I was in Kenya when President Obama was inaugurated for his second term. The occasion came as a slight surprise to me, as I had not planned my trip there with Obama in mind. In the odd magic of coincidence, I had been in Kenya the last time Obama was inaugurated. Which meant that, unless the US Constitution had been changed without my notice, it had been exactly four years between my visits to Kenya.
That made me reflect on the changes those four years have brought me. Then, my wife Popie and I had gone for a 3 month visit, wondering whether we should relocate to Kenya. We had spent four years there early in our married life, and always thought we might someday go back. Now, with our kids launched, nothing held us in California. We wondered whether there was a job in Kenya, or a calling that we should answer. We decided to take a sabbatical, a long visit that would give us a chance to really investigate possibilities.
In the background for me was a lot of frustration with my work. Most of it had to do with the stresses in publishing brought on by the digital revolution. Someday publishing is going to find a new normal that will be a lot better than the old one. The transition, though, is difficult. The old economic models don’t work. The problems are different for newspapers than for magazines than for books. But in each case, there is tremendous uncertainty. And uncertainty leads to risk-averse publishing.
For a writer like me, that is bad news. Once upon a time you just needed to be a good writer. Now there’s a level of scrutiny that never used to be. Every discussion is played out against a background of fearfulness: this business could go bankrupt if we mess up. A writer is expected to offer a marketing platform. You are expected to prove that your project will win the day. It’s stressful. It makes for difficult relationships with editors.
So while I went to Nairobi open to new callings, I was also supremely fed up.
In Nairobi I spent considerable amounts of time investigating publishing possibilities. Popie looked at counseling and teaching. We talked to a good many friends. We looked for light. Popie and I asked God to make our direction clear.
And we found opportunities. There was need, and an obvious eagerness to work with us.
Nevertheless, sometime late in our sabbatical we turned to each other and discovered that each independently had no sense at all that we were supposed to live in Nairobi. On the contrary, we had a very clear sense that we were supposed to go back to California and keep doing what we have been doing all along.
It wasn’t the answer we were expecting. But it did bring a certain amount of peace.
Four years later, visiting Nairobi again, I was struck by what had occurred since. Three major projects have fallen into my lap. I didn’t seek them. I really had no idea of them at all.
One was my book on miracles. An editor asked me to consider it. I was very skeptical, and put him off repeatedly before eventually deciding to do it.
The second was a book on evolution and creation, which a foundation offered to support financially. I would never have attempted all the research without their support.
The third is what took me back to Nairobi: a Bible with notes on justice, produced as a global project. We call it God’s Justice. I’m the editorial director. My friend Scott Bolinder approached me with it last spring, out of the blue.
None of these was my idea, but each one I have most thoroughly enjoyed. They use my gifts in ways I could not have anticipated. They have stimulated and educated me– a high value in my life. And I believe/hope that they will prove genuinely significant.
I tell this for the benefit of those who are frustrated and unsure of direction. I can’t claim that your life will work out as mine has. I believe these things are individually tailored. I do want to testify, in thanks to God, that I asked for direction and received it. That direction has led me to surprises that I would not have anticipated, and that I would not want to have missed.