On November 1st I saw the Saint Boys for the first time since arriving in Nairobi. November 1st was a Saturday, and it reminds me of my first Saturday with the Saint Boys. It reminds me of June 7, 2014.
I alluded to my “calling” in the last post. Now, it is time to give you a bit more history to it. But, before I can tell you about the time of my calling, I think it is important to tell you about a time before my calling. Forgive me for waxing on, but allow me this one more post of prolegomena. Let me now tell you about my proto-calling – my pre-calling – so that when I tell you about the calling, you will have the right context for it.
On the morning of June 7, 2014 I had known the Saint Boys for less than a full day. (In fact, I did not even know all of the boys yet. I would not meet Chinji until the 10th, because he was away at boarding school). The Saint Boys were new to me in almost every way. I could sense that there was a pull on my heart. But, I suppose that you might say it was a half-hearted pull – from young men who were almost strangers.
That morning I retired to the balcony for a cup of coffee (well, several cups of coffee probably) and some journaling. I wrote:
“Nairobi, 8:41 AM – Father, today I am so grateful to be able to spend time with Brian, Patrick, Julius, Nicholas, Dan, and James. I thank you for Chinji too, whom I have not yet met. And I pray for them. I want to meet their needs. But, only You truly can. Use me, and send me, and call me, as you see fit, for the purpose of meeting the needs of these boys: the spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational needs of these boys. (...) I am willing partially, make me willing fully. In Jesus’ name, and for His glory and Yours. Amen.”
The key phrase from this journal entry is “willing partially.”
Now, it is at this time that I suppose I should tell you that this partial willingness did not just come out of the blue. Contrary to what many may think, I did not go to Nairobi a blank slate. Moving to Nairobi to live with the Saint Boys is actually something that had been on my mind – and in my heart – for, well, years before the trip this past summer.
I can’t pinpoint the exact date that it entered my mind for the first time. But, if I had to guess, it was in 2011 or 2012. I do not have a photographic memory. And yet, my memory takes still shots of important occasions. I recall laying in bed in my old home on Barham Road, in Roanoke. I remember saying to myself, “I would really like to be a husband and father.” And, I remember that I felt like the Lord answered me, “You don’t have to marry to be a husband, and you don’t have to bear children to be a father.” Whether it was actually the Lord, I do not know. But, I remember thinking at the time that the word might have something to do with the Saint Boys.
I have another still shot in my memory of an almost identical event. I don’t remember the words, or even the thoughts -- just that it happened. Again, I was laying in bed –but this time the picture in my mind is of a different bedroom, almost a year later (let’s say 2012 or 2013). What makes this memory unique is that I also remember thinking “Well, I suppose I could move to Nairobi and be the Saint Boys’ house parent.” But, the notion seemed crazy to me. The idea was far too radical to be acted upon. And I thought to myself “The Saint Boys probably have a perfectly lovely African house parent already in Nairobi – who understands them and their culture. And, how impractical for me to do this? Plus, would I be living in a corrugated tin shack? Eh – that seems for folks who are…well…not like me.” So, for a host of reasons, I put it out of my head.
Nonetheless, the general concept made an impression on me. I told my accountability partner (Matt Reeve) – and he began following up. I told him that perhaps the Lord has said, "You don’t have to marry to be a husband, and you don’t have to bear children to be a father.” But, I did not tell him that I thought it might have something to do with the Saint Boys. I gave him the abstract word that I thought may have been from the Lord, but not the concrete expression of it. (I find that is the safest way to do accountability.) In fact - I didn’t tell anyone this detail – not even him. That was between me and Jesus. And I wasn’t even positive that it was between me and Jesus – because I wasn’t sure that any of these words or ideas had come from Him.
