Carla Unseth

A Question of Comfort

“Would we be able to live in Africa for a year?” This was the question that we came to answer on my latest trip to Africa with my family. However, while we were there, I began to realize that we were attempting to answer the question the wrong way. Our inclination was to equate our ability to live there with the level of comfort that we would feel. Our initial feeling was to hang the answer on questions like “Will I be able to handle the heat?” and “How will I live without electricity?” and “Do I feel comfortable taking a bucket bath?” 

However, I quickly realized that these are not the right questions to ask. Why? Because life overseas is not comfortable. In the United States we have thousands of conveniences – so many that they have become part of our daily lives and we would have difficulty living without them. We feel a bit lost without Wi-Fi, and the thought of living without electricity is almost laughable. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with these conveniences. They are very useful and make certain aspects of our lives easier. We only move into the territory of “sinful” if these conveniences keep us from serving the Lord. 

And that is where missionary work comes into direct conflict with comfort. 

Let’s be honest – if the choice to live in difficult ministry locations was based on comfort, no one would go. It is inherently not comfortable. It will never be easy to haul water to the backyard in a black bucket to warm it for bathing in the evening. It will never be convenient to only be able to plug in certain appliances on a sunny day so you can use solar power. It will never be comfortable to try to concentrate on your work while drops of sweat roll down your back since there is no air conditioning. No, if the decision to go into missions was based on the answer to the question of “Will I be comfortable?” no one would ever go.

The truth is, God does not guide us through comfort.

Instead, the answer to our question of whether or not we should live in Africa for a year will come through an understanding of God’s calling. The real questions we must ask are “What is God calling me to?” and “Will I be able to fulfill that calling in this location?” 

Personally, I have known the answer to the first question for many years. God has gifted me and called me into Bible translation. Living and working with a people group in Africa where a Bible translation is taking place does fit that calling. 

The second question is a bit more complicated. Sometimes the answer does have to do with comfort. The important thing is that the question has changed from “Will I like it here?” to “Can I serve the Lord effectively here?” If a missionary is only able to “survive” in a certain location, and is not able to actually do any ministry, it is not a good location for them. They are not fulfilling their calling. So we also need to be careful that we don’t begin to equate a lack of comfort with calling. It is not more holy to go somewhere that is so uncomfortable that you can’t actually fulfill your calling. Once again, we must return to the question of “Can I serve the Lord effectively here?” We must not be afraid to leave comfort behind, but we must also be comfortable enough that we have strength for ministry. 

So for us, we will take a realistic look at whether we can effectively serve God while living in West Africa. For now, it looks like the answer is that we will need some assistance from fellow-missionaries, but with that, we will be able to serve God there. 

And so, we continue to pray “God, help me not to be guided by comfort, but by your calling on my life. Give me the strength to give up the comforts of life, and the wisdom to know what I need in order to serve You.”