Summer 2023 newsletter
Kyle Johnson, Tanzania
Someone once told me that the only true failure is when we don’t learn from our mistakes and then make the same ones again. I’ve also heard that failure is a much better teacher than success, as that is what creates humility.
On mission, I find myself being humbled on almost a daily basis. It takes many forms with failure being a frequent culprit. I often fail at language, and even when I don’t do that, I fail at understanding cultural nuances. I frequently make the same mistake twice and sometimes I just want to pack up my bags and leave — the ultimate failure.
On mission, I find that failure often bites into pride I didn’t even know I had.
Perspective is also humbling. Trying to shop for shoes at an outside market is frustrating. A sense of indignation comes over me when I feel like I’m being overcharged. I don’t even want to counteroffer when I feel offended at the “stupid foreigner price” I just got quoted. Why can’t people just put on stickers with the prices? “Way more efficient,” my American mind tells me. “I can teach these people a thing or two about business.” And maybe I can.
But what are they teaching me? I see some kids wearing rags and with no shoes walking down the road. I don’t know where they live, but I’ve seen some of the mudbrick houses in the area, so I can imagine. Suddenly, my anger around shoe bargaining seems ridiculous.
Then I remember that I don’t have to go much farther into town before I run into an old man panhandling on a street corner. His feet are completely deformed, and he can’t walk. Where is my pride now? All I feel is shame.
I am grateful to be on mission. It is humbling. The situations I experience on a regular basis challenge my perspective and can challenge my faith as well. But I work through it.
I thank God I have my wife to talk to and the longtime missioners who live nearby and can lend a sympathetic ear when needed.
Life is a sine wave that cycles us through periods of desolation and consolation. Mission seems to magnify the waves. The good days are amazing. The bad days can be incredibly despairing. But I work through it.
As a joke, I used to tell my wife that I take pride in how humble I really am. Of course, I was joking, but I know that I’ve always been a little arrogant. It has served me well. I’m a confident man that can “get the job done.”
But on mission, I frequently fail to get the job done, or I suddenly realize that I am working on the wrong job entirely.
How do I even know what the right job is, or what the right action is? I’m learning how to know. It is by closing my lips, opening my heart, and by listening. That is what humility is to me. It is realizing how important listening really is and just how bad at it I really am. But I am working through it.
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Really enjoyed your commentary Kyle and your hard-won insights. Blessings on you and your family in Tanzania.
Thank you Sr. Theresa. We have spoken about you several times since arriving. We appreciated your class so much. Thank you for your words of encouragement and blessings. Anna and I send our love to you and to all the Sisters. Please tell everyone hello for us!
So well said, Kyle. You’ve really articulated well a lot of what I experienced during my time in Tanzania too. Thank you for sharing your experiences and challenges, and for persisting in the immensely difficult and rewarding work of learning to listen (which is my personal lifelong challenge). Many blessings to you and your family!