One final caveat: Missions has been in my heart for at least four years. I remember when I decided I wanted to go into insurance -- in 2010 -- telling my Dad, “Well, you know – it could be good. The flexibility of an insurance job could allow me to save money for school and even get a PhD overseas someday. Or, it could allow me to spend multiple months out of the year in Africa.” And, I seem to remember “Africa” meant “the Saint Boys” in my thoughts. But, “Africa” and “The Saint Boys” never got much publicity. And mostly I let these exciting, but troublesome, ideas get lost in the mix.
Nonetheless, I planned to visit the Saint Boys for four years. But, every year something got in the way. There was always some reason not to go. There was always some excuse. “Too much money!” Or “Not enough time!” were the usual distracters.
But, I told Mom and Dad, “If I don’t get into Oxford, then I think I’m going to go visit the Saint Boys in the summer of 2014.”
When I didn't get into Oxford the rubber met the road. And at that time there was one last “word.” But, I still wasn’t sure it was from the Lord. This word came after Mom and Dad had asked me to go to Africa in June. I was in my apartment on Wasena Avenue. Again, it is a still shot – a picture of me standing just in front of the bench in my former living room. And the thought came into my head: “I think this could be it. I think the Lord may want me to move to Africa to care for the Saint Boys. What am I going to do to prepare myself – just in case God does want me to do this?”
I felt that I should begin reading Mother Teresa’s “Come Be My Light.” And, then, before going to Africa I spent a week at the beach – taking long walks almost every day to pray and try to get my head and emotions in the right place. I remember day after day walking along the shore and saying, “Lord, I submit everything to you. Take me where you want me. Is this from you? Is this what You want me to do? Show me.”
As you can see from the journal entry above, on Saturday June 7 my thoughts were still not clear. The ambivalence was as great as ever. I had met the boys. And I knew that I was beginning to really care about them, after just one day. But, I could not say that I was “called.” And I could not say that I was “willing.” I could only say “call me” and “I am willing partially. Make me willing fully.”
For the rest of Saturday and Sunday the Holy Spirit began to pursue me and woo me more strongly than He had in many years. And what was He saying? Sunday, June 8, I sat on the balcony and wrote this in my journal:
“Nairobi, 9:15 AM: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Lord Jesus, yesterday (...) I felt as though I could hear you say ‘Come, carry my easy yoke on your neck. Take up my light burden. Come, find rest.’
(...) Yesterday I prayed that You would make me fully willing. This morning I am not only willing, but wanting. But, how can I know if this is from You? How much self is in this? I fear my own selfishness – which is insidious and deep.
I confess that over the last twenty-four hours I have wanted to be Your man for taking care of the Saint Boys. I find myself not just willing, but afraid You will send someone else. ‘Who will go for me? And whom shall I send?’ ‘Here am I, Lord Jesus, send me!’
But I am unworthy for this task. I am full of sin and weak. But, I want it. I am ready to lay down my previous hopes and dreams for it.
Nonetheless, I pray forgive me for my deep selfishness.
I pray – do for these seven Saint Boys – Nicholas, James, Brian, Patrick, Julius, Dan, and Chinji – whatever is truly best for them.
I believe, or perhaps I should say, I think that I am willing to move here and care for the Saint Boys myself. Yet, it is possible this is some fleeting emotion. It is possible this false feeling will pass. You alone (not I) know whether I am truly willing."
I’ve gotten longwinded. So, the story of my “calling” itself will have to wait for another time. But, you are now abreast of the things that led up to it. You now know of the four years that the idea was in my mind – in some form or fashion. You know of the times that I blew it off or reasoned it way. This calling was pregnant in me long before it was born. I suppose that is how most callings are.
I don’t do this often, but I would ask you – the reader – "What calling is pregnant in you?" Some pregnancies last longer than nine months. Mine lasted for four years. Will you let it play out? Don’t abort it! Let it be. Let the Holy Spirit nurture it inside of you.
For, I have found that when a calling comes to full term, it erupts from you violently. You can keep it in for a long while. But, when the days are at full measure, the Holy Spirit will bring it out – like an infant from the womb.