This is my July prayer letter for Word Made Flesh. There are a couple links at the bottom, so I’m going electronic for the very first time.
Last month, I spent ten days in Freetown, Sierra Leone on my first Word Made Flesh field visit. Even now, it’s difficult to enunciate what I want you to know about my trip. Sierra Leone is a small country in West Africa with a population of about 6 million. The country is recovering from a civil war that engulfed most of the 90’s and spilled into the first decade of this century. In my memories, Freetown drips with tropical heat and bustles with life. It tastes like fresh mangoes, salty beaches, and city grime. Suffering and joy are familiar neighbors who relentlessly vie for my attention.
Professionally, my time in Sierra Leone was productive. Stephanie McGuire, the Servant Team Coordinator in Freetown welcomed me to her apartment with a cozy mattress and mosquito net. It was invaluable to spend so much time with Steph not only because she offers me such sweet friendship, but also because our time together helped me grasp the responsibilities and challenges of the Servant Team Coordinators that I assist from the United States. The Servant Team Members, five interns who worked with Word Made Flesh for four months, were in the midst of completing their last month in Freetown. I remember in the fall of last year carefully reviewing applications, conducting phone interviews, and finally building the team with the review committee. It was a joy to finally see the little pictures I have pasted on their files animated into experience, personality, emotion, and service. The time I spent with them was inspiring and will help me build deeper relationships as I walk with them through the re-entry process.
As I spent time with our friends in Sierra Leone, I revisited many of the old questions that knock on my idealist’s door. What are we doing here? What will our small efforts achieve? It is easy to become discouraged in Freetown. The sun is unrelenting, except if the sky is dumping sheets of water during rainy season. It is difficult for our North American staff to find a place to fit into the culture. It is a challenge for the Sierra Leoneons to find funding to continue working with Word Made Flesh. The North Americans and Sierra Leoneons working with Word Made Flesh answer my questions with their lives. Intimacy. Obedience. They work tirelessly in simple acts of obedience to God who, they remember, is close to the Lighthouse Youth and the children of Kroo Bay. My friend, Noah, who works with Word Made Flesh grew up in Kroo Bay, a slum squeezed between the city and the ocean. The garbage disposal system of the city has failed Kroo Bay. In the rainy season the sediment and trash from the entire city are swept into Kroo Bay flooding homes with trash and water.
After years of schooling, Noah has returned to Kroo Bay. He is a prophetic sign of hope amidst desperate poverty. He has welcomed several boys into his small home and, at the age of 27, is parenting them on his own. Over lunch Noah told Jara and I something so simple, and yet so easy for me to forget: God is working in Kroo Bay. With or without us, God is moving. It would be nice if we could help.
So today, I choose to join with God in his work. I choose to help. My hands are small and my vision is cloudy, but I can join the movement anyway. Open handed, I invite you to come with me. At my commissioning last November Father Emmanuel Katongole read this prayer. This is how I would like to end my letter.
The Prayer of Oscar Romero
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about,
we plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
In realizing that. This enables us to do something,
And to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
But it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
Between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Notes: Noah Tullay has begun raising his own support this year. You can find Noah’s prayer letters on the Word Made Flesh website here.
You can read more about Kroo Bay and Noah in an article Chris Heuertz wrote for the Lausanne World Pulse here.