Tag Archives: time

interview with a missionary – part moja

image courtesy of photobucket.com

I was recently interviewed by a college student concerning my current life as a missionary on a foreign field.  I generally try not to be a blogger who posts interviews with himself (especially the ones that ask what I’m listening to right now and who the last person with whom I spoke on the phone was), but many of you ask to read more about our lives here in Tanzania.  So I thought this interview would be alright, though I’ve tweaked the interview itself, cutting and pasting here and there, etc.  I’m planning to post it in two parts, because I went into such great detail on this first question:

What expectations did you have concerning missionary life that have proved unrealistic?

The three years I served in China before coming to Tanzania helped to remove many of the unrealistic expectations I might have otherwise had. However, I was still not prepared for everyday life to take so long.  I tried to prepare myself for it; I knew it would be the case.  But I failed.  I had been in Africa a couple of times, and for several months, prior to moving to Geita.  A lot of that time was spent in nearby Mwanza — which I knew was a larger city, but thought would be similar.  In some ways it is.  But not many.  Everyday tasks just require a great deal more time than ever before.  Some of this is cultural, but much of it is simply due to goods not being available in stores (or being very expensive) and city services being poor at best.  Some examples:
  • We constantly run out of water (or within 200-300 liters of it), despite the fact that we’re on city water.  In a typical week (if there is such a thing), water from the city is turned on for four hours, two days a week.  So depending on our water usage (and whether we have visitors — equals extra showers, more dishes, etc), I could easily spend 4-6 hours of my work week getting water myself or having it delivered.  And getting it myself requires time spent by Carson or Calvin (as they have means of moving large amounts of water, and I don’t), eating into their work days as well.
  • Being without electricity can obviously change one’s schedule a great deal.
  • There’s no such thing as running to the market, or into town, for ten minutes to pick up a few things.  If I go near their stalls or storefronts, there are at least 7 or 8 vendors I am expected to go and greet, and many people along the way want to stop and chat.  Only a short conversation is needed, and I consider this a real benefit of living in small town Africa — but it easily turns ten-minute trips into 30.
  • There are many goods which, in order to be obtained, require trips to other cities (oats, canned vegetables, coffee, frozen chickens,* etc) — and others which are much cheaper in those other cities (almost everything, from bulk toilet paper to soap to nearly every food item, etc).  Mwanza is the nearest city, and (now, due to a new paved road and an extra ferry across the lake,) is about a 2 1/2 hour journey, one-way.
  • Car repair is also in Mwanza, as are many of the government offices we might need to visit.  [Geita, however, has just become its own region, and is the capital of that region, so these offices will “soon” be coming our way.]  Our insurance office is in Mwanza, and even our post office box is there (none available in Geita right now, and there exist zero large boxes at our post office anyway — for our team to share).
  • A meeting time is not a meeting time.  It’s usually a suggested time at which you might think about starting to go where you’re going.  So if I’m told someone will meet me at 10:00 am, I have begun to expect them after 11:30.  I used to try and find something useful to do during that time, while waiting at the specified location.  Now I just show up a little late myself (still always first, though, no matter how hard I try).  Not only does the waiting take time, but it prevents me from scheduling three meetings a day.  Literally, two one-hour meetings can take an entire work day.
  • We make our own bread, process our own meat, and almost all food is cooked from scratch.  In the states, I always had an option to stick a frozen pizza in the oven or eat a bag of chips.  Here, if there are any frozen pizzas, it’s because Christie made them Monday because she knew she wouldn’t have time on Thursday because of Bible study.  If there are any chips, they’re homemade tortilla chips (from scratch, which is quite a process).
I should be clear that much of the time spent “living” is in some way or another related to wanting to be comfortable.  If we only ate rice and beans every day like the Tanzanians do, we wouldn’t have to process pigs and make our own bread.  If we bathed with damp rags every three days (not trying to be rude, but honest) or washed (owned) less clothes, we wouldn’t require nearly the amount of water we do.  If I didn’t own a truck, I wouldn’t need an insurance office in Mwanza.  So, in fairness, I should admit that it would at least be possible for us to live differently.

