Saturday, March 24, 2012

I love him just as much as I love you.

Wednesday night I lay awake, sweating and too hot to sleep, and wondered what in the world I was doing here.  Thursday morning I stood in a refugee camp looking in to a pair of Tuareg eyes, hungry for a Jesus they didn't know, and God reminded me, This is why you are here.  I love him just as much as I love you.  Don’t let my children die without me.   And as I sank to my knees in the African dirt and wrapped my arms around the nearest child, I remembered the night that I sank to my knees on a dorm room floor so far away and wept in the presence of God and cried, God, if it costs me my life, I will go.  I will go to Africa.   

So now I pray again –
Oh, God, forgive me for my selfishness.  Forgive me for thinking that I am entitled to air conditioning and pillow-top mattresses and cute shoes while your children are starving to death without you all over the world.  Forgive me for being so thankful that you died for me that I neglect to acknowledge the fact that you died for them.  Forgive me for choosing to love my neighbor only when he speaks my language and showers every day.  Don’t let me forget that you reached out to touch the leper, stinking and covered in open wounds.  That poverty and disease do not scare you, although they surely make you sad.  That you died to save an entire world.  Don’t let me forget. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Snapshot Update

So Burkina Faso eats computers.  And indeed, my computer is on its last leg.  It won't hold a battery for anything, but I decided to do a few quick snapshots.  Maybe I'll be able to post an actual snapshot next week.  Who knows.  Anyway, a few highlights from the past couple weeks:

-Two weeks ago Sunday.  Watched a packed church come forward once, twice, thrice to give to the work of the Lord not out of their abundance but out of their poverty.  The money was to be split in to three groups - two groups to build two new churches and one group to go to foreign missions (yes, foreign missions!) to send pastors to surrounding unreached people groups.  The money was counted on the spot and I joined in the celebration dance when we discovered that the total came to over $300 - an exorbitant amount for the third poorest country in the world.  So humbled.

- Not long ago.  Drove by the dump.  I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the hot car window to say a prayer for the two teeny girls that we just drove past...both barefoot and in tattered dresses, both carrying bags of food scraps that they had scavenged from the trash pile of the city dump.

- Yesterday.  Old man - could have been the peer of either of my grandfathers - tilted his turbaned head as he begged for money or food.  I swallowed a sob as I handed him all the change I had, resisting the urge to throw my arms around him and give him a kiss as I would my grandfather.  Wished I knew enough of the Malian languages to tell him about Jesus.

- Yesterday.  Thursday School.  Screaming with laughter (along with 30 other voices) as my girls strut and primp in front of the little boy playing King Xerxes, each one trying to be chosen as Queen Esther.  According to the statistics of the country, only 13% of them can read.  But all of them know their memory verse.

- This morning.  Jumped in surprise as a man about my age appeared out of nowhere and glued himself to my side as I walked with Kate in the heart of the city.  He spoke very good English and informed me that his name is Hakuna Matata - not kidding.  He followed me for many blocks and across quite a few highways.  He told me all about his music and his work and I told him about a man named Jesus. 

- This afternoon.  Was was walking back from the market.  Remember walking past a woman sleeping on two collapsed cardboard boxes.  Later biking past a man in a Tuareg head wrap carefully picking food out of the trash can.  Hating myself because these images make me whisper a prayer, but they no longer make me cry.

- Today in a taxi.  Kate asks, "Hey, what do those boxes say?"  So I lift my sunglasses and squint to look at the one-person truckcar in front of us.  "They say, USAID.  From the American people."  Then I lean forward excitedly.  "Hey, that's the seal of the President on the bottom!"  I search the box until I see the words, "President's Malaria Initiative" just above the symbol for the Center for Disease Control.  I have no idea what the President's Malaria Initiative is, but in my imagination it has something to do with that new breakthrough malaria vaccine just released that is expected to cut infant mortality rate in Africa in half.  The vaccine that made the researchers cry when they saw the statistics. 

- Every single day.  Jesus is awesome.  I am so humbled to be here. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Day at the Market

I’m a little bit nervous.  I decided not to go yesterday, put it off yet again.  I don’t want to not go.  But I’m still nervous. Communication is going to be a huge hurdle.  I could choose to stay home again.

