Here's a thought experiment for you.
What if Garrison Keillor and Erma Bombeck had a daughter, married her off to a former Navy Submariner, and sent them both to Africa to translate the Bible into a language that until recently had no written tradition?
You might wind up with a book as honest, compelling, and moving as Through the Outhouse Floor by Barbara Thomas.
In the preface of her charming memoir of a missionary family's life among the Komo people of Zaire, Thomas relates a conversation that informs the tone of all that follows. Soon after her arrival in Africa, she commiserated with a more experienced missionary about the inadequate preparation she had received for the difficulties of her new life. "Why didn't they tell us what it's really like?" The answer was that writing about the daily difficulties and anxieties of life in the mission field had always been considered an unseemly sign of weakness - an admission of human failings among people whose ministry can at times seem something more than human to those of us who choose to stay home in the land of iPods and liposuction. It has not been considered "fashionable" to talk about such mundane details.
Ms. Thomas' writing fills the void with rigorous honesty. She and her husband Paul both discerned a call to mission work early in their lives - before they had even met they wanted to carry the Gospel overseas. Once they were wed, they began the long preparation for work as linguists in Africa - translating the Bible into Komo.
This is a self-portrait without pretense. In their home, a case of Malaria is as common as a head-cold. She and her family are tormented by insects, bullies, international conflicts and local bureaucrats. Privacy seems non-existent. Surprise visitors appear in the windows, stroll through the front door, and invite themselves along on bone-jarring journeys over (usually) impassable roads. Komo hospitality is far less reserved than the kind practiced in the American Midwest of her youth, and Thomas is candid about resenting the imposition. At times she can appear to be peevish or even downright selfish.
Much of this modest author's power comes from her willingness to share her own flaws. That candor about the flesh's weakness helps us to trust her when she turns her attention to the spirit's strength.
But don't let the hardships fool you - this is a very funny book (its title comes from an anecdote about a decaying privy, after all.) In one scene after many years in the forest, she explains to her queasy visiting mother-in-law that the fat caterpillars her son has carried into the house taste just like lobster if you cook them right. In another, she and her husband, Paul share a romantic stroll under the setting African sun. In their hands they carry pails to collect dung for their garden. After a chilling night when Paul awakens to discover a burglar reaching through their bedroom window to steal their short-wave radio, the family acquires a fiercely protective German Shepherd and quite publicly names him Nkoki Bakukuba - "Biter of Thieves".
Through all these events, Thomas trusts in God's plan for her family and for the village of Lubutu that comes to be their home. She sees herself as a sort of a pioneer housewife quietly going about the business of raising a family while her husband does the important work of translating and preaching the gospel.
She says that she is writing to give people a realistic picture of the difficulties missionaries face and she succeeds, but her book shows us much more than that. Through the Outhouse Floor is a love story. Barbara Thomas loves her family. She loves the African people, and she loves God. She writes about love without sentiment and without lyricism, and in so doing takes us on an open-eyed journey of personal sacrifice and transformation that opens the mind, softens the heart, and gives the laugh muscles a good long workout.
As a 21st century liberal Christian, I am philosophically uncomfortable about missionaries. In a way, the entire enterprise smacks of paternal colonialism. Is is appropriate for the western church - so plagued by it's own deep flaws - to set about exporting our religion to other parts of the world? What makes our culture so superior to the ones we seek to transform?
Thomas leaves such theoretical meanderings to folks like me with nothing better to do. She is busy being a mother, wife, friend, neighbor, and citizen in a community where she is the only white woman for miles. She tends her garden, teaches her children, and comes to love and admire the Komo people whom God has called her to serve.
