I am reading an amazing book called “Africa, Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” written by Richard Dowden, an Englishman who has lived in and traveled all over Africa extensively. The thing I like best about the book is the way he describes the everyday character of the people. Most books on Africa are about hardship, poverty, wars, famine and desolation. This book has that but also shows the human side of the people and their amazing ability to never change who they are just because their circumstances have become difficult. I always say that we could do much to learn from their example. Here is an excerpt that describes the people that I live with and love so much.
“Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war. But when outsiders go they are often surprised by Africa’s welcome. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa. If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. You will frequently be humbled by African generosity. Africans have in abundance what we call social skills. These are not skills that are formally taught or learned. There is no “click-on-have-a-nice-day” smile in Africa. Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness. All these things are as natural as music in Africa.
Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size – even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa the essentials of existence – light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death – are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is really about. Africans are in the habit of catching your eye as you pass, raising an eyebrow in greeting, and a flicker of a smile starts in their eyes. A small thing? No. It is the prize that Africa offers the rest of the world: humanity.”
I think that if you ask anyone who has visited or lived in Africa, coming from the west, they would agree to this writing. I personally do truly feel alive when I am here. This week I have been planting my very large garden. The children are in school so it has been a solitary job for me. As I dig, my toes buried in the cool earth, the smell of the rich dirt a sweet scent, I listen to the birds chirping, I hear the rhythm of my neighbor’s hoe as he too turns the earth. The ladies walk along the trail happily chatting and laughing together under their heavy loads as they move along to their own gardens. The sky above me is vast and I feel God in His immensity. I am such a small thing compared to Him, me digging in my garden. I feel the life of the earth, the life around me, the life of God in each of us as I dig, chunk, chunk, chunk is the song of my digging tool. All things come back to the basics of life.
I planted watermelon and cantaloupe, tomatoes and carrots, lettuce, beets and eggplant, and maize corn and cassava. After just four days, the watermelon and cantaloupe have already sprouted, almost before my very eyes. At lunchtime today there were three sprouts peeking out, an hour later there are nine. I look at my fields (two of them) and I look at the labor it took to plant and when the first signs of life come, it is all worth it. Jesus sure was smart to use agriculture for His parables. It just makes so much sense!
The rain has been very tropical jungle here. Every day it rains, hard, with thunder and lightening. There is always mud to avoid and rivers of water to traverse through. It can take two days for clothes to dry, hanging all over my room because of the moisture in the air. Think tropical rain forest. This week I have mastered the art of cutting grass with a machete. With the rain our grass grows probably at least a few inches in a week for sure. The bush around my house was getting to be about two feet high and is once again a manageable two inches, and me none the worse for wear and tear.…
This week I began my teen girls ministry with 26 of our older girls. We are meeting every week and our first meeting was ushered in by, you guessed it, a very loud and long thunderstorm. I basically had all of us in a tight circle on the floor, me yelling at the top of my lungs to teach. Aha, but my new Bose speakers even outdid the rain on a metal roof. I gave each girl a personal journal and a pen and talked to them about hearing God and writing their thoughts and things down. They were so happy to receive these little journals and I even saw some carrying them to church today. I’m excited to see where we will go this year.
Mercy is growing by leaps and bounds and still has a very active metabolism, always bouncing here and there. She smiles most all the time now and is even trying to talk and communicate with words. And she physically touches people now in a caring way, petting my hair, holding my hand, all on her own. She would never let us do this half a year ago. Hard to believe she was on the streets this time last year. Our three boys from the prison are wonderful. They are always so helpful, they love school, and they love being here. You could never believe they were criminals a month ago, wandering the streets and roads, their friend shot and killed by a police officer. God is so amazingly good and those who are rescued out of such darkness surely have seen His marvelous light. It is humbling to watch and be a part of it all.