the summary of 2017, all I felt was dread. I am just so ready to wave goodbye and good-riddance to this trial laden season. So instead of a tidy recap, I have decided to go in a new direction, because if I have learned anything in 2017, it’s that new directions are all the rage. Besides, I think I have done a pretty good job writing about the ups and downs of the last twelve months. If you missed it you can read all about the good, the hard, the new (and this one) and the travel in these past blog posts. Through it all we have grown and learned and been strengthened. We are thankful and we never want to go through it again!
Now I want to tell you a story about ministry, about what we have learned and our purpose in serving. I am sharing this in hopes that it can open your eyes, as it did mine, about serving. A few days ago I was driving to a coffee shop. My goal was to sit in the quiet, and write this very year-end report. As I was turning into the parking lot a fast moving animal stopped right in my path. I had to swerve to miss running over this tiny puppy. I drove a bit further, and then stopped my car. The puppy had been running down the shoulder of one of the busiest streets in Arusha. I stood by my car for a minute debating what to do. We have just recently lost one of our dogs, and our hearts are still sore. We have been debating about getting another dog. I really want a large breed guard dog. But I was faced with a choice. Our family has a two dog limit. If I rescued the puppy, then any hope I had of getting my dream dog (a Rottweiler) was gone. I only hesitated a second. The puppy was tiny and I knew if I did nothing she was not going to make it very long. I walked slowly up to the quivering brown dog. She came right to me when I squatted down. She was dirty and matted and way too little to be away from her mother. Her ribs and hip bones were sharp against my hand. She shook and licked my fingers with a dry tongue.
I climbed back in my car and headed towards home. The puppy rested in my lap as I scratched her neck. She was startlingly skinny, but she lifted her head up to look at me. She had been running, I reasoned, so she still had energy and would hopefully be fine. I knew it was a risk. She was obviously too young to be away from her mother. The pads on her feet were still soft and new. As I pulled up into our driveway the girls came out to meet me, asking why I was back so soon. Before they could see what was in my lap, I quickly told them that what I was doing was a big risk. I pulled the puppy out so they could see her and explained to them my fears. She was severely malnourished and very young. There was a risk she would not make it. If we loved her and lost her, we would all be sad. The girls assured me they were willing to take the risk. Camille said encouraging words and Tabitha danced around, a physical expression of her emotion. We bathed the puppy in warm water and wrapped her in a soft towel. Maria scowled at us, wondering at our excitement over a dirty street dog. Matt boiled eggs and we fed her half an egg yolk. She scarfed it down and instantly had more energy. We brought her inside and snuggled her. She was happy to be loved. She crawled right up to the crook of my neck and rested there. After an hour we fed her the other half of the egg yolk. We googled how to make puppy formula and did our best. She ate well and played and snuggled all day.
By the time the girls went to bed we were feeling hopeful about the puppy’s chances. We decided to name her Kahawa, the Swahili word for coffee, since I found her by the coffee shop and she was about the color of my morning brew. Not long after the girls went to bed, everything changed. Kahawa started to vomit. Once, twice, three times she lost the life giving nutrients of the day. She stopped eating and would not drink. I brought a little eye dropper in and fed her some beef broth. Matt and I exchanged nervous glances. It seemed like her skin was shrink-wrapped over her ribs. When we went to bed, we had laid her in the bathroom on a blanket. Neither of us slept well. Both Matt and I got up to check on Kahawa throughout the night. But it was obvious that her time was short. When the girls got up, Matt told them the situation. They both went in to say goodbye to the puppy, and she passed away a few minutes after.
We all cried. Knowing the risk had not softened the impact of losing her. Matt buried Kahawa in the field by our home. We talked about loving and losing. We ate some comfort food. It was a hard day. At this point you are probably wondering why in the world I told you this story. More than that you are probably thinking I am crazy to pick up a sick puppy on the side of the road (although I know there are so many animal lovers reading this who get me). You might wonder, how is this my year end update.
Loving Kahawa opened my eyes in a way that made me so thankful for her in my life. All this year we have struggled with ministry. What are we doing here? What are we doing to our family? Is this life good for the girls? Are we making any difference? Are we supposed to be in ministry? Is the risk worth it? The answer that Kahawa taught me is this: a heart aligned with Jesus is a heart that hates suffering. I knew this in my head, but my heart had forgotten. The risk to ourselves, even to our family, is worth every tear if we can alleviate suffering just a little bit. There is not a question of yes or no when God puts suffering in your path and compassion in your heart. You do the hard thing, even if in the end it might not turn out the way you had hoped. We cried for Kahawa, but we were able to give her gentleness and love for a short time, and that was worth our sadness. Why are we continuing in ministry? We continue because God has put suffering in our path and compassion in our heart and all we can do is be obedient to His desire to decrease suffering in our small sphere.
This year ministry has felt like holding fragility in our hands, knowing that no matter what we do, it might not end like we want it to. We have had to rest uncomfortably in the truth that God has a plan and our part for a time was painful. But pain is not an excuse to give up. If anything, it is a call to double our efforts. This year our faith was destroyed and rebuilt into a stronger thing, with muscle where only softness had been. In May, after our time at Neema House ended, we could have gone anywhere; done anything. All the options were on the table and in the end we choose to stay in Arusha and continue in ministry. Our heart was still in this place. We had learned too much, seen too many injustices, to forsake the opportunity to make a difference in the community that has somehow become our own. We hope for great success. We pray that our programs at Walk In Love will decrease suffering and help our community thrive. There is no guarantee and the risk is high, but if this year has taught us anything, it is that God will not allow us to be destroyed. He is the God of the path of righteousness; the God who shepherds us to the place that He wants us to serve Him. He is the giver of both strength and purpose.
As we are preparing to celebrate the holidays and welcome in the new year, I hope that you are thinking about your sphere, and how you can impact those that are in your path. 2017 has been a year full of so much trauma and transition. However, it has also been a year of rebirth. All of us are engaging in hard conversations about how now should we live as the body of Christ. It is time for all of us to clarify our purpose and recommit to living in a way that loves mercy, does justice and walks humbly. We all need a Kahawa in our life to open our eyes to the point of our ministry. Our family is so thankful that we are still here, still involved in ministry, even if it is risky. We are thankful for your part in our story, and for your support and encouragement. We are excited to see what 2018 holds and how Walk In Love grows to meet the needs of our community. Thank you for being on this path with us.