Why February?

They say it’s all about timing. God’s timing especially. That’s the case for all of us; for itinerating missionaries, it’s just harder to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.

Ever since this past spring, I’ve been telling people that February 2014 is my target leave date. I settled on that time frame mostly because my summer trip to West Africa pushed back when I could complete MTW’s required, month-long Cross-Cultural Ministry Internship. It’s offered twice a year, and since I couldn’t do it this past July, I’ll be completing it in January 2014. So February it is for moving to West Africa!

Well I can’t even book a plane ticket until my budget is 100% covered in pledges. I realized this past week that February is only 5 months away — whoa! With my support thermometer temporarily stalled out at 57%, I’ve started wondering if my goal to leave in February 2014 is still feasible. This week I also found out that the SIL International branch which I’m joining in West Africa is able to accommodate new arrivals in 2014 during the months of February or August. Understandably, new missionaries can’t just show up at any time if they are working with an organization that coordinates their orientation to the country. That orientation requires a lot of planning and personnel. So it’s looking like I have 2 windows of opportunity if I hope to arrive in 2014. If I can’t leave in February, at this point, I’d be waiting until August.

Well my tune hasn’t changed; if anything, I’ve grown a bit more urgent for leaving in February. So, why the hurry? (Other than the fact that I’m chomping at the bit to get started in language and gospel work in West Africa…)

A lot of it has to do with a people group called the Beliyan. I started learning about them in January when I was doing research for a course project at GIAL. The Beliyan are primarily animistic, with a Christian minority. There are several small churches among the Beliyan, but they have no translation of the Scriptures in their mother-tongue of Oniyan. The translation team hopes to finish the New Testament in the next few years. Meanwhile, the literacy rate among the Beliyan is less than 1%. So even as Beliyan pastors are given portions of the Gospels or Epistles, they probably aren’t able to use them. If they are going to read and preach from the Oniyan Bible, they first need to learn to read.

There’s been success in church-based literacy workshops among the Beliyan, which SIL hopes will continue to lay a foundation of reading among church leaders. That way, the translated Scriptures will actually be used once completed, and the gospel will be proclaimed in the language that reaches the hearts of the Beliyan. But one of the main families involved with Beliyan literacy is leaving the country in May 2014. They will be returning to the US. I met them during my trip, which is when they gave me that news. “If you could get here by February,” they told me, “that would be ideal, so that we could introduce you to the Beliyan people we know and train you in the project.” Of course, nothing is set in stone. But I came back from my trip with even more reason to leave in February.

And yet, my time frame is merely a plan, a goal that I can only hold out to God with open hands. This is where I’m left, somewhere between urgency and patience. There’s a 43%-sized mountain that I’m walking toward. I press onward because there’s no other direction in which to go, but it’s definitely not by sight that I walk…

Stay tuned folks!


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