However, I’m still not sure how much time it would save.  Because, were we to decide to live like some of our fellow Geitans, we’d necessarily walk everywhere, cook outside over charcoal, and fetch water from a bucket every time we needed it.  So in some ways, those things which make us comfortable actually increase the time available for work and ministry.  It’s not like the Tanzanian women don’t spend much of the day cooking.  I think living here simply takes longer, no matter who you are.  The guy with the bank account has to wait in a 10+ person line, and the guy without has to do the same at the cell phone store.  [If you don’t have a bank account, you keep your money on your phone — read more about that here under “mobile money.”]  Christie and I, then, have decided to fall a bit on the comfortable side, despite the time involved.  We have pizza once a week, take showers daily, use the internet, and have an indoor kitchen.

So living in Geita takes a great deal more time than I ever imagined it would.  And that time has to come from somewhere — time spent working, studying, with family, relaxing, exercising, or sleeping has to be cut (or some of each).**  That’s frustrating to me, because I sometimes feel like I’m not accomplishing as much as I should.  I suppose much of that is because I compare my work week to what it was in the states.  Probably a bad idea.  Africa can be a tough place for someone who is driven.  Especially when that someone has generally determined his self-worth and value by his own accomplishments.  As you can probably guess, Tanzania has been good for me.  I’ve been forced (wish I hadn’t needed to be) to find my worth elsewhere — and I’m learning that God loves me (and so do my wife and friends), no matter how many things I get done in a day.

interview with a missionary — part mbili


* Interestingly enough, frozen chickens in Mwanza cost the same as live local chickens in Geita — and have more meat on them.  I kind of enjoy slaughtering animals and processing meat, but if buying frozen chickens yields more meat in less time (if we’re already in Mwanza with a cooler), I’m going to choose that option.


** A “work day” for me is (when possible) seven hours (instead of eight), and I wake up a lot earlier than I used to.  I’ve not (and am not willing to) cut family time.  And my exercise, study, and rest times have stayed about the same.



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Filed under culture, mission

how long will you sleep?

image courtesy of photobucket.com


But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?  When will you wake up?  A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.  — Proverbs 6:9-11 (NLT)

I crawled out of bed this morning at the usual time — 5:30 am.  That’s exactly one hour before the sun comes up here in Geita, Tanzania.  Straight to the kitchen to get the coffee started, and then to my desk.  I read my Bible, checked emails, looked at a couple of blogs I enjoy, and was cooking eggs and homemade sausage by 6:00.  We’ve had some visitors in our home for a few days, and I was expected to drop them off at the Groen’s house at 7:00.  David, Jeremy, and I ate standing up and were off early enough for them to make a timely departure.  I was running (while praying) by ten after 7, and had completed six miles by 8.  By then Christie and Baylor had been up for some time, and I joined them playing in the living room.

I’m very rarely cooking breakfast at 6:00 am, and I don’t run every day.  But I’ve come to love waking early all the same.  I do so for many reasons, but one stands out far above any other — indeed many of the others are mere bullet points under this heading:

I want to accomplish more in my day than I have time for. It’s that simple.  It’s not that all of these things are crucial to life or even important to my well-being — it’s just that I don’t like not being able to do them.  And so… I rise before the sun.

Here are just a few of my specific motivations for waking early (many of them related to my already named rationale).  I share them, knowing a few will not be applicable to you — but hoping others might become motivation:

  • Savor a cup of coffee and quiet.
  • Read my Bible without interruption.
  • Enjoy a focused and quality prayer time.
  • Exercise.  If I attempt to put this off until afternoon, it often goes undone — which, if I’m honest, is true of many things I say I’ll get to after work.
  • Write.  I try to write something every day, whether or not it’s used for Bible study, the blog, or anything really.  I find it helps me think, while relaxing me.
  • Just sit and think.
  • Memorize scripture.
  • Enjoy a slow start to my day.  I despise having to get up and rush out the door.
  • Relish the cooler temperatures.  By 8:30 it’s starting to get warm here, but from 5:30 – 7:30 it’s nearly imperative that I wear a long-sleeve shirt AND a sweat shirt or a jacket.
  • Enjoy nature — sunrise, birds singing, the mooing of waking cows.
  • Get some work done early, leaving some of the afternoon free to watch the Tour de France.
  • Take care of Baylor if she’s up, so Christie can have a few more minutes of rest.
  • Study Swahili.
  • Read blogs I enjoy.
  • Check email.
  • Read the news.

