I remember having a postcard with a photo of a sunset sky on a seaside, with waves rushing over huge rocks beneath the cliff, where a beaming lighthouse stands satisfied. A sunset offers a marvel that has a capacity to expand someone’s heart out. But it was not for that reason why I kept with me that postcard for long. It was the caption underneath that said: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.”
I am led back to these lines as I reflect upon my stay for more than a year here in Cameroon. Somehow for me, it captures how I would describe my experiences up until now in this side of Africa: I am not made to stay in the harbor of my safety. Every missionary is – or should be. So does for those who prepare themselves to be in their rank.
Before setting out to sail, I was told more than enough times that it would not be easy. I was encouraged. I was discouraged. Yet, I did answer positively to some challenges posed before me that made me left my “harbor” in order to live out what I am built for – or at least, of what I convinced myself to be. Indeed, it was –no, it is– not easy. When difficulties in mind become concrete, they usually are of different forms far more than estimated. Confidence in the self is not even enough to match up these challenges in pairs behind me. Especially in the beginning, finding oneself in the midst of unfamiliar things and people is not an easy task. Many times, it is more of “losing” than “finding” – losing for things familiar and comfortable, losing the fluidity of expression, loss for words even.
Entering into a culture not my own felt like walking on tiptoes, paying attention on every side, observing patiently and stumbling repeatedly until I was able to walk again normally and candidly. Anyone who has walked on tiptoes knows what I am talking about. How many times did I embrace myself in frustration! Add to that the fact that learning a new language is not really as fun as it sounds like. Many times was I unable to express myself or was misunderstood because of my limitations in this aspect. This is especially true during a class with French as a medium of instruction.
Again, tiptoeing, stumbling, observing, settling… it takes a lot of getting used to. In the face of these challenges, I am brought to ask if it was even a right decision to sail out in the first place. And sometimes, there won’t even be enough time to look for answers. The tam-tam is made to sound to signal a start of a new day. But somehow at times, there’s really nothing new for me, only another day.
Nonetheless, I never cease to hold on the joy I felt when I accepted the challenge to sail away from my harbors of safety and come here. I reminisce that unexplainable feeling that moment on the airport when I said: “this is it!” as the plane started to take off; with it, my feet taking off from the grounds of my beloved Philippines. I saw it firsthand the richness there is in the strangeness of things, in the unfamiliarity of the surrounding, even in the uncertainty of tomorrow.
There is so much to learn from them. More than these, there is a gladness of heart in being able to share the mission of Jesus Christ. These are enough for me to see me through my days up until French naturally flows out of my mouth, or until the sound of tam-tam becomes music to my ears, or perhaps until I learn how to dance on tiptoes! Hardships and challenges, I could over and over tell. But they are not all of it. What counts is how they are made to be integral parts of my integration to where I am now.
And so as the days rolled into weeks and weeks into months, I saw before me a life that I could have spent otherwise with entirely different throngs of people and entirely different set of experiences elsewhere. I could have chosen to stay afloat in the safety of my harbor. But that is not I am built for. That is not what each of us is built for. Somewhere along my life, I did say ‘Yes’ to Someone -or something- and from then on, there was only a sailing on, a moving forth.