hen I moved to Ethiopia to serve with the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), in my heart I followed the example of the explorer Hernando Cortez and mentally "burned the ships". I intended to spend a career there, and did not want to be tempted with the option of quitting. I have no doubt that that helped me to last as long as I did. And I am confident that God graciously used that for some good in spite of the pride that it entailed. But I am thankful that he graciously did not leave me there.
I learned a lot of lessons in Ethiopia, but one of the big ones related to my own limitations. I think that sometimes you have to be brought to the end of yourself in order to learn that. It seems that I needed it, at least! Our life there was good, but it was challenging. I was trying to do too much, do too many jobs. And, while that would've been hard in my home culture, it was exponentially more challenging in a foreign one. Through the years, the stresses took their toll and it became evident that it was affecting me. Frankly, I was becoming a kind of person that I did not care for.
God graciously intervened one day when my wife and I were sitting at a table with a godly couple at a conference in Kenya. Stan Key, the PAACS chaplain at the time, and his wife Katy were talking with us about our situation in Ethiopia. They had previously served as missionaries in France, and they had experience having to leave the mission field. In fact, they have learned a lot from the pain that had caused them in their past. As my wife and I were sharing our challenges with them, Katy said something that God used in a big way to get my attention and redirect my heart. We had a trip back to the United States coming up in the next few months. Katy asked us if we had considered the possibility of leaving our return to Ethiopia optional, with the possibility of not returning. As soon as she had said it, I said in my heart in a way that was as definite as if it had been audible, "Lord, do not ask me to do that. I will not do that." Whoa! My spirit immediately checked against that. I do not get to say that!
In that moment, God flipped the light on to show me where I had placed something above him. I was holding onto something in such a way that I was not interested in his Lordship over it. And that is idolatry. Over the next year, we did consider what Katy had suggested. In fact, when we returned to the United States, we arranged for counseling regarding this decision. In the process, it became abundantly evident that I was not in a healthy place and we needed to return.
It was interesting. Once the light had been turned on, and I realized that the ships really weren't burned and that God might have other options, it became much clearer about my limitations and my frailty. You don't get to redline the engine forever! And, after you have redlined it long enough, you don't bounce back immediately. It takes some time. God has been so kind since we've come back. It is taken a long time, longer than I ever would have imagined. But I'm thankful that he has been there and has helped us. I have definitely learned some lessons. One of the main lessons is that I still have a lot to learn! I certainly have not figured it out. But I am thankful for learning a little bit about margin and about limitations, that there always comes a point that I need to step back, rest, and say no.