By Anna Johnson
As our family’s time as missioners in Tanzania stretches into its fifth month, there are many days that I look around East Africa and wonder aloud, “What am I supposed to be doing here?” As my husband and I begin exploring ministry options, we often find ourselves asking ourselves, “Is this a good ministry? Are we meeting a real need?” Throughout the day we are approached by children, women, and men asking for jobs, money, and food. It happens while we drive, while at the market, and even at the gate to our own home. Many of my early morning walks are filled with the prayer, “God: What is the right thing is to do?”
And then, after almost 150 days of asking God the same question, he gave me an answer. And the answer (as it often is when coming from God) was unexpected: I’m not asking you to do; I’m asking you to be.
In the first reading from Exodus this Sunday, we hear about Moses apologizing yet again for his “stiff-necked” people. Over and over the Israelites turn from God and rely on their own worldly knowledge and strength (their own “doing”) to make their way in the world. And, over and over, God shows us his true nature, “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Over and over again, God gives us an example of how to show-up, of how to be.
In the second reading, Paul encourages the people of Corinth, explaining to them how to be with one another. He enjoins them to “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another [and] live in peace.” This time, instead of explaining God’s nature, Paul is asking us to exemplify God’s nature on our own, asking the early Christian followers to be like Christ Jesus in our dealings with those around us. To show up as someone that encourages others, someone that mends rather than tears apart, someone that is agreeable in situations and looks to make peace wherever possible.
Finally, in this Sunday’s Gospel, John gives us one of the most well-known and probably most quoted versus of the Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life […] that the world might be saved through him.” I believe that if we let go of our “stiff-necked” and self-centered ways, if we quit trying to do it our way, and we truly turn to Christ and imitate his way of being (merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity, encouraging, agreeable, peaceful,) we will not only find ourselves being lifted up into life, but we will be given the strength to extend our hand outward to lift others up, as well.
And so, what I’m realizing here in Tanzania (yes, God had to drag me literally to the other side of the world to teach this stiff-necked missioner) is that it really has nothing to do with what I am doing. It has everything to do with who I am being. My job here in Tanzania is to wake up each morning committed to being gracious, merciful, kind, encouraging, and faithful. It’s what we are all being called to in this Sunday’s readings – whether serving abroad in mission, working back home in the States, retired, or still in school. We are called first to be; the doing (eventually) will follow.
Maryknoll Lay Missioner Anna Johnson, a registered nurse, serves in Tanzania with her husband, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kyle Johnson, and their three children. The family volunteered together at an orphanage in Mexico before moving to East Africa.
Featured image: Anna and her children rest under the shade of a building on a hot day in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Anna Johnson/Tanzania)