Three months ago, if you had asked where I would be in June, my answer would have been, “In the jungle!”, with an audible exclamation point in my voice and a visible one on my face.
Due to the pandemic, I have not yet been able to return to the jungle. But would you like to hear some of what God taught me there in the past?
I actually started thinking about this topic before leaving the States. It was a snowy February afternoon in Lewis County and I was off on another adventure to spend time with someone.
As I hopped in the blue car I thanked God once again for dear friends who had lent me their vehicle for the entire eight months of my home assignment. Their generosity made it possible to meet up with financial supporters and other friends, visit my grandparents and run errands, serve in a variety of ministry opportunities, go on adventures with siblings, and arrange speaking engagements without making transportation arrangements for each event.
Driving down the road and enjoying the beautiful scenery of pine trees adorned by snow, I realized how much life was about to change in the upcoming transition.
Returning the car to my friends seemed symbolic of letting go of independence and freedom in returning to my village home. Not only would I no longer have a car to drive, there wouldn’t be places to go or a schedule to plan.
In the village, my routine is determined by the plans of my friends. Our outings include going to the gardens and the river and deep into the jungle. Just so you know, those adventures are far more epic than trips to stores or coffeeshops or restaurants.
But one downside is that I can’t organize a daily routine or meet up with people or go on spontaneous adventures whenever I get cabin fever. Absolutely not! Unless my friends are going somewhere and invite me to go along, I am “confined” to the village limits, since it is considered socially unacceptable and dangerous for a woman to go anywhere alone. The one exception is that when school is in session, it is fine for me to walk the 7 minutes up the path to attend classes, as long as I inform someone of these plans.
In the jungle, the number of friends I can see is very limited. Unless there are visitors from other villages, the maximum number of people in the village is 40, but the actual number is often as few as 15.
During my first two years there, there was no internet, thus, no contact with the outside world.
Does that sound like the kind of life you would choose? Well, some of us do! And I am so blessed and grateful that Jesus sent me to the jungle!
The jungle has undeniably been a place of isolation and separation from the life I had known, far removed from the two worlds I abandoned to become part of a third.
Yet it was there, as my friends taught me verbs, tones, sneaky switcharoos, and cultural norms, God taught me a lot about life, community, holiness, and dependency on His Spirit – lessons that I probably never would have slowed down enough to learn in North America.
I quickly learned that I love small and simple. Having less people around and less options available means having more time and focus to invest in relationships with new friends, immersed in their world. In choosing to become “poorer” as far as options and luxury and independence, I found myself richer in many other ways.
Rather than caging me in, the apparent restrictions opened doors to wide spaces of unimaginable freedom. Limitations led to an adventure of depending on Jesus in a deeper way. He taught me more about what it means to abide in Him, to just live, to be who He created and called me to be.
The jungle has changed me forever. More accurately, Jesus has used the jungle as a tool of sanctification and transformation, faithfully continuing the good work He is doing to make me more like Him.
These aren’t jungle photos, but the journey from monarch caterpillar to chrysalis (look closely inside the jar) to butterfly is an unforgettable picture of transformation.
I long for the day I am allowed to go back and learn more from Jesus and from my village friends. It will be wonderful to be reunited with them so we can spend hours together every day, on epic adventures or just sitting on benches, engaged in conversations while swatting away the bugs. It will be wonderful to once again eat granola for breakfast and rice for lunch 7 days a week, with the occasional surprise meat or fruit, without needing to plan a menu or buy groceries for at least 3 months.
Please understand that my love for jungle life and friends does not mean it is always easy to be there. It hurts my heart to be far away from family and miss out on seeing my nephews and nieces grow up. Going for weeks without a hug is harder than I ever imagined. While in the jungle, I long to worship and fellowship in community with other believers in a language I understand. And those are just normal feelings of loss and longing, not to mention out-of-the-ordinary situations.
During occasional times of crisis, it felt like the walls were closing in and I might be crushed. There was no escape or relief from fear and emotional pain that overwhelmed my heart. It was hard to stop thinking about stressful situations that were right there in the village, when I couldn’t even go for a walk by myself.
But Jesus held me fast and kept me from falling. His joy and grace and peace were more than enough.
The positive aspects of jungle living truly outweigh the negative. And in this adventure of walking with Jesus, even the pain and suffering are part of the blessing He gives.
Now, can I share a secret longing of my heart? For the past four years, I have wished that you, my dear family and friends, could live in the jungle too, at least for a little while.
If only you could spend enough time there to give you a break from your fast-paced, crazy North American lifestyle. I have wished that you could trade all of that for solitude, quiet, peace, fewer commitments, and deeper relationships with fewer people at a time.
I have prayed that Jesus would somehow teach you what He has started to teach me about abiding in Him and just living, finding true joy in Him alone, and genuine delight in having less. I have wished that I could somehow include you in the precious and indescribable experiences He has given me in my jungle world.
And now, all of a sudden, the entire world has changed. Life, as we knew it, has been stripped away for a time. We have been isolated and restricted.
During this unwanted and unexpected transition, can you relate to any aspects of jungle life described above, friends?
Has your world closed in or become smaller in these days? In what ways has your routine been interrupted and your options limited? Maybe all you want is to get out of your house and escape stress and confinement, but you can’t really go anywhere, because it would be dangerous, or socially unacceptable.
Whether it be finances or relationships or opportunities, in some area of life, you probably have less. Maybe you even feel like you are less.
Do you ever feel like you are living in a different culture from the one you knew three months ago? We are so accustomed to having unlimited choices, options, and independence, that it is normal to resist or complain when they are suspended.
Please don’t get me wrong. I never would have prayed or wished for a pandemic or quarantine or lockdown. But I wonder if our loving Heavenly Father, who works all things out for good to those who love Him, might be using this crisis to answer my prayers for you in an unexpected way.
The work Jesus wants to do in our lives normally depends on our response, however. Will you allow Jesus to use this time to renew your heart and mind, transforming you and making you more like Him? What is He saying to you today?
Will you have the courage to make this your time in the jungle?
Even as your heart grieves the real and painful losses you are suffering, will you also look for the blessings and choose to be grateful for the good gifts of the present situation?
By God’s grace, will you sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him, asking what He wants to teach you in this time of isolation, cancelled plans, and uncertainty?