A little over a week ago, I offered an installment of “Missionary Predicaments” in which I discussed the difficulties of finding rest as a missionary in rural Tanzania. [And in case you're wondering why so many more people read that post than any other of mine... it's because it made that day's Freshly Pressed.] I promised to give a report on how our family has decided to solve this problem of seeking rest while in another culture. This post is that report. The original post, complete with background and cultural issues involved, is here.
Overwhelmingly, your answers affirmed that, yes, it is extremely important to have times of rest — and that everyone deserves this, no matter who they are. I’ll be both honest and blunt; my post wasn’t really about whether or not we need rest — this much we know. Rather, we wanted to discover a culturally appropriate way to find (or create) that rest. So, for the sake of brevity, we’ll assume at this time that we all agree rest is needed for the missionary living in Tanzania.
The following seemed to be the standard answers for how to create a time for sabbath:
- Tell people knocking on your gate that perhaps you can meet another day.
- Ask local pastors how they find time for their families.
- Make it clear when you are off-limits to visitors. But try to be polite.
- Pray, and God will give you an answer to your questions.
- Don’t try to be so much like a Tanzanian; you’re not one.
- Send visitors to someone else who is available on your day off.
- You can lie if that’s what it takes to get rest.
- Have some cardboard cutouts of people readily available. It will look like you’ve already got guests. [This was my favorite answer.]
- Leave town.
I can’t think of a single time in scripture when Jesus turned away someone seeking his counsel or company. [If you know of one, please provide it.] Rather, it seems if Jesus was approached, he willingly shared his time with that individual or group. We will strive to do the same.
But Jesus certainly valued rest. He purposely sought sabbath and time alone with the Father. He also modeled this for his apostles. We will aspire do the same. [Though I can't say I'm entirely comfortable insisting I have free time for watching West Wing or Scrubs.] We will set aside free time, but if it is interrupted we will minister (hopefully without complaining). Have a look at Mark 6:30-34:
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Firstly, I should ask, “Since when is running faster than taking a boat?!”
Secondly, I should be clear that finding personal prayer and Bible study time here in Tanzania is not our difficulty. I am generally up before sunrise every morning, with at least a couple of uninterrupted hours to read, pray, and write. Christie also has been able to find time for her personal devotions. And nearly every evening after dark, it is only our family together until we go to bed. We sing with Baylor after reading a book to her, pray together, and generally are able to relax a bit. I don’t want to come across as if we’re never alone or can’t find time to read our Bibles or even chat. Rather, it’s a full day off that we seek — or a weekend of sorts. A time we know can be used for going running, reading, watching TV, or playing a game. These are our solutions:
- We will be available to those who seek us at any reasonable hour of the day — which generally are the only hours people visit.
- We will continue to have Bible study times, family dinners, and general relaxation at times when people ordinarily do not call on us — early morning and after 7 pm.
- We will set one day aside as a sabbath each week, but if it is interrupted so be it. We won’t lie (which is culturally acceptable) or attempt to explain why it’s important for us to rest. We will have compassion and minister to those whom God leads our way.
- But also like Jesus, we will regularly create moments of sabbath. We will do this primarily in two ways:
- by joining with our teammates here in Geita. When spending time with our missionary friends, it is very unlikely that we’d be interrupted — because, whether we are at our house or someone else’s, the host already has visitors. And having guests is an extremely acceptable reason for not spending time with others in Tanzanian culture.
- by occasionally leaving Geita in search of rest. We can get away to Mwanza for a weekend without much difficulty. And we actually need to be there periodically anyway — to restock on supplies we can’t get in Geita, check our post office box, and get repairs or regular maintenance work done on our truck. Also, it’s in many ways easier for us to relax in Mwanza because there are places that are actually restful to us: a restaurant on the shore of Lake Victoria with hamburgers and skinny fries, a hotel that lets us swim in their pool for an affordable daily fee, and other missionary friends with whom we can visit.
- We will “build up” time for those weekends away in Mwanza by working 6-day weeks during our time in Geita. We feel one day off per week is both reasonable and mostly possible. It will give us enough rest to minister well here in town, and will afford us opportunities to truly enjoy our rest in Mwanza in ways we can’t here in Geita.
Related Thoughts and Items of Interest
One interesting idea in the course of this deliberation was brought up by a couple of the shepherds from our sending congregation. They reminded us that it’s important to model sabbath for the people here in Geita. My wife is incredibly wise and brought to that conversation the fact that Tanzanians commonly celebrate and experience sabbath by visiting other people’s homes, or by hosting others in their homes. What, to us, feels like work is, to the people of Geita, rest. So by regularly using what would have traditionally been one of our days off as a day to host Tanzanians in our home, we are encouraging them in their mode of sabbath, and actually helping them to experience it.
Many suggested in the comments section of the original post that we should set aside a day off and stick to it — by politely explaining the importance of our day of rest. This is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with this problem in the U.S., but is not here in Tanzania. To tell someone “no,” and then explain that I need rest, is to bring something harmful into the relationship. I realize there are good intentions behind this idea, but I don’t feel it is respectful of the context in which we live. It would be far better for me to set aside a day, and lie in order to preserve it, saying I have lots of office work to get done.
Because of our American worldview (and our idea that all Christianity is black and white), we struggle a great deal with this. How could being honest and politely explaining you need rest be worse than lying to someone about what you have to do that day? The closest cultural equivalent I can think of would be to ask why you would tell your friend she looks fine when it’s quite obvious she gained at least 20 pounds over Christmas break? Here in Tanzania, they wouldn’t lie about that. They would congratulate their friend on gaining weight. They would literally say, “Wow, you look fatter!” And both people involved would have smiles on their faces. Now imagine telling that Tanzanian Christian that in the United States he should lie if ever asked a question about another individual having gained weight. That’s as close as I can get, I think, to why it’s better to do the cultural thing, even if it involves lying. A relationship is more important than a lie that is culturally acceptable.
Though, to be sure, note that while I think lying is better than merely saying no (even if lovingly), this is still not the route we’ve decided to take. We believe there is a third culture that exists — and Jesus demonstrated it clearly.
What are your thoughts? Especially others living in cultures not their own? How have you successfully dealt with this issue? And does anyone want to wade with me into a discussion on lying? [I thought it would get more attention in the original post, but few addressed it on any level at all.]