She sets out to be a missionary to the people of Zaire, and winds up being their sister in Christ. Now that's a mission even this left wing nut can get behind.
mrs p Cancer running lifting weights LIVESTRONG at the YMCA treadmill weight nutrition depression God Living Strong at the Y injury YMCA dogs mom walking radiation Weight Lifting cardio friends program theatre body fat long slow run love One for the Five aches elliptical race resistance bands stretching 5K Acting Jeff Galloway chemo doctor family mental health Church Pittsburgh Marathon bluegrass fundraising inspiration patience personal trainer recovery Flying Pig Marathon Jesus Johns Striders Race Report Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon bipolar frustration kentucky knees measurements morning promatx yoga Christmas Marathon Pennsy's Greatest Hits cats clothes heart rate hope lance armstrong life molly poetry rest side effects steelers swimming 10K Actors' Guild of Lexington Blog CT Scan Coach Carrie PET Scan cross training exercise fear feeling good groin healing ice cream livestrong nausea powerlifting run/walk/run stair climber surgery Cancer Fighter Cold Gear Hills Iron Horse Half-marathon Job LSR Mum Nike+ Shamrock Shuffle 3K achilles advent arboretum bmi bodyweight exercises changes charity circuit training cycling dad deadlift diabetes encouragement experts give up goals horses interval training jake kettlebells lean body mass new rules of lifting pacing personal best plateau prayer recumbent bike research shoes sleep strength teeth therapist toe video Blood Easter Endurance Funeral Garmin 405 Homecoming House Insurance Juicing Keeneland Legacy Night PR Pennsyltucky Pittsburgh Relapse Run This Town TRX Training Values aflac arnold ben-gay bench press chafing christian compression shorts dentist dreams faith fat fatigue foreclosure good day half marathon hospitality javarunner john's run/walk shop lou schuler new year nurse pains peg tube powercage progressive resistance. racing rain rapture reboot runners world squat sun block supplements team pennsy tired weather will rogers work #3rightThings 9-11 ACSM AIDS Aquaphor Blessings Bluegrass 10K CSN Cancer Boy Cedar Hill Charles Dickens Class of 82 Classes Colby Road College Compassion Courage Crowdrise Cystoscopy Dee Diet EFM Epiphany Fall Fartlek Fat Man Fat Sick and Nearly Dead Frankfort Gadgets Gramma Grampa Gratitude Grete Waitz Guest HITT HIV Hell Holding Hands Holy Saturday Homer Horse Capital Marathon IVP Ice bath Jacuzzi James Taylor Jesus wept Joe Cross John Izzo Joy KY LaDonna Leg Day Lent Lessons Lexington Little Pennsy Mental hospital Midsummer Night's Run Mindfulness MobileFit Negative Splits Old Frankfort Pike Pilates Podrunner Pre-race Priorities RICE Railrunner 10 Miler Random thoughts Resurrection Reunion Run Bob Run Run Report Run Review Run for the Gold 3K Running Form Running for Sabrina STUPID Shakespeare Skip Brown Speed Spinning Summer Of Speed Sunrise Supersets Tao Te Ching Thank You The Wall Three Right Things Toxic Passenger UK UK basketball Urine Urologist Victory Walk of Shame Warrior Westminster Whole Foods Wind Words Zumba ace bandages addicted agony alwyn cosgrove america anger antibiotic anxiety awake back baseball blood clots blood pressure body glide bonhoeffer books brad calories chinup colonoscopy consistency crazy cycles dentures dip dr. google dumbbells elevation facebook failure farts feet fight for life fitness forgiveness frankenpennsy fun getting started glucosamine glutes goal gremlin grenz grumpy hair hamstrings hiccups high school hot ice incarnation indian food jogging john lennon joint legacy trail liniment lunges machines maker's mark mapmyrun.com medicine ball meds mercy motivation motley fool music nature neighborhood new balance nike noah numbers pennsyltuckian periodization persistence phlebitis postmodern prison professional boundaries progress psychiatrist pullups pushups quads ramble rememberance renewal road running ronnie coleman rowing safety sauna scan-ziety sexy shopping shorts shower sick sleepless snow socks spandex star trek statistics steam room steroids stiff strained muscle strap strength training supination support surgeon survive swackett swiss balls table technology tempo terry bradshaw testicular torsion text thai food that's fit the five thighs walk breaks warm up water fitness water jogging weak wedding ring wellness wife winter workout writing yardwork