My Story: The 90% You’d Rather Not Hear About

Today we’re thrilled to welcome Ellie Ciccarelli, a vibrant Colorado native who found new purpose in the mountains of Kenya, were she now serves the Digo people with Africa Inland Mission. The honest thoughts in this post first appeared on Ellie’s blog, Kenya Digo It?

The next time you want to ask me, or any global worker, why we’re so tired, please read this first.

Have you ever lived abroad? Have you ever lived among another people group? Have you ever stuck out like a sore thumb no matter where you turn? Have you ever tried to speak a different language 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Have you ever had to be conscious of everything you said, you did, you wore, you ate, you implied, all the time?

For those of you who have, I know you understand this. You’ve lived through it. It’s exhausting, to say the least.

My home is not my safe, comfortable, put-your-feet-up at the end of the day kinda place. It’s not always relaxing, it’s not normal, it’s not quiet, it’s not private. Our home has knocks on the door and feet in and out from 8 am to 9 pm.

That’s 13 hours a day.

Please tell me that if you worked 13 hours a day doing things for other people, trying to love them well, always needing to give something (money, time, pencils, food, phone charger, even the blender), answering questions that are hard to answer, in another language when you can’t even explain things well, that you wouldn’t be exhausted too?

The 10%

This is why AIM’s policy is to take one day off a week, one weekend off a month, and 4 weeks off a year. Because despite the perceived, “you’re at home all day, you’re just talking to neighbors all day, you don’t work a 9-5 job, what do you even do with your life,” notion of those living in developed, western countries, life here is unexplainably draining. As one of our directors says: “Life on the mission field is made up of 10% ministry, and 90% surviving. But people across the world, they only want to hear about the 10%.”

So here, I’m giving you the other 90%. Sometimes I wear the same underwear for a couple days because I have to wash all my clothes in a bucket outside and it’s raining. Sometimes we’ve been waiting at a hospital for 8+ hours with one of our neighbors who didn’t want to go alone, and there’s no drive-through to stop at and pick up food on the way home at 9:30 pm. Sometimes I’m so sick and tired of saying, “I don’t understand,” to people speaking Swahili that I just start agreeing with everything they say. Sometimes I get fed up with people asking me to take them to America because they think they’ll be rich. Sometimes I get fed up with men telling me they want a white wife. Sometimes I get annoyed when matatu drivers yell in my face as I’m already waiting to get on their matatu. Sometimes our power goes off for days and I lose all the cheese, dairy, and meat I traveled over 3 hours roundtrip just to buy. Sometimes I’m angry when we kill a few rats and more keep coming because there aren’t decent rat traps here. Sometimes I’m impatient when I can’t walk into my house and be left alone for more than 20 minutes. Sometimes I get frustrated that my room isn’t relaxing because I have to get up and answer the door every time I sit down again. Sometimes I want to cry when I feel like no matter how much I give, it’s just never enough. And sometimes, these sometimes are all of the time.

Not a carefree adventure. And yet–

I just want people to know that life here isn’t always easy. Life here isn’t a walk in the park and going to the ocean every week. It’s not laughing with your good friends 24/7. It’s not this care-free adventure. It’s difficult a lot of the time, and it’s exhausting a lot more of the time.

That being said, I also want you to understand this is not a plea for pity. It’s not a woe-me, look at my struggles, kinda post. It’s the truth. And the truth is also that most of the time, despite the annoyances, frustrations, impatience, and misunderstandings, I love life here. I love it because this is where God has put me. I love it because I’ve tried to be obedient to Him. Building relationships is meaningful and some days are filled with laughter. When I finally understand a new Swahili sentence I didn’t before, it’s a huge accomplishment. When our neighbors love us back, that makes my heart burst. Life here is also good. I want to make sure you know that. This post is to share about the 90% and try to help those who have never been in this context understand why I say, “I’m tired, I’m worn out, I need a break.”

the most important thing I can remember

The most important thing I can possibly remember is to stay at the foot of the cross. If I were anywhere else, none of this would be possible at all. So, I continue to thank Jesus. I thank the One who, despite all the times when I’m being annoying, frustrating, difficult, needy & demanding, STILL loves me. He loves me unconditionally, in spite of all my sin and shortcomings. And that’s what He tells us to do: to love those around us with the same tenacity, the same unflinching devotion, the same unconditional adoration. All of us.

So we press on.

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