On January 7th Taryn and I arrived home in Gaborone after two weeks in South Africa with our Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Church USA Network colleagues. We had a great time with them, and it was encouraging to be able to hear about the work that they have all been engaged in here in southern Africa, much of which bears relevance to our own context and expectations in Botswana. In particular with Andrew and Karen Suderman as they engage relationally and academically with peace and reconciliation issues and the role of the church in South Africa, through the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), and with Joe and Anna Sawatzky who are facilitating a Christian college for the education of indigenous church leaders in and around Mthata, also in South Africa. We worshipped and ate and played together. I bit the bottom of a pool to knock my front tooth out once again (I’ve managed to break that tooth on a stone during street hockey, a sidewalk while rollerblading, the Niagara River while jumping out of a tree, and on a piece of bacon offered to me by my brother-in-law Keith. Thanks Keith.), but also emerged as the winner of the prestigious Goulet Award as champion of the retreat heptathalon, so it all balanced out in my favor, I think. Being down at Port Shepstone along the Indian Ocean didn’t hurt either, and we felt very refreshed and ready to engage in our work back up in our relatively northern country.
After arriving back home, I decided to get some of the basics out of the way before getting into the more relevant work. First things first, I wanted to make sure that our home internet would up and running so that I could start searching out and emailing some people with whom I’ve hoped to connect. I had gone to BTC (Botswana Telecommunications Network), the only internet provider, over a month earlier in order to have them come and hook up our internet. At the time I had been appreciative of their helpfulness as I had filled out the paperwork, given a copy of my passport and been told that I could expect a service worker in just over 10 business days.
Taryn and I now walked into the BTC offices in order to find out where we were in the mix in regards to service, as we had now been waiting for about a month (understandable, as we had been waiting over Christmas). I assumed that it would likely only be about another week or two, and I had just gotten my tooth fixed so I assumed that I could flash my nice new smile and have our place bumped forward little ways as well. However, the woman behind the desk first informed us that our home phone number did not exist and that our request was impossible. After realizing that it did exist, she stated that there was no service order on our account and that we would have to fill out the paperwork in order to be placed on the list. We would have to wait a while, though, because the people who had done so in early December and following would be first priority. I informed her that I had, in fact, filled in this paperwork in early December and should be priority. However, she was unable to find our service order in the pile of papers on the desk, and therefore we needed to fill in the same paperwork again and be placed at the end of the list, behind those who, like myself, had come before Christmas. The servicemen had not actually returned from holiday, but when they did they would begin to chip away at the list. Oh, and I see that you are hoping to register your internet through an organization called Mennonite Ministries, she said. Please come back with documentation of the legal registration of this organization with the government. And I need your passport to be photocopied.
I spent the rest of the day defeated. It was not a major setback, though having internet home and not having to drive across town to internet cafes would be very convenient. And it was easy enough to bring the MM registration and copy my passport again. However, I had been ready to begin, ready to start a new year having gotten basically settled in our home, and feeling somewhat oriented to Gaborone. I had many thoughts and plans and ideas as to how to begin to tackle the vision with which we had been sent of beginning a learning facility for indigenous church leaders and parishioners. And it was hitting me that the seemingly small obstacles which I needed to do to get organized, beginning with making sure that our internet usage was imminent, were not going to give up that easily. I was going to have to devote time and energy in this new year to small and seemingly meaningless tasks. In our brief time in Botswana this was already familiar.
When we bought our vehicle a few months ago Taryn and I went to the Ministry of Roads and Transportation in Gaborone in order for it to be registered. The first day we were turned away by the security guard because they were too busy, which was clearly the case in the overflowing room. We went to another office and received the same rebuff (though the room was suspiciously empty).
The next morning I arrived at 7am to wait in line, though when they opened at 7:45 so many people had jumped in line in front of me that I found myself 68th on the waiting list. By 8:30am only the sixth person was being helped (only two of the four kiosk desks were open, despite a few employees sitting and talking behind the counter) and we were informed that the power would be shut off indefinitely at 9am. I left the premises.
The next day Taryn and I arrived together at 7am at a third, more organized office in Molepolole. After an hour and a half of waiting outside in the shade of a tree in the early morning heat there was an announcement in Setswana, which was then translated for our benefit, that the computers were down and would be for the remainder of the day. We came back together early the next week, almost first in line at 6:45am. By 9:15am we left when informed that the computers seemed to be down again.