I think of the words of St. Francis Assisi, “Preach the Gospel to the whole world.  And if necessary, use words.”  And I think of my nightly ritual whenever I go to see my niece and nephew.  I kiss them both good night as I leave and Joshua immediately falls asleep grinning.  I turn and look Paisley in the eyes and ask, “And what must we always choose?”  She solemnly replies, “Always choose for love.”  “Good girl.  Always choose to love.”  I take a deep breath.  I can love without words.

And anyway, I need apples. 

So I head out.  I wave goodbye to the guard at the gate as I stroll past him and on to the street teaming with pedestrians who immediately greet and wave, giving me courage to do this – to walk to the market by myself.  It’s over 100 degrees outside and the Sahara sun seems to have singled me out as a tasty rotisserie.  It’s taking a bit longer than I had anticipated to get to the market because you’ll never meet an African who won’t greet.  The ‘road’ is very wide and completely dirt, except for the thin pavement of trash and broken glass.  I dodge bicycles, motos, and donkeys and wander up and down tiny Grand Canyons and Mt. Everests disguised as potholes and dirt piles.  I pass the most fascinating shops – there must be hundreds of them – all dilapidated shacks of tin, dirt, and concrete crammed together and hiding behind beaming shop owners who wave and shout hello to me.  I pause to wait while an ancient car passes me, filled with grinning Africans who perch precariously on the broken seats of the vehicle that appears to have nothing more than good luck holding it together.

Finally I see the entrance to the market.  I dodge more donkeys and follow a much narrower dirt path as it snakes between two shack shops held erect by termites and possibly some duct tape.  Behind the shops the path widens to reveal a busy scene of color and life.  I stop and look around with huge eyes, completely enchanted.  Every kind of fruit, vegetable, herb, and spice you could imagine is piled, hung, and draped along vendor stands almost as far as I can see.  Large colorful pieces of fabric, cheap jewelry, and traditional clothing are also laid out for purchase.  Hundreds and hundreds of men, women, and sometimes-naked children weave in and out of the stands, all laughing and grinning, chattering away in what sounds like a zillion native languages. I walk slowly through the scene.  A white woman in Western clothes and a pair of sunglasses is definitely out of place here, but no one seems to mind.  Soon my arm is tired from waving back and my face hurts from returning grins and replying, “Ca va bien, como ca va?”  My hands have got to be filthy from rubbing the soft heads of the kiddos who hurry to walk near me, often pushing a younger brother or sister towards me to shake hands first and make sure I’m not deadly. 

It smells like the fair, only better.  Every few steps a new aroma excites my senses.  Something fried, something raw and ready to be fried, fresh fish, strange green spices that I must never have sampled, newly sliced fraises, bright red mystery meat, yellow-orange fruit juice and deep blue berries.  I walk on and on, entranced in the magic.  Finally I turn a corner and, to my delight, see the exact same scene.  I could get lost in here, but I don’t care.  This new dirt path is much narrower and more crowded.  Everyone is coming from every direction and trying to go every direction, but not a soul is unkind – no one pushes.  In fact, one lady’s moto sputters to a stop and a dozen hands immediately reach out to help her lift it to a safer parking spot.  Bumping in to someone means an opportunity to have a conversation and, of course, to laugh.  I stop to watch and turn at a stroke on my arm.  A smiling lady is selling a strange exotic fruit that can’t decide if it wants to be vibrant green or lucid orange or a beautiful mixture of both.  A few sentences are all it takes to prove that I speak very little French, so all the surrounding ladies jump in to help, but none of them speak English, so it gets loud and confusing and strikes us all as hilarious, and we succumb to the kind of friendship that is born of laughter.  My skin stings with slaps on the back and affectionate arm-rubbing from my new friends.  I buy a bag of the fruit, tangelos they seem to be, thank the lady and wish her the blessings of God, which she wishes back. 

I walk on, each turn bringing only a slight variation of the same beautiful scene.  I’ve learned quite a few new French phrases by the time I decide that I need to get my translucent skin out of the sun.  I find the edge of the market and emerge back on to the huge dirt/trash road carrying a bag full of tangelos and no apples.  I turn towards home, flanked by two beautiful children who have taken it upon themselves to accompany me all the way back to my gate, giggling every time I make eye contact.  But before I start walking, I turn and gaze back at the market.  I smile and close my eyes.  “If this isn’t the greatest place on Earth, then the greatest place on Earth does not exist.”  But I’m not quite sure if I mean the market or Africa herself.  Love can happen without words.  Love can happen across language barriers and culture boundaries and country borders. In fact, it just did.