In 1987 we had watched the newly released “Out of Africa” with Meryl Steep and Robert Redford. We had a dream that was about to become a reality. A culmination of many years of prayer and longing to “go”. We had said to God, like Isaiah, “Here am I Lord, send me.” Our ideas were so romantic. In fact, I was Meryl and Jerry was Robert and together, we set off for Africa!
We came to Africa to really make a difference, “to shake a nation.” Like the great Evangelist, Reinhard Bonke says, shaking his fist in the air with resolute declaration, “Africa shall be saved!”
But after living in Africa for almost 25 years now, most of my adult life, so far, we have experienced the richness of a culture and of it’s people. We now know that we really have not changed anything much. But one thing we do know, Africa has changed us! We are different people now from when we came! Africa and its people have taught us and shown us more about being people of honor and respect, which are the foundation and fabric of this culture. People come first. Period. My fast-paced, introspective, American life-style, my small minded-ness, my lack of a world view all had limited me as a life long learner on the field. Can you believe, I even thought God was American! Not literally, but certainly in my perception of how I thought He thought!
Seriously though, it has taken years for me to really understand that the things that were ingrained in me from my culture as an American up to the age of 27 when I came to Africa, were not necessarily the “right” way at all. Its all I knew. Here, in Botswana, to greet someone is fundamental to any encounter and conversation. If I greet you, I respect you. If I forgo that formality, simply because I am in a hurry (guilty-I am almost always in a hurry!), then I may as well turn around and leave, because I wont’ get very far.
We are sometimes embarrassed by our younger days here, and our ex-patriot counterparts who come over with the idea that we are better than someone because they can’t speak English, don’t dress as nice, or live in a hut. Don’t let that fool you! You never know who you will find in that hut, or in the yard. PHD’s, Ministers of Parliament, Diplomats, enjoying retirement. An elderly person who is looking after and providing for up to 12 children because their parents have passed away. A woman who lives with abuse. A smelly child who happens to come from a child led home because there is no one to look after them? Judgments and prejudices are in our lives and the back of our minds as ugly reminders of our inability to embrace, unconditionally those we encounter every day of our lives. You cannot judge a book by its cover for sure! You really never can.
What are some ways that you could see yourself letting down your guard to love the lovely, and the seemingly un-lovely? What makes a person worthy of your attention-or not? We all came from the dust and will return to it. Compassion is the essence of life-Christian or not. It is when Christ is the ruler of our hearts, He gives us the ability to see the person, to really SEE the person, as he sees them. That’s what it means to be his hands and his feet.
I wouldn’t trade a day I have lived in Africa for all the highways in Houston! Slow down, take it all in, the people around you, the task you thought you had to do at that moment, and savor the sweetness of another person, because they deserve as much dignity and respect as you do.