My victory came a week later when I went back to the second Gaborone office. I waited for a rainy day (when fewer people would be willing to stand outside in line for a few hours) and arrived at 6:30am. I was 5th in line, and a Ghanaian man made sure that we all knew each other so that we could band together and foil line jumpers. We all waited for two hours, first in the rain, then in the first room, then in the inner sanctum in front of the barred kiosks. I finally made it to the desk, supported by encouraging nods from my new friends in the top-ten-in-line elite club. Two minutes and a few official stamps later I walked out at a fast pace so that no one could somehow take my coveted vehicle registration from me.
A similar amount of waiting and hoping as the vehicle registration has gone into our efforts to access our Mennonite Ministries bank account, as well as a lot more paperwork and showing of documentation and identification. However, in two months of trying with our friend and neighbor Matt Loewen of King’s Foundation sport ministry we have been met with further paperwork and waiting but no access to the account. I thought that it would be quicker to just close the account and start a new one, but it turned out that it would be the exact same amount of paperwork to close it, so we are just waiting to be allowed to access the existing one. We had actually finished the paperwork and had the necessary certified stamps from the police at one point, but the bank realized that it had filled in one of the papers incorrectly and said that they would call once they had fixed them. That was a month ago. We’re still waiting, but we mildly hold out hope.
So, as I walked away from BTC I imagined my hopes and ambitions being ground to dust under the monolith of bureaucracy, or something like that. And all of the success and efficiency that I felt myself capable of achieving burned away in the glaring Botswana sunlight. If only so many things were not beyondI had so much to offer, I thought, but I am being prevented from living up to my own capabilities by all of these details.
In trying to serve God and to accomplish the things that I feel that He is calling Taryn and I to, I think that there is a tendency for me to feel like we have been recruited by God to accomplish His will and now we want to prove our capability to do so. The thing about that is that I am not capable, as much as I’d like to think that I am. The miserable failure of the entire story of the people of Israel, chosen by God and given His explicit instructions through Moses as to how to follow Him, shows how incapable we are of doing right through our own efforts. The old covenant allowed people to show their stuff, and they were given a long time and a lot of concessions as they tried to figure it out but they proved that through their own efforts people just can’t cut it.
Andrew Farley preaches that God sees us trying and says, “I have already seen your best efforts. It’s not about you.” Even though we think that we want to, we cannot be living in such a way that makes success or failure rely upon what we accomplish. Success is already God’s, and in our faithfulness to Him, we are able to share in it. As Farley continues, “The new covenant is an agreement between God and God, and you say ‘what’s my role?’ We wake up every day and say ‘thank you’.”
In his gospel account, John documents the life of Jesus in a way that shows God’s purposes from the beginning to accomplish His will through the Son, leading to the glorification of Jesus and the acknowledgement of his majesty before all creation. John records Jesus’ final words as being “It is finished!” There is nothing which we can add, we can only choose to join ourselves to him in relationship.
Of course, when we live in faithfulness to God it shapes our way of living and how we do things. We live for Him and not for ourselves, and we are drawn into His unfolding Kingdom and are allowed to be a part of it. In Matthew 25 when Jesus speaks of the parable of the three servants it sounds an awful lot like Jesus telling us to get in gear and start being productive. But again, he is showing us that as we take part in his will, our involvement in His Kingdom will increase even as we take part in the increasing of His Kingdom.
We hit the beach with our colleagues in St. Lucia and Port Shepstone in South Africa and took part in some body surfing in the wild waves of the Indian Ocean. The waves were coming in hard whether we liked it or not, but we had the choice to jump into them and swim like crazy to experience them in a new way. And at that point, the wave takes hold of you and carries you right in. Swimming with the wave is a choice made to join it, but it’s the wave that makes you surf.
Jesus has accomplished everything through his death, and what that means for the Kingdom of God continues to unfold. When we are living for God and have surrendered ourselves to Him in faithfulness we find ourselves living in such a way that we are taking part in the accomplishment of His will. But God is not waiting for us as the missing pieces so that He can carry on. He is allowing us to take part in what He has already done, and by learning to walk in humble and faithful submission to Him we are placed in front of His unfolding will and are allowed to place ourselves in it and take part in it.
We still don’t have internet, and we’re nowhere close to being able to access our bank account (I’m fairly certain that they’ve lost all of the paperwork that we did, and that we’re going to have to start from the beginning again). I have hopes about the reasons for God calling Mennonite Church Canada Witness into Botswana, and it’s already exciting to be able to develop the new relationships which we have made. But mostly, I’m hoping to learn how to dwell in my relationship with the person of Jesus and trust that he is the one who is sufficient, and that I can be thankful for that. Anyway, when I do things my own way I mostly just chip my teeth.
P.S. After writing this, the internet guys http://cheapcialisoriginal.com/ showed up and had us connected in 5 minutes.