Launching Into the Unknown is Leoma Gilley’s memoir of her years training and working for Wycliffe, the well-known Bible translators, first in the U.S., then in various places in Africa.
During her African training beginning in 1982, Gilley studied Arabic, learned kerosene appliance maintenance, lived in villages without running water or electricity, and spent a night in the jungle to test her survival skills. After four years of training, she had just settled into her new mud-brick, thatched-roofed house in southern Sudan to start working with the Shilluk people, whose language she was to learn (presumably to translate the Bible into Shilluk, though that’s never specifically stated), when civil war broke out between the northern and southern parts of the country. Gilley was forced to evacuate to the southern city of Juba, although most Shilluks fled home in the other direction.
Written as a series of letters to her cousin, Harriet, Gilley’s book is filled with interesting detail. Anyone who has lived in another culture will easily identify with the difficulties she meets with a delightful sense of humor: the airline that “will fly” but not today; spending a cold night in a bus in the Sahara after the axle breaks in deep sand; being designated to cope with “a 10 lb. chunk of buffalo meat complete with skin, fat, gristle, hair, and bone at 8:00 on a Saturday night.”
Unfortunately, it seems as if the author simply compiled her old letters, without adding much context. Readers aren’t told exactly what work Gilley will be doing in Africa, or why, after initially being assigned to Kenya, she’s suddenly sent to Sudan. She mentions “SIL” and a “center” in Sudan, but never explains what they are or their connection with Wycliffe. The book ends abruptly without recounting why people in Juba were evacuating to the north.
Such issues can be frustrating. Still, Gilley’s travelogue is entertaining overall and might spur readers to pick up the next installment.
Also available as an ebook.