Missionary Diary: On disappointment with God

In 2019 we experienced significant displacement on home assignment, and six weeks after we arrived back in Tanzania, COVID hit and we went into five months’ isolation working from home with the kiddos trying to do online school. Things didn’t go as predicted in Tanzania and we thanked God that the 2020/2021 school year was able to start in person. But only a couple of months into that school year, we started to become very concerned for the wellbeing and even safety of one of our sons. It took months to see any action, during which time he continued to deteriorate. That school year also finished with me working flat out in my fieldwork because of visa uncertainty as we faced the possibility that we would have to leave Tanzania prematurely.

But here we are at the end of 2021 and the new school year has brought the opportunity for both boys to flourish; my fieldwork is done; Arthur’s happy and fulfilled in his work; we are on good terms with the relevant authorities; and COVID continues to be relatively minor, flaring up for a bit and then dying down of its own accord. Arthur and I recently reflected together that it seemed like everything was just kind of normal, with no crisis to deal with. It’s like a Sabbath, we said to each other. We thanked God for a period to breathe and be productive. That was three weeks ago. Sixteen days ago, our water was cut due to a shortage attributed to climate change.

We’re getting on with it, but it’s definitely a crisis …

While for some people it’s only out for two or three days at a time, we are being told to settle in for a long haul of not having running water. It’s a big change, requiring us to set up new mental and infrastructure systems in our home, not unlike what we had to do at the start of our COVID isolation period. Like then, all my energy is going into setting that up; productivity has taken a nosedive. We are not the only ones experiencing this, and there are additional burdens and privileges of caring for others in the same situation. We’re getting on with it, but it’s definitely a crisis – access to clean water is pretty foundational to human survival, let alone flourishing.

So our Sabbath lasted about a week. It feels like we clawed our way to the top of a mountain to take only one step and then fall off a cliff. The difference between “wow, everything is just kind of going OK at the moment” and “we’re not sure how we will maintain basic hygiene in our home” is significant.

And I feel disappointment in God, maybe even a bit betrayed, that he gave us something so beautiful in its precious stability, only to snatch it away so soon after. Isn’t he the Father who gives his children bread to eat, not stones?

'Madumu' containers, formerly filled with palm oil, are used to transport water in Tanzania

‘Madumu’ containers, formerly filled with palm oil, are used to transport water in Tanzania

And yet, I know that I am not innocent in this water shortage. We drive a car, we use a washing machine, our passport country refuses to take reasonable action on climate change. Good parents instruct their children in care and consideration and then they let their children experience natural consequences. As people pray for rain, I wonder why they want God to do something so miraculous when we have not done our part caring for his earth. And yet, it’s not those who are the greatest culprits of climate change who are experiencing the hardship (at this stage, anyway); it’s actually those whose carbon footprint has been smallest who are most vulnerable. We just happen to be living among them, seeing it firsthand, seeing the injustice in God’s world, feeling angry.

But there are small mercies as well. When we were talking to our CMS handler about our too-short Sabbath she said, “But imagine if this crisis had come when you were in the midst of those other crises!” I remembered the pompous catchcry of ‘Fireman Sam’ (from the kids’ TV program): “One thing at a time!” And it is a mercy, that though we would have liked a little longer to draw breath and recover, as this crisis reduces our capacity, we are not running on empty. So, somehow, we can still say that the Lord is not only taker, he is also giver. Blessed be his name.