It happens to every missionary. There is no way around it. Take what precautions you will, and it is still going to happen. Some call it the “Delhi Belly,” others call it “Montezuma’s Revenge.” The medical community refers to it as Viral Gastroenteritis. Regular folk call it the stomach bug. I call it miserable.
On our last day in Kigali, I was blessed to be able to spend the afternoon with my dear friend and ITEM associate Dr. Nathan Chiroma. Nathan has served as ITEM’s primary leader in Africa since ITEM’s founding in 2003. After spending several years serving as the Dean of Theology at Pan-African Christian University in Nairobi, Nathan has recently accepted a new post as Principal at the Africa College of Theology in Kigali. After lunch and a tour of the campus it was back to the hotel to begin packing for our 3:40am flight to Zambia.
Unfortunately, that is when the trouble began. What started off as a bit of queasiness, soon turned into churning nausea accompanied by uncontrollable shivering and a fever, followed by flashes of intense sweating. It’s one thing to be sick in your own bed knowing you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, but quite another to be sick in a strange room and knowing you must get up and drag yourself through three different airports with all the frustrating logistics that are a part of international travel. Oh, and did I mention the bathrooms in international airports?
Nevertheless, that’s what the mission calls for, so that’s what you do. By God’s grace, the nausea began to settle on the first flight to Nairobi. By the time we arrived in Ndola, Zambia and greeted our hosts, I was starting to feel much better. Unfortunately, on the two-hour drive from Ndola to Chingola we navigated a seemingly endless string of potholes and speed bumps, which shook up what had settled down and by the time we got to the hotel, I was feeling ill again.
I don’t ever remember being so glad to see a hotel room. Having arrived around 1:00pm, I slept until 9:00pm. But then the second battle of the bugs began. Before I get to that, however, I am reminded of the reality of mission work. I recently read a biography on Adoniram Judson, the great American missionary to Burma (Myanmar). I recall being struck at how often he was sick during his forty years in that tropical country. In addition to losing two of his wives and numerous children to tropical diseases, he himself spent many months convalescing over the years.
When we think of missionaries, we often imagine the adventurous risk taker, heart ablaze with purpose, eyes filled with steely determination, and feet swift to the task. The glamor often conceals the reality. Missionaries are people too. Every missionary family will deal with various kinds of sickness on a regular basis. Even the apostle Paul and his traveling team dealt with myriad sickness. While my battle with the bug was literally a momentary affliction, it reminded me of the great sacrifices that missionaries make for the spread of the gospel.
Now, for the battle of the bugs part two. Having awakened around 9:00pm, I got a hot shower (yes, indeed), and stumbled out of the room to see if I could find a banana or something light to eat. Having returned, and bedded down for the night, I started to hear a high pitch buzzing near
my ear, the unmistakable sound of mosquitoes. Typically, African hotels have a mosquito net in each room. But none was to be found here. Making matters worse, I had forgotten to pack my repellent. So, I had to fight them the old-fashioned way. Wait them out and kill them one by one. It was guerilla warfare.
The only problem is that there were more mosquitoes than I anticipated. Every time I turned on the lights, within a few minutes I would hear the buzz. Finally, about 4:30am I vanquished the last of the pesky invaders and victoriously crashed into bed for a couple hours of delicious and uninterrupted sleep. While there is nothing profoundly spiritual about this post, it is just a reminder that God’s mission presents constant battles, sometimes even bugs.
That’s all for now. Good night from Chingola, Zambia!