Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese interacts with children on a street in Sana’a, Yemen, in this photo from 2002, the first year she and husband Thomas Froese began their work overseas.
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, April 7, 2018)
HALIFAX – Today’s rumination is about the flags of the world and the hope of the world and the fears of the world, (or at least some fears in Canada), even as it’s about how the children’s mother helped me get over some of my own fears.
We live in a world that’s somehow naturally saddled with fear, true. But Canada, it seems to me, for all it has going for it, is a particular place that can easily let its fears get the better of it
We’re afraid of the lawyers (we’ll get sued!), afraid to let the children go alone (they’ll get abducted!), afraid, even, of unhappy and unhealthy hands (so those crazy hand dispensers now everywhere). Certainly we’re afraid of underachieving and not keeping up with whoever or whatever: this, maybe, the biggest fear whipping this culture’s galloping rate of anxiety disorders.
No, don’t run, don’t dive, don’t even throw a snowball anymore. We do mind our manners, though. (Because we’re afraid not to.) It’s here in the Maritimes where I recently stood amidst those world flags, and the people underneath, where I was reminded, again, that much of the world doesn’t live this way.
The people, about 500, gathered in a public university, Mount St. Vincent, to work through similar issues regarding global mission. They met for several days to consider their skills and passions and how they might offer themselves for the sake of others in less fortunate places.
“Go and let go,” is what these Maritimers heard repeatedly in one way or another. Let go of your fears. Most are blown out of proportion. Let go of your preconceptions. Most are wrong. Risk, because the truth is this: at the end of your life you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.
You, after all, are the hope of a hurting world, even if you’re called to simply go across the street.
“What I notice returning home is this growing preoccupation with safety,” is what Christiane Fox said to me. Back and forth for nine years, the Nova Scotian offers her teaching and life skills to Mabaan women in South Sudan. We talked in a corridor. She’s right, even if South Sudan is not the first yardstick many of us would use to measure these things.
So consider someone like Blair Grier, my airplane seatmate, a Canadian engineer from Lethbridge who lived in New Zealand for five years. “Canadians have no idea,” he told me. “Here, my children really notice it.” That is, they notice the hand-wringing that often drives Canada’s culture. Blair talked at length. I shared my own family’s experiences abroad.
Which brings us to the children’s mother and the summer day we drove down a country road, so long ago now, more than 300 columns ago, before she was the children’s mother or Darling Doctor Wife or even Babe. She was a friend, a young woman going to, of all outrageous places, Yemen. And on that quiet Ontario road she asked, “Would you ever consider going overseas?”
Naturally, I knew myself and my Canadian home and I was very secure in it. (I also imagined myself carrying water in some dusty Yemeni village.) So with honest conviction I said, “No.”
But her question became like bread to a starving man and I somehow knew this too. So before long, for this unique woman, Dr. Jean as she’s known in many places, I was willing to carry that water.
I shared this in Halifax with those people under those flags. Later, I boarded a plane – Jean had to leave days earlier – and thought about it more: how life, when you hold it with loose hands, does give these moments of sweet symmetry. The day I flew home to my bride happened to be her birthday. Home.
Writer-theologian Frederick Buechner puts it this way. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I wonder, then, if the place where you’re afraid to go is the place where your deep anxiety and the world’s deep disappointment meet. I think it is.
There is this other way, though. There always is. Sometimes we just need help to find it.