By far the most frequent question I was asked over the last 6 months was, “What will you be doing in the Solomon Islands?” A seemingly straight-forward question turned out to be much more difficult for me to answer than I expected. There were several factors in my particular situation that led to this difficulty.
Practical factors such as communication, instability, and financial resources were influential.
Communication between me and the Hicks (Jonathan and Tess – missionaries with SAMS-USA and CMS-New Zealand who I will be working with) was limited. It seems that Malaita—the island I will be living on in the Solomon Islands—has, thus far, kept clear of the entangling web of high-speed, reliable, accessible, and ubiquitous internet. Over the seven months of planning, I was able to exchange a few emails and have one Skype call with Jonathan.
Instability was an ingredient in both my inability to plan and the Hicks’. Up until June, I was not sure if the dates I hoped to be in the Solomon Islands would work for me, or for the Hicks. Jonathan’s own role working with the Anglican Church of Melanesia was potentially shifting. He and Tess were also planning some time outside of the country. In danger of stating the obvious, I find it difficult to plan what a team can/should do together when the players are not sure when they will all be in the same place!
The ambiguity associated with raising financial support (not to mention visa applications!) was a factor in my own instability. The length of my stay and the date of my departure were both dependent upon how much was in the piggy bank, so to speak. Also, what I would end up doing was probably linked to how much money I would have available to me.
On the whole, I did not find it too difficult to explain to most people the practical factors limiting my ability to plan what I would be doing. What I soon discovered, however, was that it was difficult to answer, “what will you be doing?” because I was not thinking about six months in the Solomon Islands in those terms. I was certainly imagining what daily life could be like on an isolated island in the Pacific. What I was realizing, however, in six months of struggling to answer this simple question is that, from my perspective, what I will do is different than why I am going.
Why I am going is easier for me to answer.
- I am going because I want to learn what it is like to live in another place, among people who engage the world differently than we do in the United States.
- I am going to get a taste of living internationally because Kyria and I are considering long-term international Christian life and work.
- I am going to learn what it is like to be a Christian on the Island of Malaita and to see the ways in which it is similar and dissimilar to being a Christian in the United States.
- I am going in order to see if I have an aptitude and an affinity to longer term life and work in another culture.
How I will accomplish the “why I am going” is the answer to “what I will do,” but much of it will be, frankly, quite banal. It will be the nitty-gritty of daily life, for the most part. I will be eating and drinking foreign foods, and sleeping in a foreign place. I will be learning to speak in a foreign language. I will be acclimating to a foreign climate, hearing unfamiliar sounds, and seeing unfamiliar colors. I will be taking care of basic hygiene. I will be employed to some (hopefully useful and meaningful) capacity. I will be doing a lot of observing and writing, taking ravenous notes in multiple (pen and ink) notebooks. I will be taking pictures and recording sounds and conversations. I will be forming relationships with people. I will be attending/participating in local (Christian) worship services, and learning to worship according to the local (Christian) custom.
There is more that can be said. Like poetry and prose or the WHY and the WHAT, maybe being and doing shouldn’t be separated too tidily.
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