spilled milk, missionaries, and a map

A full cup of milk is tipped by a three-year-old elbow, forming a small river which seeps into the joints of the table’s ancient wood. I huff and grab another towel, then kneel to reach the puddle formed beneath after I finish up top. My one-year old hurtles green beans from his high chair, narrowly missing my head. They both start in a chorus of whines. I sigh and try not to think about the piles in the laundry room, on my desk, or the entire bookcase of kids’ volumes my son delighted in pulling out one-by-one and scattering while I finished a phone call earlier in the day.

I finish the floor, and balancing the toddler on my hip, sweep damp crumbs from his seat into my dirty towel. On my way to the garbage pail, I catch sight of the map hanging next to our table. I pause.

My mind travels ten thousand miles to the countries we’ve pinned. These are the places our friends have scattered, where they’ve planted their lives. They are harsh, dark places. I think of Travis and Amy, in their Ugandan village at the farthest reaches of one long, solitary road. Measles just broke out, a new battle to fight among many in Bundibugyo, where they went 8 months without refrigeration for the precious vaccines last year. I silently pray for them, for Christ in them.

A couple hours later and my Littles both sleep briefly. I scour photos of kitchens on Houzz and try to make a decision about granite color. It turns out that a renovation, even when hiring others to do the hard part, is still something of a full-time job if you want to do it properly. All the costly decisions involved; what if I choose the wrong backsplash and kick myself for twenty years? The dryer buzzes and I move towards the laundry room to switch loads. On the way, the map again catches my eye. A flag stuck in Mali, the tiny scrawled names of Brett and Sheri, whose work at the new hospital is challenged by Mali’s recent coup. Paint color decisions pale as I remember their last report–the desperate needs in Mali.

Several times each busy day, my eyes land on the map. I try to allow them to rest there for a moment. To see the flags perched on the edge, waiting to be stuck in Japan, in Indonesia. To linger on the ones I turned backwards when I took photos for this post, because some of my friends cannot be named, and are giving their lives away in places I cannot name. I can say vague things, like “Southeast Asia” or “Northern Africa.” I get correspondence from these locals written in code. Yes, these are real battles being fought, you see, and the Enemy is after these warriors. I look forward to seeing our children play together again, to hosting them in our new home this time. For these names I beg Him for safety. That He would spare them from physical danger as they go about His work.

I find myself looking around my suburban Southern home and am well aware of the gifts of our first-world life. I’ve been around the world, seen countless slums and eaten meals in third-world huts. I feel this tension–this great, great tension. Yet the talents we have fit here in the first world. Cancer, the disease of the first world, is what my husband is specialized to fight. So for now, God has made us Senders. We get to be a part of building hospitals in Africa and churches in Japan. But in the hustle of first-world living, we could potentially forget these dear friends who’ve laid down their American lives to be the hands and feet of Jesus elsewhere. So we hang the map right in the middle of our life and pin their names across it.

So you–in your first-world home. Hang a map. Pin the flags in the hard places where your friends serve. If you don’t have friends in hard places, make new friends. Or borrow mine. Pray. Give. Send. But don’t forget them.

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