While I was visiting the States this month I was asked a series of questions with few variations. Well, that’s not true, someone asked me where my hair was going and that was a variant to the norm. But I realized that there are a lot of questions floating around in the heads of my friends and apparently I’m not doing a good job of communicating the answers. So let’s give it a shot and get you up to speed on my life, the future, and what’s going on with Jay (that’s me!).
1. How long have you been with Mercy Ships again?
Contrary to what Kevin has been telling people, I’ve been on the ship for 16 months as of tomorrow. And that’s no April fools. I’ve actually been “with” Mercy Ships for almost two years, but they don’t count fundraising or training in your commitment. If you like dates, I got to the ship December 1st, 2010, which means I spent all but 3 weeks of 2011 in Africa.
2. When are you done with your commitment in Africa?
That’s the tricky question, but it’s looking like September of this year. Technically my commitment is up at the end of November, but I have permission to leave in September if the job in France I’ve applied for comes through.
3. What’s been the most difficult part?
This, among many of the following questions, can be hard to answer. But I think the most challenging part has to be the turnover. In Sierra Leone we saw something like 1,600 people come to the ship and leave on a short term basis. That’s a lot of new faces, all the time. It gets difficult when the friends you make start to leave, and others that were supposed to stay have to go because of medical or family problems. You say goodbye a lot on the ship, and it becomes difficult to remain open to people.
4. What’s been the biggest highlight?
This is hard to pin down, but the people are probably the highlight as well. In spite of the inherent challenges in living with 400 people in a metal box, I’ve made some amazing friends and shared some experiences I’ll never forget (or be allowed to forget). You also get to see a lot of lives changed. It’s a unique place to be and years of experience packed into months.
5. What has God been teaching you?
The answer I gave the most consistently to this was “Grace.” I don’t mean to be pat, because every good Christian will answer like that at some point, but I really have. It’s a long story, but God’s been changing his relationship with me in some fundamental ways that have undermined my self righteousness. Self righteousness I wouldn’t have even labeled as such until I saw it crumbling away to the side. Without the crutches of the things I thought I was doing for God, I’ve realized I was relying on them subconsciously to provide for my salvation in some small way. The truth is that if God is going to save me, He’s doing it simply because He wants to. It can’t be me, because I’ve been shown just how ridiculously debased I can be even when I think I’m being a good little Christian. It’s also incredibly freeing to realize that God loves me so much that He’ll save me in spite of myself. That’s a relief, and it brings some massive joy with it.
6. Are there any girls on the ship?
I generally took this literally, answering that there’s something like 3 girls to every guy on the ship. It’s not like the maritime culture of old, in the new model we welcome women on board en masse. This elicited groans and slaps and other forms of disapproval. Lesson learned. I’ll say this: yes, and she’s really cute.
7. When is your next book coming out?
Not soon enough, apparently. I just finished the biggest portion of the editing process and am hoping the whole thing will be done and ready to release next month (April, 2012). Don’t hold me to that too closely. I’m still waiting on my cover art to be finished.
8. Will you move back to Spokane when you’re done?
Odds are against it. I can’t speak too firmly to the future, Lord willing I’ll still be alive to see it, but I don’t currently feel pulled to Spokane, and there’s nothing in the way of real work for me there. There are amazing people in Spokane, which is the main draw for me, but I’m hoping to pursue a career in writing and Spokane isn’t conducive to that for me. We’ll have to see what happens.
9. OK Mr. Suckypants, you aren’t coming back to Spokane, we don’t want you anyways. Where will you end up next?
Not everyone phrased it that way but some people were displeased with my answer to #8. I do appreciate that they care enough to beat me about the head for it. The answer to this is also uncertain, but as I mentioned above I’ve applied to teach English in France again. This would be perfect for me for a number of reasons:
1. It’s France, the place where my heart lives. It’s hard to live without organs.
2. France, Paris in particular, is an incredibly stimulating place for me to be. I love the language, the culture, food, architecture, everything. When I wrote my second book it took me 8 months (Jan-Aug) to write 15 chapters on the ship. During the 3 weeks I was in France on vacation I wrote 18 chapters. There’s a distinct difference there (in quality as well as quantity – just ask R.H. Culp, who literally picked out the chapters I wrote in France as being superior without realizing it).
3. Teaching English is easy, it’s not demanding and it’s low hours. This is perfect because the only reason I’m doing it (or would do any job at this point) is to pay the bills and get into the country legally. This leaves lots of time for thinking, dreaming, pre-writing, writing, and staring at frogs.
4. Did I mention the food?
10. Are you glad you’ve spent the last two years of your life with Mercy Ships?
Holy crap, two years? Wow. At first glance I didn’t realize that it had been that long. But the answer is yes, I’m really glad for it. I’ve grown so much through my experiences here. It hasn’t been easy, in fact I’d say that most of it has been really difficult for me. But what’s life without struggle? Seriously, that’s where we grow the most and I’ve grown and learned so much about myself that, to me, it’s no wonder God brought me here. I hope I’ve been of help, and I hope that being here has made a difference, but in reality I’m just a drop in a much larger bucket. I think I’ll walk away having been changed more than having changed anything.
If you have any questions of your own, feel free to fire away in the comments below.