God started where I was in moving into mission
Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, writer for Mennonite Mission Network
As a soon-to-be college graduate, I self-righteously spewed statements about the imperialistic nature of post-Enlightenment people doing mission in faraway countries. But as the countdown to the transition from student to gainful employee dwindled from months to days, I had only one job offer – to teach physical education and coach sports in a small, rural high school in the Midwest. I was looking for more adventure, so I signed on to teach in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The three years that I lived and worked in Zaire became one of the great formative experiences of my life. Those years moved me from cocky self-assurance to realizing that I wasn’t in control of much of anything. I taught in a village school during the week, and on weekends learned how to plant and harvest manioc with a short-handled hoe and machete. I learned how to steer a dug-out canoe and paddle standing up. I observed initiation ceremonies in the forest and listened to stories around evening fires. I witnessed births and deaths, events that had, for me, always been hidden by hospital walls. I engaged in life-or-death combat with two green mambas and a viper, three separate battles. I realized that I needed God’s strength when my courage failed. I needed God’s wisdom, because my knowledge was useless in the world in which I found myself. My relationship with God deepened and Jesus’ shalom became awesome good news.
People welcomed me with open hearts almost everywhere I went. They shared their food and their living space, everything they had. At the end of my assignment, friends walked the long path out of the village with me to a main road where I would beg a ride on a truck to the airport. There on the path, a great sadness overwhelmed me. I realized that my friends had shared everything they had with me, but I hadn’t shared the good news of Jesus with them. It was a Damascus Road call – minus the lightning.
I asked God to give me another chance, which was granted four years later, when I had the privilege of working with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network, in Benin, West Africa, from 1985-2000.
Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network. She attends Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.