I’m not so foolish to believe that rising early is good for everyone.  I certainly don’t believe waking before dark is necessary for one to lead a productive life.  Nor am I so naive to assume everyone requires the same amount of sleep.  I do know that, right or wrong, rising early is seen as a characteristic of productive and disciplined people.  And oftentimes these people indeed are those who are most focused and productive.  [See articles: Why Morning People Rule the World and The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm.]

I’m not suggesting every individual should rise early.  But I do think many of us are not accomplishing what we could, or even what we’d like to.  There are a whole lot of people who talk of (read: complain about) not having enough time in their days to accomplish all they should.  It seems to me these people (of whom I was/am one) have four options:

  1. Stop performing unproductive and time-wasting tasks (television, Facebook, video games, magazines, etc).
  2. Wake up earlier.
  3. Go to bed later.
  4. Become indifferent towards accomplishing those things we would like to.

As you already know, I do not believe all the above options were created equal.  But I should be clear that waking up an hour before dark is not necessary; rising only a half-hour before you currently do could make a really big difference in your day.

What do you think?  Are you like I was for most of my life (really liking the idea of being an early riser, and even wanting to be one, but somehow unable to make it happen)?  What time do you wake up?  Are you as productive as you’d like to be?  What does waking early allow you to do?  What would you do if you were up a half-hour earlier every day?

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Filed under just thinking, practical advice

runner by nature

He was a runner by nature.

It wasn’t his bones and muscles that made him so, nor was it his lung capacity or VO2 max.  And it certainly wasn’t his 6’4″ frame.  No, this running was deeper than that — it was in his head… or maybe even his heart?  It was difficult for him to sit still.  To stay in one place was to defy something deep within his constitution.  His mind was constantly running laps, all the while forgetting to count the number of times it had passed the starting line.  It’s impossible to keep score that way, you know.  You can never be sure of the distance you’ve traveled.  But then again, you’ve not traveled anywhere if you’re only going in circles.

He’d run circles before.  On a track in high school… his sophomore year.  He wasn’t slow, a 10:37 his best on the 2-mile, and a 4:59 on the one.  But he was growing weary of it.  He felt like all those laps around the same track were getting him nowhere.  Not that destination was his reason for running.  No, destination wasn’t nearly as important as the journey itself. But the track held neither.  It was about time and nothing more.  How can you measure a life only in time? Such a one-dimensional assessment seems foolish and shallow, if not plain dishonest.

  • “He didn’t run far, and he arrived at absolutely nowhere, but dang if he didn’t do it fast.”
  • “He was a selfish and mean old cuss who never loved no one, but dang if he didn’t live a long time.”

He would often remember Jim, a friend who died in a cliff-diving accident in college.  Jim had experienced more life in his few years than many a man blessed to see 80. What really is time, if in the end it all runs out?  Certainly not a yardstick with which to measure one’s life.  He and Jim had never once run together, the latter preferring a mountain bike.  But still he knew he’d be chasing Jim for a lifetime.

It’s a well-known fact you can’t chase someone on a treadmill. Is it even considered running, what you do on a treadmill?  I mean you are literally going nowhere.  No, he’d never be caught running on a machine.  Rather a horse chasing a rabbit in circles, than a hamster trapped in a cage, attempting with his own feet to convince his mind of its freedom.  But he’d resign himself to neither.

No, freedom can’t be had on a treadmill or a track.  Nor can it be found on a clock.  There’s a constant quarrel between time and freedom, each seeking to eliminate the other and prove its supremacy once and for all.  But this fight is futile; neither can exist outside the other.  Each of us will experience time’s cold knock on his door, no matter what freedoms we’ve enjoyed before its morbid echoes call forth the end of a journey. And a clock unliberated is nothing more than days hopelessly etched on the wall of a prison cell, a reminder of life without parole.

He felt all those laps around the same track were getting him nowhere.  He would wonder later if he’d continued on the team, might it have taken him somewhere — to college on scholarship, maybe?  But four years at the same university?!  You can’t stay too long in one place when your mind’s already moved on to other things.

His mind was always running ahead of his body.  Was it creativity, vision, expectation — or merely discontent — that propelled him forward so?  He didn’t know, and might never. But he ran.  It was his nature.

(To be continued…)

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Filed under running, sports