‘Africa is for babies’

A personal reflection

December 8, 2015 | Web First
Nathan Dirks | Mennonite Church Canada

“Africa is for babies.” That’s what Andrew and Karen Suderman, our Mennonite Church Canada colleagues in South Africa, assured us before we first left for Botswana in 2013.

As newlyweds embarking on an international ministry assignment, Taryn and I soaked up as much southern African mission knowledge as we could, including the Sudermans’ encouraging words about starting a family while on the mission field. Moreover, their experiences with their own children, highlighted by their interaction last year with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke well to that.

So after a term of our own in Botswana, we thought hey, why not give it a go?

Back in Botswana for our second term of service, our two-month old son Malakai is settling in well. He is doted on by many surrogate cousins and grandmothers, who greet him with a high-pitched, “Ma-lackey-lackey-lackey!”

It’s taking him a little while to get used to the loud exclamations of preachers at church services, but he really seems to enjoy the exuberance of the dancing during worship.

As we begin to discern which areas of our ministry to focus on for our second term in Gaborone, one biblical analogy has taken on new meaning. The mercurial Apostle Peter, himself having grown in wisdom and maturity in the decades following Jesus’ ascension, writes, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Although we believed this concept previously, the craving of a baby for milk, and the blink-and-you-miss-it growth which follows, is now a lot more visceral, thanks to Malakai and his needs. For example, one of his outfits reads: “After party. My crib. 2 a.m.”

That’s about right!

This next term of service with which we have been blessed presents us with the opportunity to grow up in our relationship with God and in our salvation right here in this African context. If we understand salvation to mean, at least narrowly, that we have been released from the captivity of our own brokenness and granted freedom from striving after the meaningless, then we are liberated to simply “be.”

That is, we are free to be who God made us to be, to reach our full potential in God.

Malakai’s craving for milk results in healthy growth. Our own craving for “pure spiritual milk,” which is our seeking after Jesus, brings us into the results that God is enacting.  

So, what does that mean for our second term in Botswana? It means that we’re realizing the need to simply seek after Jesus, not our successes, and the rest will follow.

We feel called to follow Jesus back into the prison where we have been developing deep relationships these past few years. We have experienced God in studying the Bible with our youth, and while we don’t know the exact shape that this should now take, we’re going to follow God into that work. And we’ve experienced the goodness of God in many of the relationships that we’ve been cultivating, and we’re going to see where that leads as well.

As for the different projects with sports and churches, we’re hoping that we’ll get a sense of direction as we move forward, craving Jesus like babies crave milk.

In the meantime, we’ll keep a close eye on Malakai to see how it’s done.

See more about the ministry in Botswana:

A place of beauty
Canadian cyclists raise money for Botswana soccer pitch


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