Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Africa?

It is not uncommon for people to ask why you go on short term mission trips. It's not even uncommon for people to snarl or crinkle their nose and say things like "what about the people in the US who have needs" or "why not just send them money" or my personal all-time favorite "I think it's awesome that you do that, I could never do that." It is my favorite because prior to my first trip, I thought the same way, only I thought I would NEVER do that-not that I couldn't. I don't say that from a critical spirit, and while I can understand where those questions come from, recently someone flat out asked me "why Africa?" This one was different. This one struck a cord with  me and quite frankly, I wanted to know why also. At the time, I brushed it off and didn't think much about it, until one restless, non-sleep filled night, as I laid in bed, tossing and turning, frustrated that I couldn't hit the off button on my mind and send myself into deep sleep, the question popped into my head "why Africa?" What is it about this place that keeps your heart and mind so consumed? So, I started pondering that question in the early hours of the morning..and this is what I came up with.

There are a hundreds of places, literally, that are in desperate need and some of them are as close as your own backyard, while some are as far around the world as one could travel. I didn't pick up a globe one day, spin it around, and plant my finger on the first place it stopped. I didn't drop a few countries in a hat and select it bingo style. I've traveled and done mission work in other countries and my love for them is no different than my love for the people of Africa; anymore than my love for any of Gods people is or should be. While I can remember always having a certain intrigue and interest in Africa, the truth is, I didn't choose Africa, Africa choose me, and long before I ever stepped foot on its soil. The politically correct Christian-ese answer might be "I believe God gives us all, individually, particular inclinations towards certain things." And while I absolutely believe that is true, that is not what draws me back time and again to Africa.

The people, the children-I think they they took one look at me, and they knew. They knew I would never be able to shake the red dirt off my feet. They knew that the sound of the African drum would forever resound in my mind. They knew I would look deep into their beautiful charcoal eyes and see beauty, wonder and hope. They knew I would gaze at the smiles of countless orphans and I would see myself. And that when I did, I would never be able to turn my eyes back toward a life that was dead-set on self-fulfilling motives.

Even with those realizations, I kept thinking and searching my heart for something a little more deep, tying my heart to Africa. As I continued to toss and turn, it came to me. Despite the amount of suffering and need that I have been witness to, I see a joy that far surpasses anything you can begin to imagine. While in some places they have grave need, absolutely, and no one would deny that, they find contentment in the simplest of things. They do not measure life in terms of what they do or don't have, but rather give thanks for their daily bread. And most often, in their case, it truly is just their daily bread

One of the things I cherish most about the people of Africa is their abundant generosity. A bracelet, a shirt, a meal, their last chicken, they would give it all to you, just to show you honor and thank you for being a part of their lives. Western visitors innately want to refuse gifts, because deep down you know it may be the only possession they own, but you don't, you shouldn't, because it would shatter them. To them, giving isn't a mathematical equation. There's no 10% calculation, no -let me fetch some old clothes, toys or leftovers for you, or let me see what I have left. No, to them, it is the way of their heart. Give first, think second.  They have shown me what it means to truly live sacrificially and that there is nothing on this earth more valuable than serving each other humbly.

More so, I cherish their uncanny ability to face the gravest of circumstances with a smile that could melt the polar ice caps and a hug, that could warm the hardest of hearts. And when they worship God, they REALLY worship God, as if He really is God and not a cosmic magician, or lamp-rubbing genie. Their faith is strong because God truly is all they have to look to, they are not clouded by possessions or distractions. They teach me so much more than I think I could ever teach them, and words cannot do justice to the amount of love and respect I have for them...

No, I didn't choose Africa. Africa choose me.

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